What is the Heritage Agreement?
During the 2003 Yarram Women on Farms Gathering, Museum Victoria and members from the Women on Farms Gathering community signed an agreement that affirmed a shared commitment to collecting cultural material relating to the Gatherings, and to rural women in general. This agreement - titled the Agreement Between Museums Board of Victoria and Victorian Women on Farms Gathering - laid out a vision to "protect, preserve, document, exhibit and enhance access and understanding of the stories relating to Victorian Women on Farms Gatherings." To this end, the agreement stipulated that Museum Victoria would work in partnership with the Women on Farms Gathering Heritage Group - a committee made up of past Women on Farms Gathering committee members. The Heritage Group was to "provide advice to Museum Victoria regarding inclusion for material in the Collection" and in turn, Museum Victoria was "responsible for collection management and storage of the Collection."
Over the years, a large and dynamic collection emerged from this cultural partnership - not only resulting in the collection of objects, stories and oral histories, but also facilitating strong community relationships and contributing to the wider history of rural Victoria. While the formal terms of the Heritage Agreement covered a five-year period and have not been renewed, they have laid the foundations for a continued, informal partnership between Museum Victoria and the Victorian Women on Farms Gathering community. Volunteers from the Women on Farms Gathering community continue to shape and enhance the Collection, and to work towards disseminating the history of this important collection into the wider community.
What led to the creation of this partnership between Museum Victoria and the Women on Farms Gathering community?
Since the first Victorian Women on Farms Gathering in 1990, a strong sense of historical consciousness has been fostered among participants, buoyed by the sharing of stories, exchanging of objects and carrying out of regular rituals and traditions. At the 2001 North East (Beechworth) Gathering, this historical consciousness was taken to a new level; not only did the Gathering include the customary traditions of storytelling, but the local organising committee decided to make history and heritage a main focus of their Gathering. As well as organising heritage tours and workshops, the local committee created a series of 'history boards' that summarised the key elements from each of the preceding eleven Gatherings. These history boards - as well as the history tours and workshops - generated considerable interest from Gathering participants, who were concerned that the history of the Gatherings be appropriately documented and recorded. A mutual decision was made among the local organising committee and the Gathering participants to approach Museum Victoria about recording this history and the Women on Farms Gathering Heritage Group was formed to oversee this process. "Our Gathering feels that we would like to preserve and conserve these tokens/objects for posterity", stated the North East (Beechworth) Gathering proceedings, "as they are of high significance."
While the decision to approach Museum Victoria occurred in 2001, the first seeds of the partnership between Museum Victoria and the Victorian Women on Farms Gathering community were sown in the early 1990s. During this time, Museum Victoria's Senior Curator Liza Dale-Hallett had learnt about the Gatherings from a Rural Women's Network magazine, and had subsequently travelled to the 1993 Tallangatta Gathering, where she was inspired by the stories and traditions she witnessed there. Over the years Liza Dale-Hallett continued to attend Gatherings and in 1999 she delivered a keynote address at the Warragul 10th Anniversary Gathering, in which she reflected on the importance of storytelling and asked the audience, 'have you ever thought that the story you want to tell could be done through a museum?'
What has the Heritage Agreement achieved?
The collaboration between Museum Victoria and the Victorian Women on Farms Gathering community has led to significant achievements:
- The development of a large and substantial collection that documents the first 20 years of the Victorian Women on Farms Gatherings.
- The collection of over 30 oral histories of women across rural Victoria.
- Innovative collaboration with community partners in collection and exhibition development, conference presentations, publications, digital storytelling and community engagement.
- A portable display unit that has not only been exhibited at the annual Women on Farms Gatherings, but also at Melbourne Museum, the Royal Melbourne Show and an International Landcare Conference.
- International acknowledgement of the project - with publications and conference presentations in the United States, Italy and Singapore.
- Cross-disciplinary interest and partnerships with a range of universities: Monash University, Otago University, New Zealand University, Queensland University of Technology and the University of Nebraska.
- Innovative leadership in museum methodologies relating to community partnerships and contemporary collecting.
- A strong presence on Museum Victoria's Collections Online.