The Friends Archive – Chapter 1: Story Background


Chapter 1:  Story Background


The Habitat Advocate’s regrettable recent experience with the Blue Mountains Historical Society‘s mismanagement of a valuable Blue Mountains archival collection and with successive bullying and mistreatment of us, leads us to conclude that the Society of which The Habitat Advocate is corporate member, has seriously lost its way.   

It is trashing Blue Mountains archival collections gifted to it in trust, with a bullying star chamber in favour of pandering to the needs of unrelated third party Blue Mountains Bridge Club?

Back in December 2016, following the formal winding up of the Friends of Katoomba Falls Creek Valley Inc. (The Friends), its archival records were donated in good faith to the Blue Mountains Historical Society at nearby Wentworth Falls for entrusted safe, protective and accessible local storage in perpetuity. 

At the time of the archive handover, it was mutually agreed between the former office bearers of The Friends and the Society’s then Management Committee that this archive be entitled ‘The Neil Lewis Stuart Archive‘ in honour of The Friends’ founder and longtime Chairman (and Working Group Co-ordinator, amongst other honorary roles).   

Neil had faithfully led the organisation for the previous 27 years (1989-2016) galvanising a movement of local surrounding residents of Katoomba Falls Creek Valley (‘The Gully’) to put an end to the invasive car racing use of Catalina Racetrack, situated within the northern portion of The Valley/The Gully). 

The Friends under Neil’s stewardship then continued to volunteer to restore the environmental integrity of the lobby Blue Mountains Council restore the natural integrity of Katoomba Falls Creek Valley (The Valley/’The Gully’).   Neil was much respected and loved by many Katoomba locals, he having inspired, championed and co-ordinated many local Katoomba residents (from the front) to proactively contribute as custodians of care for The Valley – to be part of the local community’s collective spirit – by playing at least a small part in helping to restore and care for the natural environment of this beautiful creek valley – engaging in The Friends bushcare, resident activism, donating, all in an collaborative community effort to rehabilitate and care for The Valley. 

The Neil Lewis Stuart Archive comprises a unique and substantial record of those 27 years.  It amounts to the equivalent of 30 large archive boxes of mostly paper-based records, maps, photos, and ephemera, as well as a donation of The Friends’ remaining bank balance of $3657 in January 2017.   These funds were donated to the Society as part of the archival gift, purpose-specified to fund improved storage of the records into two purchased steel cabinets and to re-organise the mostly loose records into enduring acid-free storage materials to be a useful catalogued research valuable resource for the ongoing benefit of the Blue Mountains community.

The initial handover arrangement with the Society’s then management under the generous leadership of the then honorary Vice President, the late Stefan Indyka, with key support by fellow committee member Ted Szafraniec, was professionally co-ordinated and all proceeded extremely well and amicably.

Relevant to The Habitat Advocate organisation in all this is that our founder and Conservation Consultant, Steven, as a long standing member of the Society on and off since 2007 and currently a corporate member, initiated the archive handover communication process between the two parties back in September 2016, following Neil’s untimely passing in May 2016, then Neil’s wake, and the subsequent expressed need of the former Friends executive to find an appropriate, secure and trustworthy permanent home for the records then stored at Neil’s Katoomba home.

In good faith and out of respect for Neil, Steven from 2017, with key insight and knowledge of Des (former Public Officers/Chairperson) about the Friends activities, both undertook to re-sort the archive onsite at the Society’s Hobby Reach location in Wentworth Falls.   The Society’s Archive Co-ordinator on the Management Committee, Fiona, recognised Steven as the Lead Custodian of the Archive, with due approval to re-sort the archive into a fully organised structure, grouped by topic category, sub-topic and further then into chronological order.  Such an undertaking has been substantial and continues.  Steven and Des volunteered to undertake this re-sort of the archive for a number of reasons:

  1. The state of the archive was received by the Society in a loose dishevelled state due to the sudden passing of its caretaker.  It was thus received having little use to any uninformed researcher;
  2. Both as former active members of the Friends on the Working Group (Steven for 6 years; Des for 26 years!! – mostly as Public Officer and Chairman) – we both had the requisite insight about the Friends activities in order to be able to accurately re-sort the records into a cohesive topic-based group order;
  3. No-one else came forward to offer to help Des or Steven organise the archive, despite invitations to former members; 
  4. Both Des and Steven back in early 2017 received the trust and approval of the Society’s then Vice President, the late Stefan Indyka, to undertake this re-sort project and he granted us full exclusive interrupted access to the then unused space of the Society’s Meeting Room (now Seminar Room) where the two 5-shelf cabinets were stored, to re-sort the records with complete discretion as Des and Steven chose to see fit and appropriate; and to catalogue mindful that future researchers would invariably be uninformed about this particular history.


Thus far in June 2023 more than 740 volunteer hours have been contributed by both Steven and Des to re-sort this large archival collection of The Friends.  Steven and Des were former active members of The Friends Working Group and have applied their unique insight knowledge of the activities of The Friends to organise the archive into a highly organised order with a digital directory.   This Archive Re-Sort Project has thankfully continued to received the full support and guidance from Fiona, the Society’s Archive Co-ordinator.

So it is not just disappointing, but quite tragic that The Society has since mid-2020 during the pandemic lockdown, reneged on The Friends good faith and trust  to properly care for and manage the agreed donation back December 2016 of The Neil Lewis Stuart Archive.    After subsequent changes of the guard on the Society’s management Committee – 2017, 2018, 2019 and during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown 2020-2022, things all went very pear-shaped at Hobby’s Reach. 

When volunteer management committees go bad


This web book, The Friends Archive – War and Peace with the Blue Mountains ‘hysterical’ Society, records the ongoing tragic story of the mishandling by the Blue Mountains Historical Society of its its formerly agreed adopted custodianship trusted from December 2016 of The Neil Lewis Stuart Archive and of its ongoing ineptitude, dismissive arrogance, elitism and bullying behaviour. 

This web book story presents a factual blow-by-blow account of what has been experienced and about what continues to happen out of this once respected historical society.   It is a sad indictment of how a volunteer-based not-for-profit historical society, ruled by a volunteer clique and incoming dysfunctional executive, can lose the plot and its organisation’s raison d’ĂȘtre in such a short timeframe.   

From personal experience as a current member of the Blue Mountains Historical Society and the lead archive custodian of The Friends archive, this is a warning to anyone considering entrusting any archival records to this organisation.

BMHS ‘star chamber’ committee meetings – a semblance of Vicar of Dibley parish committee meetings?


>Next Chapter:   Chapter 2: The Friends Archive – The Archive Handover Process


>Back to Contents


error: Content is copyright protected !!