Corporal Cecil Stoker

Corporal Cecil Stoker

This collection proves that it’s quite okay for a museum to steal important things for the benefit of itself and to the public, a principle espoused for centuries by such august institutions as the Vatican Museum and the British Museum.

In 1982, two of our committee were inspecting the interior of Uralla’s oldest existing building, (yes, trespassing!), which was threatened with demolition. They discovered a boarded-up fireplace. So, boys being boys, they tore the timber away, Well, the local police were on duty in Armidale. And it was Sunday afternoon. And there was nothing else to do.

Inside the fireplace, covered with soot and rubbish, was a rusty tin trunk.

Inside the fireplace, covered with soot and rubbish, was a rusty tin trunk. Of course they pulled it out. Of course they opened it. That’s when the story ceased being funny. Inside was another trunk, in pristine condition. Of course they opened it. Inside was a veritable “treasure trove” of everyday artefacts relating to the Stoker family, who had occupied the building from about 1905 until about 1978. The objects, photographs and letters span the period 1860-1951. Some were very personal, none more so than those belonging to Cecil Stoker who enlisted in the AIF in 1916.

none

It was later deduced that the trunk had been hidden away by Cecil’s mother in 1951, the year she died…without ever having told anyone about the secret collection. On show, it tells a simple family story, with a powerful denouement. And a tacit universal message. Featured in the “show” is a red rose, plucked in France in 1992 and brought lovingly back to McCrossin’s Mill. The exhibition proves that you don’t have to have valuable antiques to tell important stories.

And it proves that it’s okay to cry in a museum.