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Piece of history stays at home

NOT too many were smiling at the Perth BHP-Billiton room on September 26 last year when some of the State’s history went under the hammer at Christie’s auction in London.

Despite successful local bids for some significant and rare maps

and drawings by early French explorers Nicolas Baudin and Louis de Freycinet, the night’s main prize, an 1801 map of the Swan River, was lost – or so it seemed.

“Everyone was a bit down in the dumps when they didn’t win. The Freycinet map was the real prize,” BHP-Billiton Petroleum North West Shelf marketing director, and WA State Library custodian, Brett Mattes said.

Yet, within half an hour, the corks were popping and the champagne was flowing.

Perth businessman and avid art and map collector Kerry Stokes had unwittingly bid against the custodians. Learning of this, Mr Stokes put a call through to the BHP-Billiton bunker and the historical map was effectively handed over to the State Library.

It was the end of a tense and frantic 10 days for the custodians, who were galvanised after hearing about the Christie’s auction.

Within days, around $1.2 mill-ion had been committed by the Perth business community. One WA miner donated $500,000, while the second largest contribution of $150,000 came from Peter Woods, owner of niche education publisher RIC Publications and the Woodside Valley Estate near Margaret River. The State Government also registered its support for the project with a $150,000 donation.

State Library project leader Patrick Moore said securing that level of support at such short notice was astounding.

“When we said to people we wanted to buy the pieces at the auction it sort of sold itself,” he said.

Mr Moore said many companies could see the benefits to be had in helping ensure the maps and drawings remained in WA.

“From our point of view the competition among agencies is fierce for funding. That is why we are so happy with the money we raised,” Mr Moore said.

Mr Mattes said the timeframe was so quick that there was not even enough time to properly discuss the auction strategy.

“Really, no-one had a feel for how much the stuff would sell for. We didn’t expect so much interest,” he said.

Those gathered in the BHP-Billiton room were giving instructions to Perth book seller Robert Muir, who was bidding on behalf of the custodians in London.

“It was all a bit tense there for a while. It was done on the run,” Mr Mattes said.

The custodians is a group of people initially set up in late 1998 to establish the Save Our Century Fund. Its purpose is to assist the State Library Service in collecting, organising and preserving WA’s history.

Freycinet – Our French Collection will be on display at the library for three weeks.

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