The museum was jointly created, funded and given to the people of Australia by the French government and the Laperouse Association for the Australian Bicentenary (LAAB), a Franco-Australian group of individual residents and companies. The collection (see link – Inventory Laperouse Museum 22 February 1988) contained 132 items and was then valued at $235,685. Item 67 was the Altar Stone (in 4pieces) from La Boussole. This was more than likely used when celebrating the first christian services in the newly proclaimed British colony and would have been used for the funeral mass for Father Receveur. The Receveur Tree Trunk, valued at $50,000 is item 92. Peter Taylor’s sculpture of Laperouse, Item 93, is valued at $6000.
The La Perouse Cable Station was renovated to incorporate the Museum in it’s southern wing*. A paint scheme appropriate for the late 19th century building and featuring customised stencil work was chosen. A mural was commissioned for the ceiling of the Wrecks room. In the years following other items, such as the John Winch tapestry, were added. The following link to the Friends of the Laperouse Museum website provides evidence of the work undertaken during the establishment of the Museum and the years that followed.
The Museum attracted school visits and international and local tourists. There was a heavy emphasis on science and maritime history – particularly relevant today when Botany Bay is home to Australia’s largest airport and second largest sea port. In 2002 National Parks centralised visitor services on Sydney Harbour and there was a subsequent decline in numbers. Although the Friends of the Laperouse Museum were willing volunteers for guided tours and research the National Parks Service (the managers for the Museum, Bare Island and other areas of Botany Bay National Park) didn’t take the opportunity to enlist them into a viable program. In 2009 on the pretext of ‘revitalising’ the exhibition the Museum was closed for painting. This occurred a few working days before a planned Tourism network event aimed at obtaining new sponsors. The Museum remained closed for late Spring and most of summer (the La Perouse high tourist season) while the painting took place. When re-opened it was found that the stencilling had been painted out – see some of what was lost – and the Laperouse exhibition which had occupied 6 rooms was reduced to 2. The items that had been removed were stacked in a store room (see photos above). The story of the Laperouse journey of the Pacific and French exploration was lost and while some new panels were added these were of questionable value. For example on one panel the Laperouse Monument is recorded as being commissioned in 1824 (it was 1825); on another Frenchman’s Bay is recorded as Frenchmen’s Bay. This new arrangement was not a success and now National Parks are planning to consign the Laperouse legacy to ‘one of many stories’. See previous post on proposed Interpretation Plan
National Parks also ‘manage’ Bare Island, which is poorly utilized. There is scope to allow commercial activities and incorporate an aboriginal cultural centre at Bare Island as well as allow volunteer Friends organisations rooms to manage the interpretation of local military history and the Snakemen legacy. Instead, what remains of the Laperouse Museum will be dismantled so National Parks managers can experiment once again at ‘revitalisation’ – this time to promote a ‘potpourri’ approach to our heritage. National Parks managers don’t have a Marketing Strategy and there has been very little information about Laperouse on their website. They have failed to promote key events and have not engaged volunteers**.
*Note that the Northern Wing was a self-contained Aboriginal Arts and Crafts Gallery which was run externally by members in the local Aboriginal Community. When this proved unsuccessful it was replaced with a gallery displaying aboriginal and other local history and environmental heritage and this was run by National Parks.
**The Botanic Gardens, which is a sister organisation in the Office of Heritage and Environment, has a thriving volunteer program administered directly and also another run through its very successful Friends organisation. It has been able to do this because management values volunteers (see link ).