George Balsillie from the Charleville Historical Society with their Rail AmbulancePhoto Andrew Messenger / Western Times
George Balsillie from the Charleville Historical Society with their Rail AmbulancePhoto Andrew Messenger / Western Times

Charleville history guru hanging up boots after 40 years

It’s the end of an era for the Charleville Historic House with long-time president George Balsillie stepping down from his position.

He’s been involved with the historical society for over 40 years but going on the age of 82, he’s wanting to hand the reins to someone from a younger generation.

Mr Balsillie is a founding member of the society and while he doesn’t remember the exact year it was formed, he remembers first coming along in the second meeting.

They’d meet at Hotel Corones and chat about Charleville’s history over a beer in the 1970s but late that decade, they got word of an old building next to the Murweh Shire Council building that was going to be knocked down.

“We guaranteed to form the committee and get the thing classified under the national trust,” Mr Balsillie said.

Luckily, they knew the owner of the building and were able to purchase it for about $6000.

After founding president Doug Weir stood down in the late 70s, Mr Balsillie took up the reigns and has been the leader of the club ever since.

“I’ve always had the go to take it on,” he said.

Annastacia Palaszczuk receiving a gift of postcards from president of Charleville Historical Society George Balsillie in Charleville. Pics Tara Croser.
Annastacia Palaszczuk receiving a gift of postcards from president of Charleville Historical Society George Balsillie in Charleville. Pics Tara Croser.

His proudest moment in the club was when he restored the Oakwood Steam Engine in 1987, the last steam train to power sheep shearing stands in Australia.

“We decided to give it a good restoration and put it in decent housing,” he said.

“That was one of the big projects I did for the bicentenary.”

He retired from his day job at 62 and shortly after, decided to come into the Historic House every single day to show people around, offer historical knowledge to visitors, and preserve the monument and artefacts of Charleville.

“There’s no point sitting at home thinking about when I’ll fall off the perch,” he said.

“You’ve got to keep the place open like a shop.”

Cody Pemberton helps George Balsillie at the historic house to create a showcase container. Photo Ali Kuchel / Western Times
Cody Pemberton helps George Balsillie at the historic house to create a showcase container. Photo Ali Kuchel / Western Times

New blood

Mr Balsillie has nominated current vice-president Robert Eckel for the job of president after he steps down.

But Mr Balsillie still plans to be a member of the historic society, spending his time working at the house.

Mr Eckel brings with him his experience as a councillor and mechanic, with his interest in old machinery and good connections with the community.

“I just joined to help out, down the back with all the machinery,” he said.

“Just because there’s an ageing committee there, so we sort of formed a few younger volunteers.”

Robert Eckel Photo Ali Kuchel / Western Times
Robert Eckel Photo Ali Kuchel / Western Times

He knew he was the man Mr Balsillie had in mind and although a bit reluctant to take up the post, he knows somebody has to do it in order for such a great asset to remain in town.

“George is going to stay very much involved,” Mr Eckel said.

“He still likes the contact with the tourists.”

Mr Eckel wants to keep the doors open as much as possible and to have the museum manned from 9.30am to 2.30pm every day, including weekends.

He wants to prepare the place for the upcoming tourist season, have volunteers rostered on to continue it’s smooth operation, and continue restoring old machinery.

“It just fascinates me with all that gear,” he said.

But when he has an hour to spare, Mr Eckel likes to look inside the museum and ponder how people lived back all those years ago.

With the ‘invaluable’ treasurer Gabrielle Wheeler, who has been with the society for many years, and the curator Vicki Dunstan, Mr Eckel has a solid team behind him.

Charleville Western Times

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