Origins of our Foundation
by Hugh King, Chair
I was invited to make presentation online to the Automobile Historians Association Symposium on 4 September 2021.
This presentation was given as an introduction to our AMHF, with an abbreviated statement on its history and antecedents, its objectives and its current status. It was set up in four ‘parcels’ and each was prefaced by a short quotation, to simplify.
Below is an edited and updated version of that presentation.
Begin as you mean to go on, and go on as you beganCharles H. Spurgeon
So what are we, what have we got, and where is it up to?
Australia now has – in the centre of motoring enthusiasm in Sydney – its own independent hub for motoring knowledge, research, and education. And for its supporter clubs.
It is the Australian Motor Heritage Foundation or AMHF a registered charity that has been serving the broad community since incorporation in November 2016. It is a going concern with a permanent home and an independent way of life.
The six founders had spent the previous five years investigating ways and means both at home and overseas before ‘pulling the trigger’ in 2016, with some letters of support notably from the Historic Sports & Racing Car Association, the ARDC and the Council of Motor Clubs (NSW).
Its first Strategic Partner was the Australian Racing Drivers’ Club or ARDC, which is the operator of Sydney MotorSport Park or SMSP. We have a long-term sublease of the ARDC’s prominent old Administration Building near the grandstand. This is near the new Western Sydney International Airport, close to the City of Penrith and in the demographic centre of Greater Sydney.
The AMHF was incorporated as a not-for-profit public company, limited by guarantee of the Members who are currently eleven in number. Only they can nominate to serve on the Board of Directors, and only they control the affairs of the company. It has no share capital, it cannot be taken over and it cannot raise money secured by a mortgage.
Like every true and permanent foundation, it is by its registered constitution both independent and permanent in nature. Its constitution is such that it has status as a registered charity, with applicable stringent compliance obligations. By this status it is not liable to pay tax on its income. This holds great attraction for donors of large, valuable collections of qualifying heritage material. It has also been important matter for our Strategic Community and Club partners, and for our several outstanding Ambassadors.
In early 2023 the Foundation secured a ruling from the Australian Taxation Office and our Library is now a ‘Deductible Gift Recipient’ for the purposes of the Australian tax law. This ruling is always difficult to obtain.
So it is an independent Foundation created for the long-distance future, set up for permanence and accessibility, for all its supporters across Australia and internationally. And in a first for Australia, it is dedicated to online service from a tailored database of unique motor-related collections. There are now more than 4,500 books, 14,000 magazines, and thousands of items of ‘primary source’ materials at our home base, more kept elsewhere, and the very special Graham Howard Collection is in-house now, all curated by our dedicated Volunteers.
It’s also a ‘hub for clubs’ available to supporting enthusiasts and clubs for committee work, research, seminars, online presentations, gatherings of cars and bikes.
A popular offering is the secure custody and a permanent location for a club’s regulatory stuff such as the registered office, the main statutory records of our supporters.
Our online policy is backed up and our main database is in the making. When the lockdowns were done and over, we continued working at the building and should soon increase this to at least four days each week.
Opportunity comes to the prepared mindDr Henry Kissinger
How did we prepare a vision for this?
There were six in our founding group initially, bringing collective thinking to the table about our observations of institutions both in Australia and elsewhere, listing the obvious limitations, searching for the ‘known unknowns’ about the future of our heritage. Then we put in seed capital, and self-funded a group visit over three days early in 2016 to Bathurst, on a careful schedule to talk with the owner and operator of the fabled Mount Panorama circuit, the custodians of the ‘Museum of Motor Sport’ at that circuit, and academics at Charles Sturt University, and local consultant economists and the ancient and honourable Light Car Club, and a local media man.
By the time we departed Bathurst after three days we collectively knew that it was not for us, the only home for us must be at or near Sydney Motor Sport Park. The reasoning was not difficult but it was unique to our circumstances and it cannot apply always or universally.
But by that time I also had discussions with an academic educator, my late sister, Dr Robyn Lonergan. She had toured widely, in the USA and Asia and had spent time on secondment in Beijing assisting administration and academics at a privately funded senior school. In other words, a teacher of teachers. Her suggestions to me were significant and then she drew up for us a schematic which became a basis for our presentations from that time forward.
We knew it as ‘our spider diagram’ and it was included in our presentations to, for example, in late 2016 to the NSW State Government and then to Glenn Matthews and Andrew Leithhead (respectively Chief Executive and President of the ARDC).
By this visual we were able to focus the mind on our wide purpose and on our insistence that our Foundation must be both permanent and independent.
It must serve the society in a broad way, having social cohesion as one purpose. It must teach but not preach, it must be apolitical and attractive to join and to support.
