The feeling of excitement emanating from the people gathered for the opening of a 100-year-old time capsule was palpable.
The event, which took place at Wingham Memorial Services Club in September 2023, had taken many months in the planning - not just for the opening of the capsule, but its retrieval.
It had been buried in a wall of the Wingham Memorial Town Hall on November 16, 1923, as the hall was being built.
Our forebears had been very efficient in their attempts to ensure everything inside the capsule would remain intact - the metal capsule was soldered shut, and then encased in lead.
It was an anxious wait for all gathered to see what, if anything, had survived the 100 years. And it was a long wait - the two containers surrounding the precious contents took some grunt to get opened.
Once all the contents were laid out (all handled by conservationists with white gloves) I was overcome with a sense of deep awe and history as I looked at the contents which, thankfully, had survived quite well.
There was a beautiful parchment scroll, handwritten in copperplate penmanship. It listed the soldiers from the Wingham district who did not return from World War I.
There was a set of nine coins - two half pennies, a penny, threepence, sixpence, shilling and florin, all dated 1922, and a half sovereign (dated 1915) and a sovereign (1923). They were all in good condition, with the two gold coins shining brightly (now safely tucked away in a safe somewhere).
The third item was the front page of the Wingham Chronicle, dated November 16, 1923, listing the names of 196 soldiers from the Wingham and Upper Manning who had served in WWI. This item, for me, is deeply poignant - I was a journalist at the Chronicle when the 140-year-old paper closed forever in August 2020.
Momentary sorrow aside, I wasn't the only one filled with childlike delight at the contents. At the historic opening were the other members of the committee tasked with the time capsule retrieval and unveiling - Manning Valley Historical Society (MVHS) patron Mave Richardson AM PSM, Wingham RSL Sub-branch member Terry Gould, historian and author Maurie Garland, MVHS member Bill Beach, and Herbert Flemming. I am on the committee as a member of the public for publicity purposes.
Also attending were staff from MidCoast Council, who, as custodians of the hall, had been helping us along the way, conservationists from the Wingham Museum/MVHS, members of the Wingham RSL Sub-branch, and Wingham Chamber of Commerce, president Kev Ellis and his tools.
Unveiling and celebrating
Unsurprisingly, when word of an official unveiling ceremony started spreading on social media, there was a lot of interest as to what would be inside the capsule.
And at the official commemoration service where the contents were being publicly revealed on Saturday, November 29, the heritage-listed Wingham Memorial Town Hall was packed to capacity.
Descendants of soldiers listed on the scroll, where descendants could be found, were invited as special guests to lay a poppy on a cross, kindly built for the occasion by the Wingham Men's Shed. The descendants were accompanied by school leaders from local schools, and the sounds of pipes played by piper John Andrews.
Another descendant and special guest was James Chambers, great nephew of the architect of the Wingham Memorial Town Hall, James T Chambers.
Local dignitaries who attended were MidCoast Council mayor Claire Pontin, deputy mayor Alan Tickle, councillors Katheryn Stinson and Paul Sandilands, general manager Adrian Panuccio, and state Member for Myall Lakes Tanya Thompson.
As the original contents of the time capsule are in the process of being conserved, copies of the originals were unveiled in frames, to be later hung on the walls of the Wingham Memorial Town Hall. Officially unveiling the items were mayor Claire Pontin, secretary of Wingham RSL Sub-branch Leonie Gilford, and James Chambers.
Rev Trevor Leggott OAM, chaplain of the Wingham RSL Sub-branch, said the Prayer for Australia, sub-branch member Del Heuke recited The Ode, and the National Anthem was led by Ariana Shneider and George Hoad AM.
At the conclusion of the ceremony the framed copies of the time capsule contents were displayed near the honour rolls at the hall's entrance. The originals will be displayed at the Wingham Museum, except for the original coins which are stored in a safe in another location.
Across the decades
Following the official proceedings, the audience was entertained by a concert produced by Ariana Shneider. Titled Across the Decades, the concert featured one item from each decade from 1920 to now. Performers were vocalists George Hoad, Ariana Shneider and Jodie Cooper, dancer Kelahrni Mobbs, Wingsong Choir and vocal ensemble JetSAM.
And into the future...
The committee is deciding on items to be included in a new time capsule to be installed into the walls of Wingham Memorial Town Hall, not to be retrieved and opened until 2123.
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