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Region’s first museum library opens at Sugar Valley

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It will be a first no matter how you look at it. 

The Sugar Valley Library Museum, kirantakamyari, is the Hunter’s inaugural library museum.

Set to open its doors to the public on Wednesday 12 April, the Lake Macquarie-based state-of-the-art facility will house the region’s past in an interactive new format.

Located in West Wallsend, the concept is the result of five years planning.

Museum leader Priya Mathew Johnson said Lake Macquarie City Council had collaborated closely with the West Wallsend District Heritage Group to capture and highlight the area’s compelling history. 

“It has been an enormous task, but I’m so proud that we have been able to protect and present these important objects and stories,” she said. 

“The Sugar Valley Library Museum is a first for the Hunter region and a landmark for our city.” 

As well as showcasing exhibitions, the site will harness immersive technology like virtual reality to tell stories that engage and entertain visitors. 

Council worked with local historians Ed Tonks, Dr Michael Williams and Brian Anderson, professional curators and Awabakal traditional owners and elders to curate the exhibition and bring the project to life.  

The new facility includes interactive screens where visitors can see and hear oral histories of the area, covering everything from West Wallsend’s pubs and taverns to how the suburb got its name  

Ms Mathew Johnson said the building, on the corner of Northridge Drive and Portland Road at Cameron Park, could safely store up to 7,000 heritage items. 

“The collection has been donated by members of the local community, many of whom are intrinsically linked to the history of West Wallsend – either directly or through their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents,” she said. 

“It has been a tireless effort by many to document, photograph, catalogue and clean these important objects, but it has certainly been worth it.” 

West Wallsend was founded on coal mining in 1888, and at its peak had 6,000 residents, four separate mines, a steam tram connecting to Wallsend, and a train line to Cockle Creek. 

Museum leader Priya Mathew Johnson.

Lake Macquarie City mayor Kay Fraser said the idea for the new library museum was hatched in 2018, when council staff met at West Wallsend High School with the West Wallsend Community and School Historical Group. 

“The school needed to expand and the Historical Group’s community museum faced the prospect of either relocating or disbanding altogether,” she said. 

“At the same time, we were on the hunt for a new location for Lake Mac’s newest library.

“That created a wonderful opportunity to create something that could fill the dual role of being both a library and a museum, and I’m so proud that we as a Council supported that concept and helped make it a reality.” 

“I’m looking forward to seeing the museum space bring history to life through its exhibitions and programming.” 

The facility’s inaugural exhibition is titled Westy: we built this history, profiling the people who lived, worked and played in the shadow of Mount Sugarloaf. 

They include Maggie Johnston, remembered as a star of the 1890 Minmi Show for her taxidermy birds, fancy wool-work, paper flowers and needle-work. 

Johnston’s 21 stuffed birds in the museum collection remain a resplendent reminder of that era, more than 130 years later. 

West Wallsend District Heritage Group spokesperson Leah Buchanan said she hoped the museum would bring back fond memories “for the oldies, and the newcomers can learn about the history of West Wallsend and surrounding areas”. 

“We also hope to start a family history collection of the area,” she said.  

Council manager arts, culture and tourism Jacqui Hemsley said Sugar Valley Library Museum also housed a contemporary community library, catering to the city’s burgeoning north-west. 

“We’ve designed it to be a versatile, multi-use space,” she said.  

“That includes an open-plan foyer, flexible exhibition spaces, spaces for multimedia and technology, a workshop and a retail store.”  

Wednesday’s opening ceremony kicks off at 10.30am, with guided tours following official proceedings. 

Kirantakamyari is the cultural name given to Sugar Valley Library Museum, in line with Council dual-naming cultural facilities.  

The word means ‘North Creek’ in Awabakal language, and refers to the traditional name of the Cameron Park area. 

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