IF a building could sing then the Bank of Victoria building that houses the Yackandandah Museum has risen out of the ashes of a fire to the tune of its own aria.
The building was gutted by a fire in 2006 leaving just the brick shell and remarkably, an older wooden cottage.
Owned by the Yackandandah Historical Society since 1969 the 1860 building, built by The Bank of Victoria, has been refurbished and according to president, Susan Reynolds it has re-emerged on song.
“I often think I hear the building singing, the fire actually did the museum good,’’ Mrs Reynolds said.
“I sit here when it is quiet and think to myself the building feels a lot better.
“I am delighted with the rebuild it has been a very faithful restoration.
Gold was discovered around Yackandandah in 1852 bringing thousands of people at the height of the gold rush.
At that the time the town was first surveyed in 1856 the amount of alluvial gold being extracted from the area was significant enough for The Bank of Victoria to erect a stately building.
An existing slab and shingle cottage, built in 1857, was relocated to make way for the bank building.
The cottage still stands, having been spared the ravages of the fire, and gives visitors a view of a typical household from the early 1900s.
Mrs Reynolds has been a member of the historical society since 1978 during which time the buildings have been renovated and rebuilt.
“When the society first purchased the buildings they were derelict,’’ she said.
“They were unloved and really in a state of decay.
“The cottage was falling down, I remember one of the builders sitting on top of his ladder while working on the cottage and telling me the best thing he could do for us would be to drop his cigarette into it.
“It would have gone up in smoke.’’
The work on the slab and shingle cottage has transformed the museum into something that is unique in the area.
In 1979, the cottage was propped up and a couple of the rooms were re-wallpapered.
Mrs Reynolds said the effect was it had a feeling of being lived in since the 1860s and being gradually renovated as families and ways of life changed through to the 1960s.
“I can’t think of another museum with a building like the cottage because most of the buildings like it have fallen down,’’ she said.
“We were determined not to change the cottage too much or make it something it never was.
“It’s a humble building but now it’s almost more significant than the bank building.
“People often walk back into the main museum from the cottage gobsmacked.’’
The bank building ceased to trade as a bank in 1893 and was used by a tailor and as a residence prior to the Yackandandah Historical Society purchasing it to save it from demolition.
Mrs Reynolds said prior to the fire, the society had been developing and refining its collection. And today it focused on collecting items from the community.
“When the fire happened we had to reinvent the front of the building and also the organisation,’’ she said.
“There was so much to do to get back on our feet and we had no income for two years.
“But I never thought that we would not get the museum back.
“I remember standing on the front footpath and telling The Border Mail reporter on the morning of the fire that we would definitely rebuild.’
The internal aspect of the bank building was lost in the fire along with floors, furnishing, fittings and finishes, the external walls of the building being all that was left.
But it was that shell of a building which Mrs Reynolds said allowed the society to change the way it displayed and interpreted its collection.
“Before the fire we had a lot of furniture that had to be shifted every time we wanted to show a different exhibition,’’ she said.
“Our focus changed as we now had four bare rooms to tell our stories.
“It was a huge opportunity, if the fire had not happened we would still probably be a typical small country town museum with a lot of clutter and no real focus on our exhibition spaces.’’
IF uniqueness of a collection is the basis for comparison between museums then few can equal the exhibit which takes pride of place at the Yackandandah Museum.
Called the Bullock Skin, the exhibit brings together many elements of the story of a community celebrating a major event.
It was created to commemorate the coronation of King Edward the 7th in 1902.
At the time the coronation of a king was an event to be celebrated in style so the community threw a party to remember.
A bullock, donated by one of the local landholders, was roasted over a fire pit by the men of the town and its skin was tanned to be used to create the ornate frame which commemorates the king’s ascension to the throne.
A portrait of the king, embossed into the leather, watches through bullocks horns while the prominent men of the Yackandandah are displayed in formal photographic portraits.
The women of the town were not immortalised in a similar way but their contribution of plum puddings for everyone in town would have gone down a treat.