As curator at the Great Cobar Heritage Centre, Kay Stingemore is passionate about the past, present and future of this fascinating mining town.
Kay approaches the front counter of the Heritage Centre with a wrapped package in her hands, excitement radiating from every inch of her person. As she unwraps the paper to reveal the framed illustration hidden inside, she tells the object’s story.
“It was given as a gift from the people of Cobar to the town’s doctor when he left. They would have sent it away to the city with photos to get the lettering and the illustrations done by hand there.”
She leans forward and her eyes gleam as she points out the colour and detail on the museum’s latest donation. Kay Stingemore is the curator here at the Great Cobar Heritage Centre, and it is clear that she is truly passionate about bringing the history of this boom-and-bust mining town to life.
“It's not just about the past,” Kay says. “It's about now and about who we might be in the future.”
She started working as an assistant curator here in 1998, making the move up from Melbourne because she wanted to live in the country again. She spent her childhood years in Esperance, Western Australia, and completed her studies in the big city. Holding two bachelor degrees and two diplomas she is supremely qualified for the job of delving into the stories of the people who lived in the past.
“I just like studying, that's why I like being a curator, because you are learning all the time,” she says. “I like getting an echo of the lives of people past and trying to figure out what their lives meant to them, and what they meant to the people around them, and what that means to us now, because it does mean something.”
Walking through the museum you get a sense of the lengths Kay has gone to in bringing the stories of Cobar’s past residents to life. She has made a special effort in the case of those stories that often go untold: those of women, children and ethnic minorities.
She loves the diversity of her job; because this is a small museum, she is responsible for every step of the curation process, from the cataloging and restoring to the storytelling and public education.
“We get a lot of people coming in who have family history in Cobar,” says Kay. “So if someone expresses an interest in something on display then the people on the front counter will come and get me to have a chat with them.”
She even used to do graveyard tours, where she would take guests from grave to grave fleshing out the stories of the people buried there.
“I had to be a bit sensitive,” she says with a smile, “because some of the returned soldiers died from venereal disease and their descendants were often on the tour, but sometimes they were the ones who would come right out with it!”
She loves Cobar’s strong community, and feels her job plays an important role in uncovering and maintaining the town’s sense of place.
“We are very isolated here,” Kay explains. “There are no easily accessible passenger trains or flights – it's an effort to get in and out even with good car travel. Even the transients get very involved in the community here – even after they go away they come back to visit.”
The Great Cobar Heritage Centre is located on the Barrier Hwy, Cobar, NSW. Click here for more information.