When Fiona Ferguson took up her job in 2003 as manager of the Age of Fishes museum in Canowindra she faced, in her own words “a most challenging role – a blank canvas.”
The grounds were empty, except for rubbish, and there were “no long-term plans, no funds, a vision but no idea of how to get there.”
Now, as Fiona ends her tenure, heading back to her farm after 11 years of “exciting, rewarding opportunity and struggle,” her legacy is an exhibition of fish fossils of the 360-million-year-old Late Devonian age that’s been hailed by none other than David Attenborough as “world class.”
“David Attenborough’s message definitely got through to the public,” she says. “More visitors have come here because they saw the story of his visit.”
But in a reflection of the struggle she’s waged to develop and promote the museum, she adds: “There needs to be more community interest. There are people in this community and outside Canowindra who’ve never been here and don’t know what it does.”
Fiona says she realised early on in the project that it was “vital” to diversify beyond the 30 astonishing rock fossils, adding a library, retail section, study room for schoolchildren and coffee shop around the Newcrest Mining-funded main gallery.
“It’s been a long race to run,” she says. But her devoted marketing and development efforts have certainly paid off, and Canowindra is all the more culturally richer for it.
By Derek Maitland