Time running out for extraordinary war exhibit
TIME is running out for all those procrastinators who "have always meant to get to" the Central Coast Interactive War Exhibit.
If people don't start going, there will be no exhibit.
That's the sad truth for the project's founder, military historian and local businessman Andrew Church.
Andrew has just been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, having last year fought to overcome Stage 3 bowel cancer.
Understandably, the 56-year-old has said he can no longer afford to shore up the project which he invested about $100,000 to establish three years ago, and which contains thousands of artefacts worth up to a $1 million which he has collected over the years from all conflicts in which Australia has been involved since the Boer War.
Currently the not-for-profit exhibit averages only about $100 in takings per week, and needs to make at least six times that amount just to break even with $2000 monthly rent, plus electricity, phone and other costs.
And this is no ordinary museum.
It comprises life-size settings of Gallipoli Beach, and trenches, both filled with the artefacts of the day, including a stretcher used at Gallipoli. Some 15 stereos and 200 lights add the sounds and atmosphere of battle.
There's an army aid station, a radio communications exhibit and Second World War war office, as well as uniforms from both World Wars, Korea and Vietnam, and much more.
"People who come in are absolutely blown away," Andrew said.
"We've had the Minister for Veterans Affairs say he's never seen anything like it, and travellers from around the world who've said the same thing.
"It's a real piece of heritage. A lot of the artefacts that I've got here, not even the National War Memorial has.
"There's a piece, dug up in Europe, of a B16 bomber flown by an Aussie pilot in the Battle of Britain.
"It should be a real asset for the Central Coast community, but so many people I talk to say 'it's on my to-do list', but they never make it."
Unfortunately, Andrew has been unsuccessful in applying for numerous council, RSL, state and federal grants.
"I had seen this as a 10-year project, including getting the schools regularly involved, to simply make it sustainable," Andrew said.
"I thought it would be something unique on the Coast which would be there forever, and give people of all ages an appreciation of the sacrifice made by these men and women - but given my health situation, I can't keep working at the pace I have been to pay for it."
Andrew is now looking at the unhappy option of having to call in an auctioneer to sell off the pieces, which would potentially be scattered around the world.
But he hasn't given up hope yet - for the exhibit or his life - "I still believe I'm going to kick it, I'm going to knock it for six," Andrew said of the disease.
And for his life's passion, Andrew is equally hopeful, that perhaps council may have a building to house the exhibits rent-free, the exhibit will attract a sponsor, or the people of the Central Coast will just get behind it.
"I still want it to be there - to make a difference. So many people are moved by it when they see it, and it's potentially such a great learning experience for schools.
"It doesn't take that much to keep it open. We just need more support from the community - more visitors - to cover the costs of operation.
"I don't want to paint a completely negative picture, but I need people to understand this is a real life and death situation for me.
"I've been propping the exhibit up with my business since it began, but I genuinely can't do that anymore."
- Because the exhibit has charity status, donations are tax deductible. If you want to help, either by making a donation, or just getting out there and visiting the exhibit at 24 Tatura Ave, Gosford, with your family or community group, call 4324 1588 or go to www.cciwe.com.au.
- The Central Coast Interactive War Exhibit is open 10am-4.30pm every Wednesday (plus Thursdays during school holidays), the first Sunday of every month, or by appointment. Admission is just $15 adults, $10 Seniors and students and $40-$50 families. Memberships are also available.