DID YOU know that in a normal year millions of people visit museums in Victoria? After environmental experiences, cultural experiences such as museums, galleries and arts performances have consistently been the second biggest tourism-related market for the state. In addition, museums frequently have substantial online content for digital visitors to explore, and large numbers visit museum websites. Even the website of the Phillip Island & District Historical Society – which operates the small Cowes community museum– had 1940 hits from hundreds of people (not robots) from July 1 to 9 this year.
Now Bass Coast has a golden opportunity to establish another wonderful museum, which would be unique in Australia, and yet is firmly rooted in Bass Coast and Australian history. Every visitor arriving via the north Bass Highway passes the 877-hectare (2167 acres) site. Over the years, millions of people have passed the site and wondered what goes on in there. Hidden behind healthy, dense indigenous vegetation and accessible only to staff through a security gate at the end of a short road, the site's general purpose is well known. But just what is in there is not.
This is the Holden Proving Ground at Lang Lang, over which a campaign is now being fought by Bass Coast Shire Council and residents to have the state government purchase the land to create a major nature reserve in a part of Bass Coast where few such reserves exist. Those that do exist are seriously threatened with sand mining, despite their incredible botanical diversity found nowhere else in Bass Coast.
So what does this have to do with another museum for Bass Coast? Or with me, for that matter, who is known in the community as a conservationist, not as a vehicle enthusiast. Well, I have spent much of my life working in local museums, both as a volunteer since the 1970s, and as a paid curator for eight years. I look at this site and its history and think: what a fantastic resource for establishing a brilliant museum!
The facility is being advertised as a going concern, so presumably most of the infrastructure and equipment is still intact. While there is a possibility that the site may be able to be sold as a vehicle testing facility, the Linfox-owned and operated giant AARC all-vehicle testing facility at Anglesea is state-of-the-art by comparison.
Thanks to the Holden Retirees Club, a great deal of fascinating historical information about the Holden Proving Ground has been collected and appears on their website. It includes a general history, every site manager, publications, a list of 25,000 mile Passenger Car durability loops Holden was forced to use before the Lang Lang ground was built, documents, many annual reports, aerial views and photographs of activities at the site. The Club may be happy to share their material for use within a museum on the site.
As the facility has only recently closed, there is potential for former workers to be asked to become volunteer guides for any museum established there, to give visitors an authentic account around the detail of how the facility was actually used over the years.
I am not suggesting that the natural assets of the site should not be the main focus for acquisition by the government. Or that all the physical testing areas should be preserved. Neither am I suggesting that all the buildings should remain should the area be reserved, or that the Lang Lang site would be appropriate to house a collection of Holden cars (which is already done well in other parts of Australia). Nor am I suggesting that the public should have any vehicular access around the site, apart from some form of limited mobility access such as the Cranbourne Botanic Gardens uses.
What I am saying is that this is an important heritage site for Bass Coast, Victoria and Australia, and that to dismantle and sell off the equipment in the built section of the facility, or remove all of the testing surfaces, would be a major loss of highly significant vehicle-era heritage.
Of course, just who could fund the development and operation of the museum is an important consideration but not the subject of this essay.
If the facility is still largely intact, it would not be a huge expense to convert part of the built infrastructure site into a museum and to include some of the physical testing infrastructure, appropriately signed and linked to an information app, within the proposed nature reserve. Since carefully removed bitumen is a valuable commodity, any unwanted bitumen sections can be properly removed by a road profiler and the bitumen transported off the site and recycled. The crushed rock and sand underneath can also be removed if necessary and re-used in track or road surfacing. It may also be possible to reuse materials from any unwanted buildings.
This museum idea may seem counter-intuitive. What does the Holden Proving Ground have to do with nature in the Bass Coast context? There are lots of links, especially around how you and most of our visitors access nature; but I'll let you ponder that one.
We could also ask: would the vegetation have survived if the proving ground had not been there for the last 53 years?