Alison Stillwell is a volunteer and Secretary of the Kingston SE Branch, National Trust SA. She has recently coordinated a project, partially funded by Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme (MMAPSS), called the ‘Margaret Brock Room Development’ within the Cape Jaffa Lighthouse. She shares with us her experience of managing the project and the significant events that their organisation celebrated last November.
How long have you worked with the Kingston SE Branch, National Trust SA?
About 18 months.
What motivated you to get involved as a volunteer and as the Secretary with this organisation?
The catalyst for my involvement has been the fact that my family lives in one of the former lightkeepers’ cottages, with a view of the Cape Jaffa Lighthouse through the kitchen window. Descendants of lightkeepers have knocked on the door at different times, and have related their stories over a cuppa. It stimulated my curiosity about life on the lighthouse and I wanted to share all accumulated knowledge with others.
The National Trust members here in Kingston are very keen to promote Kingston’s history and I’m happy to use the skills I have to help do this, too.
Tell us about the Margaret Brock Room – how did this project come about?
In 2014, the Department of the Environment, Water and Natural Resources presented the Kingston SE National Trust branch with some artefacts from the barque Margaret Brock, which had been recovered by divers on the Margaret Brock Reef. We were asked ‘What is the story of the Margaret Brock?’ and ‘How can these items help to tell the story?’, so we made some enquiries and contracted a curator to design the exhibition.
What was planned for the redevelopment of the room?
- An interactive shipwreck map, showing wrecks along the South Australian coast, and, in particular, the south-east coast, from the 1840s to the 1940s.
- Interpretive panels covering topics such as The Dangerous Coast, Workhorses of the Sea (the wooden barques), The Captain’s Story, and Precious Souls (the passengers and crew).
- A monitor with animated illustrations of the story of the rescue and the survivors’ long trek to Adelaide.
- An audio narration of the story, taken from the Captain’s journal.
- Artefacts displayed in various receptacles, e.g. barrels, suitcases and trunks.
- Rigging with wooden blocks, cleats and belaying pins; lighting from lanterns; glass buoys.
Where did you start when making the plans for the redevelopment?
We needed to be clear on the story, and what experiences we wanted visitors to go away with. The transcript of the Captain’s journal provided the impetus. We obtained advice about possible designers to approach, and we knew the budget would necessitate a great deal of local input.
What has been the most challenging aspect of coordinating this project?
Because our National Trust group provided so much information and so many photos for the interpretive panels, there were varying opinions about what should or should not be included. There were many discussions about the accuracy of the details, the intensity of the proof-reading, what decisions to leave to the designer and what inclusions to insist upon.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of coordinating this project?
In tackling this project, we have all learnt so much more about the story of the Margaret Brock, and we really want others to appreciate the magnitude of the successful outcome. Many community members generously contributed to various aspects of the project, and it became a community effort.
What do you see as the benefits and outcomes of this project?
This project, because it now allows the presentation of information in a new and completely different format, will act as a catalyst for us to review how people prefer to experience exhibits and absorb information. The Margaret Brock Room development will allow a renewed promotion of the Cape Jaffa Lighthouse among visitor information centres and schools throughout the south-east of South Australia and beyond.
Do you have any recommendations for anyone thinking about starting this kind of project?
- Allow plenty of time to complete the project.
- Communicate constantly with everyone involved.
- Keep the main project aims clear, especially when bogged down in the detail.
Tell us about the celebrations that took place on 26 November 2016. What was being celebrated and how did you mark the occasion?
In conjunction with the official opening of the Margaret Brock Room by Mr. Peter Rout, Assistant Director (Operations) of the Australian National Maritime Museum we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the re-location of the Cape Jaffa Lighthouse on shore, and the (near) completion of a major structural upgrade to the Cape Jaffa Lighthouse.
Throughout the day, about 200 people came from far and wide, many because of their personal connections with the Cape Jaffa Lighthouse. After the official ceremony, attended by about 140 people, the Lighthouse and Margaret Brock Room were open to visitors right through the afternoon and into the night, the first order light being lit at sunset.
The Margaret Brock Room development and beautiful new look to both the interior and exterior of the lighthouse has stimulated a significant renewed interest in this historic structure, with record numbers of visitors keeping volunteers busy since Lighthouse Day.
— Alison Stillwell, volunteer Secretary of the Kingston SE Branch, National Trust South Australia.