Right now, Shepparton is an extreme exemplar of the frustration many south-eastern states’ towns and cities, businesses, arts and tourism sectors are suffering through the persistence of the Delta strain blues.
Just as the north-central Victorian township was about to show off impressive new stuff, reopening one flash museum and rushing to stage a second, it got locked down … again.
While other regions are operating at close to the new normal, another wave of high case numbers meant Greater Shepparton was suddenly shuttered last Friday, not three weeks after an almost month-long confinement.
The much-expanded citadel to all things on road wheels, the Museum of Vehicle Evolution, had reopened for less than four days following a $5.2 million renovation before it had to shut its doors again.
The even more impressive new Shepparton Art Museum by the shores of Victoria Lake was initially supposed to launch late last year. In October this year, staff were pushing to get the best of its collection hung for a widely publicised November 20 launch.
Rebecca Coates, CEO of the powerfully quadrangular $50 million art gallery, is still saying “we’re confident we can work to that date”.
In contemporary cultural realms, it pays to have a name that translates into an easy-to-recall acronym. And when the gallery does get back to the process at hand – re-presenting itself as a must-do cultural destination – “Shepp” will become famous as the home of MOVE and SAM.
If another local outfit finally gets the chance to present live to the council to have its ambitious plan to rebuild the 1883 Post Office as a local history centre approved, Geoff Allemand reckons that being able to display more from the Shepparton Heritage Centre Museum’s vast holdings “will increase patronage by 80 per cent”.
So, why is this apparent cultural renaissance happening in a flat-land township hitherto known as a food bowl service centre or a petrol station stopover on a secondary highway? Maybe it’s due to a quality both Rebecca Coates and the Heritage Centre’s Geoff Allemand claim has always been intrinsic to the place. Allemand knows Shepparton “as a town of people with vision”.
Ms Coates explains that the catalyst for the new art gallery commenced when the town was offered “a major indigenous art collection; the Carrillo and Ziyin Gantner Collection that includes the Lin Onus Collection”. The late Onus, a local Yorta Yorta man, is a major Australian artist in any genre.
Shepparton responded to the offer by calling for entries to a design competition for a replacement gallery to Shepparton’s existing facility that, she says, was then housed in “a non-purpose-built council space bursting at the seams”.
In 2017, the estimable Denton Corker Marshall (DCM) was announced the winner. In a rapid construction timeline, the architects realised a landmark the architects aptly termed “a strikingly bold symbol, a sculpture in the landscape”.
While, to give the town “hope”, SAM’s ground floor gallery shops were opened at Easter 2021, the upper floor terraces, events spaces and galleries created to display the 4000 piece collection strengths of south-eastern Indigenous arts and ceramics have remained closed as one lockdown has flowed into another.
Given that on September 27, the shiny 10,000 square metre showcase of MOVE had barely cracked open its doors, its situation is possibly more exasperating.
But when it does recommence operating at Kialla, just south of Shepp, visitors will see an extraordinary exhibition of 50 big trucks, many cars – some from the Holden Heritage Collection – motorcycles, including the Garth Wallace collection of Harley Davidsons, bicycles (some dating from the 1860s), vintage clothing, and a collation from the local hero manufacturer who made Furphy’s famous farm water carts.
Furphy’s carts are prominently branded with “Shepparton”, and according to Mr Allemand, Furphy deserves the credit for kick-starting Shepp’s can-do culture by basing himself there in the 1870s.
“It all started with Furphy,” he says. “Shepparton didn’t have gold. Shepparton had many people of initiative and vision”.
Allemand’s vision is that with council, state and federal funding, the Heritage Centre can begin rebuilding the demolished Post Office in 2023 to become part of the new cultural triumvirate.
Meanwhile, those that are ready to operate must wait for clearance and the chance, as Rebecca Coates sees it, to change the perception of a town “that has been seen through the lens of disadvantage.
“But it’s actually a town of entrepreneurship, vision, and it is building a future.
“These new buildings are tangible examples that we are changing the agenda. And that there is now a very different way of seeing a different Shepparton”.