September 8th 2017
Dear Mr Lucas
Thank you for keeping me informed about the ongoing plans to develop the site at Stringybark Creek, and the invitation to respond. Having read all the material supplied and thought about it for some time I wish to provide feedback and ask some questions about what’s being proposed.
Firstly, what preliminary research was undertaken to inform the developers of the Draft Strategy about the reasons people give for visiting Stringybark creek?
I ask this question because the strategy document talks of the ‘casual, free and independent visitor’ as being a typical visitor to the site, a characterisation which I believe would apply to very few of the actual people who go there. I would predict that if research was done, the typical visitor to SBC would not be a ‘casual’ visitor but a well informed and interested arrival who has made a deliberate plan to go there.
The reason this question is important is because the interest of the visitors to SBC must surely be the driver of what is done there. The reality I am sure is that people don’t casually find themselves at the SBC site by accident. SBC is hard to find along winding unsealed roads, its very isolation forcing people to deliberately seek it out. As a result, visitors to SBC would be an altogether different group from the ones who might stumble on Sir Redmond Barrys statue or the Old Melbourne Gaol while wandering around the streets of Melbourne. Those people may well be uninformed and appreciate information boards and the opportunity for an ‘interpretive experience’ . However, the people arriving at SBC are a different mob altogether, something which I believe the authors of this report have failed to realise. They are people who would mostly already know the Kelly story and not be specially in need of information but have arrived there deliberately, and for another purpose entirely : they want to see the place where one of the sentinel events of the Kelly story happened. This is a prime motivator of tourist travel the world over, the desire to be at the place where history was made, to see the actual site itself.
But this motivation is summarily dismissed by the writer of this report saying that “This issue actually distracts from the essential messages to be interpreted”. The writers patronising view is that people couldn’t possibly be interested in the actual place, but even if they are that’s not important – what’s important is these messages provided for them to interpret. Don’t be distracted by your misguided interest in the location! Read these clever story boards instead!
I find this an astonishing position to adopt. It requires further explanation.
My second question relates to the very first sentence of the very first sign that visitors will read on the ‘Entry panel’ : “Welcome to the Stringybark Creek Historic Reserve – home to one of Australia’s most researched and analysed crime scenes” My question is why, having acknowledged that this ‘crime scene’ has been subjected to so much research and analysis, is the main focus of all that research and analysis not referred to, but actually dismissed as a distraction from the ‘essential messages to be interpreted”?
This question goes back to the earlier point, and reinforces it, that the thing that dominates peoples interest in the SBC site itself is the quest to discover where those murders actually happened. That has been where the main focus of all the research and analysis has been concentrated. Now, its inconceivable that the authors of this report were not aware of the continuing debate about that research and analysis into the exact place where the Police were killed. Completely and utterly inconceivable. So it’s curious that the draft interpretation strategy makes no mention of this controversy, makes no attempt to use the knowledge and the expertise of the various protagonists who have a deeper knowledge and understanding of the place than almost anyone, or makes any suggestions as to how the argument could be resolved.
I presume its because as a note in the letter recently received from DELWP says : “The project will not attempt to identify the exact site of the Police Camp on Stringybark Creek.” In other words DELWP had already made a determination that this subject was specifically excluded from the brief given to the Charles Wilson group.
My next question is therefore given that the most likely reason people go to SBC is to see the exact site of the Police Camp, why was this decision made, seemingly at the outset, to NOT attempt to identify it, who made it and on what basis was it made? As I am sure both the DELWP managers and the writers of the draft strategy well know, amateur historians and archaeologists have narrowed the possible site of the Police camp to two places on the western bank of Stringybark Creek. Surely this was precisely the RIGHT moment to take the bull by the horns and commission professional archaeological research to investigate both these sites and confirm which site or neither of them or some other place is in fact the correct place. My reading of the amateur, but extensive and detailed research published in regard to those two sites leads me to believe the “Two Huts” site is the correct one, and if archaeological research can conform it so much the better. But if the professional research shows its somewhere else, that won’t concern me in the slightest – what’s important is that if it’s at all possible, the site be properly identified wherever it is. I think everyone involved in the discussions about the exact site would support that view.
To find it and identify it properly would also provide the visitors to SBC with the one thing they particularly want when they drive all the way out there : to see the actual site of the camp and the place where the police were murdered. They don’t drive all that way to get something as banal as information – that’s already available to them, and in far greater detail in their homes on the internet, in their schools and libraries, in museums and in the myriad other places throughout Kelly country where the Kelly story is remembered. No, people come to SBC to see and experience and absorb the vibe and the atmosphere of the place, just as they do when they visit other sites that record history, tragedy and triumph the world over. They come to see the actual place, to feel, to listen to reflect and remember, to pay their respects; they are already informed – they don’t come to read about it yet again. To dismiss this interest as ‘a distraction’ is arrogant and out of touch.
I’ve visited sites of other atrocities both in Australia and overseas, and I’m thinking here of Dallas, Texas where JFK was assassinated, of the Twin towers site in New York, of Hiroshima, and of course the Broad Arrow Café at Port Arthur. These places are not crowded with information boards about the criminal history of the murderers and assassins, about their origins, motives, family connections or their ultimate destiny. Their weapons and their faces are not on display. These places have not been turned into outdoor schoolrooms crammed with maps and charts and illustrations, as if people come there to be informed, to be entertained, to be part of an outdoor education experience. No, these places are kept bare and simple and quiet, they are maintained as places where people come to feel, to remember, to reflect, to imagine and above all to continue the memory and pay their respects to innocent murder victims. Museums and interpretive centres exist, and can be found elsewhere, but the sites themselves are more or less unadorned.
This of course is what should be happening at Stringybark Creek.
In my view, more than anything else this site should be about the murdered Police, and the tone should be reverential, respectful and aimed at one thing only: honouring the Police. This is not the place for any kind of reflection or deference to the murderers – there are already innumerable statues, museums, tourist ventures and the like to commemorate all that elsewhere. Neither should this be a place where anyone who isn’t aware of what happened at SBC should expect to have their interest in the detail satisfied. DELWP can redirect them to appropriate places such as its own web page if it would like to create one. This place should be a memorial. Anything more is the real distraction.
I therefore urge DELWP to reject this draft strategic plan. It misses the point about why people go to SBC and so its strategy is aimed at entirely the wrong population. It also fails, by focussing on education and information rather than on the sacrifices of the murdered police, and supporting respect, reflection and the honouring of their memory.
Additionally I urge DELWP to reconsider its inexplicable decision not to attempt to identify the exact site of the police camp on Stringybark Creek. This is precisely the right time to do exactly that and resolve the issue once and for all. It was unfortunate that signage for years directed visitors to the wrong place, but its hardly any better to direct them to no place at all when they come to SBC to see it, to pay their respects to fallen Police. I urge DELWP to acknowledge the extensive work and insights gained by the amateur archaeologists, and pay due respect to the memory of the murdered Police by commissioning a proper archaeological study of the two proposed sites, and any other site they may think warrants investigation.
Once the results of the investigations are known, and hopefully the camp site properly identified, then that place, wherever it is will become the proper focus of any Heritage values at SBC. The visitor experience will then be truly authentic, and the police sacrifice finally and respectfully acknowledged at long last.
I look forward to your responses in due course
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