Richmond Valley Council has given the Evans Head Living Museum & Community Technology Centre three months to vacate its premises on the old Evans Head School site to make way for a new HealthOne facility proposed by the health department.
Museum volunteers say the demand to vacate was given just one week before a meeting at which council is expected to vote to sell the site to the health department.
The museum, a registered charity run entirely by volunteers has been operating successfully for more than 15 years.
Museum president Dr Richard Gates said that immediately following the meeting with Council last Tuesday, the department issued a media release stating that the site was its ‘preferred location’ with no mention of the consequences for the Museum.
‘It was as if we didn’t exist’. That the media release should happen immediately after our meeting was no coincidence.
‘It was a pre-emptory strike before the museum could say anything publicly and begs questions about the independence of the processes associated with site selection. It is our view that this was not an arm’s length process as you might expect from a publicly-funded organisation.
‘Health failed to provide any information about other potential sites. We don’t actually know if taxpayers are getting a good deal or whether this is just a pork barrel exercise at any cost,’
Dr Gates said he is aware of three other locations proposed by the community which clearly met the criteria for selection.
He said that he had proposed a site on the state-controlled Reflections Holiday Park, on an area rarely used, but said he had had a call from ‘a senior health department bureaucrat who told him that the site was not appropriate as it would have meant a complicated change to a Plan of Management for the park’.
He added he believed the site selection process was ‘subject to a political timetable which implied timing for the NSW State election’.
Dr Gates said that it ‘was becoming more and more clear as he learned about other proposed sites that the request for public consultation about a site was ‘just a tick-the-box exercise to make it look as if a consultation process had occurred’.
‘This is a done deal which is many months old. Health and Council should not have wasted the community’s time with such an empty gesture. The community is not dumb and sees right through these kind of antics.’
Dr Gates said that the loss of the museum at such short notice had ‘devastated the volunteers who run the facility and had sent a chilling message to the community that volunteers don’t matter. Many people in the community are having trouble coming to grips with what has happened and to loss of a community-based charity. It sends a clear message that the government rhetoric about valuing the work of volunteers is just rhetoric.
Council has offered a binary solution to the community, health or museum, but not both. But it is possible to offer both.
Council suggested that the museum might combine with the aviation museum at Evans Head but Dr Gates indicated that the aviation museum did not have facilities compatible with its needs and that it would take substantial funds to do so.
‘We’ve even prepared display materials for Council for their office at Evans Head gratis about our early pioneers,’ he said.
‘The museum also has a significant relationship with the Aboriginal Community and one of our original patrons was the proponent for Native Title Claims for the region which were heard in a Supreme Court Hearing at Evans Head in 2013. We know that many people from the Aboriginal community will be disappointed with our loss.’
Dr Gates said that the report prepared for Council for its August 21 meeting was problematic from a number of perspectives but most telling was the fact that the council staff member who wrote it ‘had never visited the museum and admitted he knew little about what the museum does’.
Dr Gates said he would be asking council to put on hold its decision to sell off the property to the health department pending a more complete and accurate report on the impact of the loss of the museum. He also said he has written to the department asking them to consider another site for their operation or to co-locate with the museum on the Old School Site.