McCrossins Mill – Kent Mayo

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McCrossin’s Mill is a beautifully restored granite and brick flour mill that is 100% operated by volunteers. The ground floor and the gardens are available for functions, while the upper two floors house fascinating exhibitions. Kent Mayo tells us more …


Tell us about the Mill’s early years?

Uralla Historical Society was formed in 1979 specifically to save the redundant 1870 building, and to restore it under the supervision of visionary architect Peter Myers, who suggested the building should not only have a museum, but a Function Centre as well.

Despite the braying of sceptics in the community, The Society members never compromised and never strayed from their vision. In 1983, Architect Myers won the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (NSW) Restoration Award for McCrossin’s Mill.

That same dedication was applied to the restoration of the 1878 Stables/Store and the 1881 Chaff Shed, both of which have won prestigious awards.

The whole McCrossin Precinct (1870-1881) is now on the NSW State Heritage Register. This is a phenomenal achievement, given that all three buildings may well have been lost to decay or demolition.

Basically, it’s all been done by volunteers, with the support of the NSW Heritage Office and the NSW Ministry for the Arts, who have supplied various dollar for dollar grants over many years, and with the guidance of Architects Peter Myers and Tony Deakin.

A huge debt is owed to the Society’s building supervisor, Peter Feitz. Just two weeks ago, Peter finished the installation of the reconstructed dovecote on the Chaff Shed roof to mark the end of thirty three years of building restoration.

Importantly, the whole McCrossins’ Mill redevelopment has influenced the Uralla community to respect, enhance and exploit its heritage assets. The Heritage Walk, ‘Find Charm in Uralla’ is proving very popular with tourists, who now make Uralla a destination because of its charming atmosphere.

McCrossin’s Mill Museum and Function Centre is owned outright and operated by Uralla Historical Society Inc., whose members all work on a voluntary basis. Nobody receives a cent for their input. They do it because it is a beautiful place, an important cultural asset and a great thing for Uralla’s prosperity.

Who runs the Mill these days?

Volunteers carry out much of the restoration work and building maintenance, create museum exhibitions, entertain coach loads of tourists, clean the place, develop the magical gardens, and act as chefs and/or waiters at functions.

The museum is open to the public every day of the year, thanks to volunteers who serve on the roster as museum attendants and have visitors commenting on the “friendly, welcoming staff”.

Why is McCrosssin’s Mill described as an “unusual museum”?

The prime exhibits of this museum are the superbly restored buildings themselves.

The museum is highly regarded across Australia as a leader in the field because of its unusual empathic approach. Kent’s favourite line goes like this: “There are only four species of living things that inhabit museums. They are, in order of intellect, curators, silverfish, mice and human beings. Humans are the only one of these with complex emotions. Therefore, we should be trying to stimulate those emotions, to encourage people to think, to cry, to laugh …”. Put another way …“museums used to be stores of artifacts … now, they are becoming storehouses of emotion”.

Some museums pride themselves on the vastness of their collections. Fair enough! But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re effective … Sometimes a single artifact can tell a wondrous story. Take Tutankhamun’s mask in the museum at Cairo. Once you’ve looked into the eyes of that, the rest of the junk lying around the room becomes meaningless, even if it is made of pure gold!

The motto of the Mill is “Why Not?” which leads to a very positive attitude and strangely serendipitous discoveries and events. It also encourages a world view greater than that of a submarine’s periscope. It means the Mill can tell moving local stories that have universal appeal.

How many visitors do you get per year?

The museum attracts 6,000 visitors a year, which may not sound much, but is significant in terms of Uralla’s population. Many hundreds more come for weddings, conferences and parties. This is a real boost to Uralla’s economy.

Guests book out local motels and enjoy the local pubs, cafés and shops. What’s more, they go home raving about the Mill, because there is nothing quite like it anywhere, and about the charming nature of the town and community.  Word-of-mouth – the very best advertising!

Tell us about your functions?

We make sure every function is memorable for the clients, because it is done the way they want. And it’s really enjoyable for our team of volunteers, because they are constantly surprised, even entertained, by the creative ways people arrange and decorate the place.

Certainly a really memorable function for our team was the official opening by Kristina Keneally of the new kitchen in October 2009, to mark the 30th anniversary to the very hour of the decision to buy the derelict 1870 Mill and do something good with it.

This wonderful new facility cost $160,000, with the bulk of the funds granted by the NSW Ministry for the Arts, The Ian Potter Foundation (Melbourne), and Uralla Shire Council and the rest raised by the hard working SAC team over three years. It was a very moving occasion, with excellent supportive speakers praising the work of our team. Kristina Keneally spoke about the dedication and integrity of the Mill volunteers and went home to Sydney to say glowing things about her special afternoon in a very special place, McCrossin’s Mill, Uralla.

Future exhibitions and events coming to the Mill?

Several exhibitions in the Mill are currently being upgraded …Trickett’s Triumph, Corporal Cecil Stoker, Sunny Jim Mackay, The Best Batsman in the World and A Tribute to the Aniwan. Revamped exhibitions are also being installed in the newly completed Chaff Shed. It’s Just Not Cricket pokes fun at the great game and indeed, at museums! She’ll Be Right, Mate looks like your typical folk museum collection, but has some lovely ‘make-do’ pieces and a text spiced with wry humour. These two ‘shows’ prove that it’s OK to have a good belly-laugh in a museum.

Thanks Kent.

This story was published in issue 63 of the New England Focus

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