Maritime museum dreams hit a reef, but they’re still afloat

ABOVE: Wayne Finch at his Highfield Rd home in Kyogle where the museum was located for 55 years.

Susanna Freymark

Wayne Finch has been trying for years to find a home for his father’s collection of maritime memorabilia.

A few months ago, he thought he’d found the perfect place at a former caryard on the main street of Kyogle.

The maritime union had agreed to pay a year’s rent for the 126-130 Summerland Way property.

Wayne could finally see a resting place for Frank Finch’s life’s work.

“When I turn up my toes and cark it, this will be an asset to Kyogle,” Wayne said.

For 55 years, Frank housed his collection at his Highfield Rd home. He built a ship structure with a crows nest towering above the garage. The lookout had views across Kyogle town.

Residents, schoolchildren, tourists and international visitors would call in to see the growing collection, Wayne said.

His father was full of knowledge and stories about life at sea.

“It became known as the Ship on the Hill and was a truly unique museum in Australia,” Wayne said.

“After Mum and Dad passed, it was Dad’s wish to have the collection kept together and kept in Kyogle.

“The museum could no longer be housed at Highfield Rd as it was too small and had no disabled access.”

After several false starts, it seemed as if Frank’s wish for his beloved museum would come true.

The former caryard had lots of room outside and was in the centre of town. Perfect for the Finch Maritime Museum.

According to Wayne, Kyogle Council made things difficult.

“At every turn, Kyogle Council seemed to put a roadblock to rehousing the museum in town,” Wayne said.

“Now the collection is closed forever and will be housed in other museums.”

Kyogle Council general manager said it was unfortunate that Wayne had reached the conclusion that he was unable to achieve the museum, despite his best efforts and the support of many others along the way.

“It is hoped that Mr Finch is subsequently able to find suitable custodians and locations for the collection to ensure that it can be preserved and remain accessible. Council understands that this would be an emotional time for Mr Finch,” Mr Kennett said.

He said the council had not put up roadblocks about rehousing the museum in town.

“Council staff have provided support and professional advice in relation to any options or proposals for the museum that were presented by Mr Finch and others,” Mr Kennett said.

In July, council staff advised on the requirements needed at 126-130 Summerland Way.

“The proposal was for part of the site to be occupied by the museum, with other existing and potential future uses for the remainder of the site being considered by the building’s owner,” Mr Kennett said.

“Given the multiple different uses, which included a vehicle repair station, office spaces and potential commercial and retail spaces as well as the museum, any development application would need to assess the fire safety and additional building and accessibility measures required to comply with the Building Code of Australia for the combination of uses on the premises.”

Mr Kennett said the council was more than happy to work with the landowners and development proponents and provide advice on NSW planning legislation requirements and processes for lodging a development application.

But no further meeting or advice was requested from the council after this information was provided in July, and a development application was never submitted, Mr Kennett said.

“The reason why the proposal reached the point communicated by Mr Finch is a private and commercial decision made by parties external to council.

“From council’s perspective, there was no reason why the museum couldn’t have been operated on the most recently proposed site, subject to the requirements of the relevant legislation being met of course.”

Wayne said the owner of the building has “thrown his hands up”.

“It’s getting too much for him,” Wayne said.

The issues sound like they could be sorted out so that Kyogle could get a maritime museum – but it may need to be in a different venue.

A maritime museum in Kyogle may sound like a strange concept, but Frank did it and now his son wants that to live on – in a country town 80km from the sea.

The original maritime museum in Highfield Rd. Photos: Susanna Freymark
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