It is surprising the number of visitors from Ballina Shire who visit our museum and comment that they have lived here for years had never visited before. Equally surprising are those who say that they didn’t know we had a naval and maritime museum and that they had found us by chance or through the internet. Perhaps given the fact that it is difficult to find traces of our past along the river or foreshores this may come as no surprise.
To paraphrase Jamaican author Marcus Garvey, a people without the knowledge of past history, origin and culture is akin to a tree without roots. The Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum along with our sister organisation Crawford House in Alstonville aim to fill this gap and give our local residents a sense of the past and how we got to be the community we are. In addition, we provide a valuable tourist attraction and play a significant role in helping to support our local economy and an educational resource for our schools.
In 1983 the Naval and Maritime Museum had its foundation in some vacant rooms situated in the “Old Pilot’s Cottage” on the corner now occupied by the present Ballina Tourist Information Centre. Within a decade the collection had grown and the museum moved to the Regatta Avenue site with a purpose built extension to house the famous Las Balsas Raft, which in 1973 made landfall in Ballina.
By 2002 the collection had again outgrown its accommodation and museum volunteers with the support of Council, Federal government and the local community raised funds to build an extension which almost doubled the exhibition space at the museum.
More recently we have seen the enclosure of the MV Florrie and preparations are well underway for the completion and opening of an exhibit around the vessel and ship building in the Richmond River. Again, we have had the support various organisations including the Australian National Maritime Museum, Federal Government, local Council and the tireless efforts of our volunteers. We are looking forward to opening this display in the near future.
But why a Naval and Maritime Museum many might ask?
Ballina owes its existence as a town to shipping on the Richmond River. Originally settled in 1842 when the ship Sally arrived in the river mouth carrying cedar cutters keen to exploit the natural resources of the area. By 1847 there were four regular trading vessels taking bring in supplies to the settlements along the river and taking out produce and passengers. Ship building came along side trade and soon we had a thriving industry. By the beginning of the 1900’s Ballina had grown to be the third biggest port in NSW alongside Sydney and Newcastle.
Our Naval heritage developed on the back of ship building and repair with many sailors paying off after World War 2 and moving to Ballina to find work in the ship yards and slipways.
As well as preservation of our history and heritage the Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum is a major contributor to the tourist industry in Ballina and a significant contributor to our local economy. In the past year we had 7,140 visitors pass through the doors. Four hundred and thirty-six of these visitors were from international destinations with a further four thousand seven hundred from interstate and various parts of NSW. All needed accommodation and meals. In addition, the museum injected $44,000 into the economy much of it into local businesses and trades.
There could be no better way to find out about the past and our rich heritage and support your local community than to spend a few hours with us at the museum. You will find us in Regatta Avenue adjacent to the swimming pool and behind the Tourist Info Centre, look for our flags and come on board.