Council demands answers from Board of Newcastle Maritime Museum Society

17 Dec 2018

Almost seven months after the members of the Newcastle Maritime Museum Society (NMMS) unanimously voted to wind up, the future of the 7,500 piece collection remains up in the air.

The decision to wind up followed an earlier decision by the Board of the NMMS not to extend its lease on its former building on Honeysuckle Drive.

The timelines committed to by NMMS for winding up have lapsed including an agreed deadline to provide City of Newcastle with key financial information.

The NMMS through its lawyers Peter Evans and Associates wrote to City of Newcastle's (CN) CEO Jeremy Bath on 22 August 2018 demanding that a list of items "be disposed of in order to discharge the liabilities".

The NMMS lawyers subsequently wrote to CN on 13 September 2018 that it would "be necessary for us to advise our client to activate Rule 29 of the Constitution and place the Society into voluntary liquidation". To date the NMMS Board has not done this.

City of Newcastle CEO Jeremy Bath said the most important outcome being sought by Council is that the city’s maritime history is preserved in Newcastle.

"The Board of the Maritime Museum emailed me a list of their creditors in June with debts totalling $212,000.

“The Board of the Newcastle Maritime Museum Society have proposed to pay debts by selling items from the collection. However, to date the Board have failed to produce financial records to substantiate any of these debts. This is especially critical given more than $144,000 of this debt is listed in the NMMS’s email as being owed to a number of the Museum's directors and their former General Manager.

"I met with three of the Newcastle Maritime Museum's directors on the third of October. At that meeting they assured me that evidence validating all financial claims would be produced within two weeks. A final deadline issued to NMMS for producing the information lapsed on Friday.

"As the trustee of the Maritime Museum's collection, Council is responsible for disposing of items (whether by sale other otherwise). In disposing of items, Council is committed to ensuring the disposal is in keeping with the Museum's Collection Management Policy and Procedures.

“The Museum's Collection Management Policy makes clear that the monies from disposal can only be used in limited and appropriate circumstances. Specifically, it states: Any monies received by the governing body from the disposal of objects should be applied solely for the upgrading of the collection either by purchase or by conservation.

"It is for this reason that City of Newcastle is calling on the Board of the Newcastle Maritime Museum Society to abandon its seven month push to sell items of the collection. Further, with no way of raising monies to clear debts they claim are owed to them, we further call upon them to waive any personal claims so that the Maritime Museum can be voluntarily wound up as their members voted on the 21st of May.

"Right now, the collection is safe. When HDC and Property NSW instructed the Maritime Museum to vacate their museum and storage properties, Council secured a temporary storage site for the collection at Carrington courtesy of a generous offer from Thales. However, this agreement runs only to September 2020 and as of right now, the collection remains under the control of the Newcastle Maritime Museum Society.

"Until the Maritime Museum Society formally winds up and transfers ownership of the collection to Council, City of Newcastle cannot begin the process of reviewing the 7,500 items and creating a new exhibition space. The Newcastle Museum stands ready to become the new permanent home of the collection. Newcastle Museum has the capacity to allocate a significant exhibition space which will ensure the Maritime Museum collection remains permanently accessible to the people of Newcastle and its visitors.

"The City of Newcastle calls on the NMMS to act and eliminate the risk that at some point, a creditor will appoint a liquidator and a fire sale will send the collection into private hands. This would be an unnecessary and tragic outcome for our city’s maritime history," Jeremy Bath said.