The end of an era for Angie Little, one of Coonamble’s most passionate and dedicated volunteers.
FRIDAY 20 December will mark the end of an era for the Coonamble Museum.
When Angie Little closes the doors at 12 noon that day she’ll also be closing a major chapter of the Museum’s operation as she has given notice to Coonamble Shire Council that she will no longer be the Honorary Curator.
“My involvement with the Museum started in October 1985,” said Angie.
“The Heritage Committee were holding a heritage weekend and Bruce and I thought we’d go and have a sticky beak.”
Angie was smitten straight away and, having been invited by volunteers Sylvia and Neil Heinz, she began to work weekly at the Museum on Wednesdays, her flexi day from her ‘real job’ at Coonamble Roadhouse.
Her husband Bruce was also keen and helped when he could but it wasn’t until he retired from Telecom ten years later that he could really spend some time with Angie at the Museum.
It became a labour of love for them both until Bruce’s death in 2005.
Coonamble Shire Council installed a plaque outside the front door of the Museum to mark Bruce Little’s contribution to the Museum as a committee member and volunteer over fifteen years.
Angie continued on, throwing all her energy cleaning, sorting items for display and welcoming visitors.
Many of her waking hours were spent researching local history and thinking about what could be done to improve the Museum for local residents and visitors.
“We average about 380 visitors a year,” Angie said. “I’ve loved imparting Coonamble’s history to school groups, local organisations and bus tours.”
“St Brigids are the best supporters – I just love it when they come.”
“The children just sit and listen to the stories,” she said.
In 2005, Council staff organised for assistance for Angie from professional Museum Adviser, Shah Jones.
“That was really tough,” said Angie. “She came in and told me to get rid of this, get rid of that.”
“I didn’t like it at all.”
But Ms Jones persisted and Angie eventually clicked with the idea of paring back the displays and really telling the stories that make our local history unique.
“Nothing had a story-line,” she said.
“The biggest challenge was clearing everything out so people can visualise what it was like.”
“We closed for three months while we worked on cutting back to 15 exhibits in the four rooms.”
There are some permanent exhibits but every January since 2007 Angie has changed some of the stories being told by the items on display.
The stories of Aboriginal police trackers, explorer John Mitchell, local bushrangers, inventor Sir Edmund Hallstrom, migrant families and the Royal visit by the Prince of Wales in 1920 are all on show, among others spotlighting local life in various moments in history.
Every storyline is backed up by intensive research undertaken by Angie on her own time and supported by items she has received from donors with local connections or has otherwise sourced.
One of her favourites is a telephone switchboard donated by Darby Adams which is identical to the one she used as a ‘Call Girl’ or ‘Hello Girl’ when she worked on the Coonamble Telephone Exchange after she left school in 1968 until it closed in 1974.
“These two jobs – Museum Curator and Call Girl – were the best in my life,” said Angie. “They made me into who I am today and quitting a job you still love so much is never easy.”
Angie clearly has not been Curator for the money.
For many years she worked completely unpaid, and it was only when former Mayor Tim Horan became aware of her out-of-pocket expenses in the mid 2000s that she was offered a $50 per week honorarium – which has remained in place ever since.
Angie loves her work and her enthusiasm for local history eventually found another outlet through social media.
Her Coonamble’s History Past & Present page has an ever-increasing following that currently numbers more than 10,000 people.
While her body can’t keep up with the cleaning and other physical tasks associated with Museum management she expects to continue to find an outlet through social media for her unflagging interest and perhaps by offering her services to the Coonamble District Archives Committee.
While the Council has yet to consider the future for the Coonamble Museum, Angie will leave the facility far better than she found it.
Her favourite display is the War Room, encompassing local connections to the two World Wars plus Vietnam and Afghanistan, which she put together in 2018 to mark the 100th anniversary of the World War I armistice.
That exhibit will remain in place as a permanent display with its 600 paper, crochet and ceramic poppies, uniforms, information and memorabilia donated by local residents, servicemen and their families.
“I wish the Coonamble Shire Council the very best of luck with the continued running of the Museum,” Angie said.
“I hope they keep it open.”
“It has amazing potential and is the main drawcard for people visiting our town,” she said.
“And there is so much history yet to be revealed.”
If you haven’t been to the Museum to see Angie’s handiwork, see if you can drop by before next Friday to say thank you to one of our district’s most dedicated volunteers.