A permanent Home for the Sommerville Collection

In 1988 Warren Somerville made the decision to find his collection a new home. He formed an advisory group in Orange which included the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, and began to generate awareness and seek funding for its permanent display.

The Support of Charles Sturt University
Dr Peter Hodgson, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Head of Bathurst Campus of Charles Sturt University (CSU) Bathurst read about Warren’s endeavour. It was this article that inspired Peter to try to bring the Somerville Collection to Bathurst. It was the beginning of a five year project to realise the vision. “Five stimulating, frustrating and rewarding years.” Peter Hodgson Peter Hodgson invited Warren to work with CSU. The project was viewed as an opportunity for the University to give something back to the community. The project also recognised Warren’s commitment to education in the region and his lifetime achievement. It was essential that the following conditions were met: the collection had a permanent home in Australia, preferably in the Central West; the collection would never be broken up and; would remain a legacy of Warren Somerville’s achievement.

The University’s Vice Chancellor, Professor C D Blake, and Peter Hodgson approached the City’s Mayor Ian Macintosh. Macintosh saw the Collection’s potential for tourism and added his enthusiastic support. Recognising a lack of conservation expertise in the City and the University, the group sought the involvement of the Director of the Australian Museum, Professor Michael Archer. With Australian Museum support the Somerville Collection could move to Bathurst. Warren agreed to donate his Collection to the Australian Museum on condition that it remain in Bathurst. To achieve this, a not-for-profit company and Board of Directors were established and the NSW State Ministry for the Arts added its support to the project.

The new Home
Mayor Macintosh recognised that, in addition to tourism, a new Museum would provide a worthwhile use for the vacant former school buildings in the centre of Bathurst. The vision to transform the school buildings into a museum was presented to the NSW Government when Premier Bob Carr was invited to view Warren’s collection. The Premier agreed to make the buildings available to the project which became a complex process involving many government departments and other stakeholders.

A community effort
Peter Hodgson and his office at the University worked tirelessly to raise the funds needed to realise the vision. The Somerville Collection Board and the CSU Foundation had the task of attracting more than $4 million to establish the Museum, $1.8 million of which was donated by the local community. Government and non-government bodies, corporate and private investors, local and national organisations, all interested parties were captivated by Peter’s persistent ambition and Warren’s acute passion. The names of donors are listed permanently in the Museum foyer.

“...I wanted a future that would guarantee its security, maximising its effect on tourism, education and research.” Warren Somerville

Prospective donors were taken on tours of the old public school buildings in groups of 10, introduced to Warren’s collection and the Museum project. After walking on planks through the building site, spotlights illuminating the Gothic revival ceilings, guests were enthralled by Warren’s stories and achievements. “... you couldn’t do that today....We had two years of these!” Peter Hodgson

Fundraising evenings were a regular event. Warren would ‘wow’ the potential donors with his stories and his stones. Peter Hodgson

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