And it must find, collect, select and protect the heritage items in our Library, and above all, we must be ONLINE in order to be accessible.
This thinking can assist us to attract adherents, volunteers, and funds. It can be attractive to younger enthusiasts and not only in our motoring world. It underlies our business plan.
And we must have succession planning in mind, meaning that we have to be flexible in seeking our new aspiring directors and executive people. And we have been generous with our time and our ideas and our personal funds, within limits, certainly at the outset.
There are no new lessons in this, it all makes sense, but our group had to run it up the flagpole and salute it each time we met.
When we structured, then established, our corporate identity in November 2016, we had prepared our minds on this basis, and we talked the talk consistently over the following years with good effect. Each new director is given the drill!
We have still got that spider diagram in our minds, and our patrons, volunteers and supporters are coming to assist us in line with the objectives which we adopted at least six years ago.
We must learn from the past in order to prepare for the futureWilliam Wordsworth
So how can we grow and control this as a non-profit charity?
Our Foundation has been set up to perpetuate six essential features in its structure –
- It is tightly controlled by reputable and capable people having together all the skills that are necessary to qualify for, and continue to hold, the status of a registered charity under statute.
- It is not, and cannot be owned or controlled by our government or any statutory authority, or for that matter by any ‘sponsor’ or financier in our private sector.
- It is obligated to have an independent auditor and to remain compliant, year on year, with the special statutory obligations applying to all not-for-profit, tax-free corporates that qualify for charitable status. This imposes additional costs and restraints that our Directors all recognize.
- Only the Members of the company can be Directors or other office-bearers. This will ensure accountability and good governance, this is expected by all supporters and partners.
- Management should be appointed at one remove from the Directors. Our Head Curator and our Chief Operating Officer are not Directors, but are accountable to them.
- The Foundation must be and remain attractive, accountable and responsive to all dealing with it, and must deeply respect all laws protecting copyright and trusteeship.
So we have started with strong rules around security, because these are fundamental tools needed if we are to maintain good governance and our attractive responsive character.
We have recruited excellent enthusiasts who work hard with the initial six of us. An enjoyable, neat and safe work environment, centrally placed, and a ‘home’.
Also we are forward-leaning and looking to see the future trends affecting research, education, and improvement in social cohesion generally.
We do not look back to the past in order to preach about the virtues of times gone by, but we have access to excellent heritage material and expertise that we can employ to research then to teach how to use the past, to the advantage of anyone who enquires, particularly our clubs and enthusiast supporters.
Our method on the ground can be summed up as ‘detect, collect, select, protect’ in respect to our heritage materials, and to our volunteers. Both materials and the people have to be located, often with difficulty, and then brought into the sunlight, selected as appropriate and then protected.
As to our people, we have a structure and leadership that should reward their sacrifice of time with good, productive and enjoyable work in safe accessible premises. This is the only way to attract good succession among the next generations of volunteers be they researchers, docents, writers, librarians, administrators, or whatever.
As to our materials — we have already learned much from the experts.
Here I tip my hat to the RMIT School of Design – Harriet Edquist, Ann Carew and her team. I think that includes the irrepressible Dr Norm Darwin.
Also to Richard Ferlazzo, the so-talented head of design at GM-H as was, and his prominent colleagues Phil Zmood and Paul Beranger, and to Gerhard Heidbrink the Director of the massive archive at the ‘Holy Halls’ of Daimler-Benz Classik near Stuttgart who in 2017 showed to us on site how they preserve and access the 15 kilometres of company historical materials under their care.
We have many supporters and donors now. All of these wish us well and promise their help. We are learning the lessons they are teaching us.
The past is a foreign country — they do things differently thereL P Hartley (‘The Go-Between‘)
What is our conception of the motor heritage of all nations, that we are putting to you?
Some background might give the perspective that I bring to this. I think most of you will relate to it.
My use of the word ‘heritage’ must not lead us to trouble with semantics.
To me, there is a collective memory of the prominent features of learnings that we care about, but all are different and related to individual experiences.
The collective is sensed then discerned when we come together, often in discussion, sometimes by display or assertions such as we have today, and usefully in shared documents and oral records – such as books, journalism, academic papers, sale brochures, periodicals and reviews.
The permanent record, made accessible, is vital to ascertaining ‘heritage’.
Now ‘heritage’ is an adjective applied today mostly when valuing jewellery or nick-knacks or real estate assets. To me though it is an important noun which applies to the intangible virtue of the collective of historical items, written and oral records, photos and video material.
Memories are made of the items we have – if you can locate, touch and feel them.
We are all only three or four handshakes distant from eminent points and persons alive 150 years ago, who feature in our shared history. All so very recent to us heritage people, but not necessarily to our children, nor to our colleagues, nor to those elected or authorised to regulate our preservation and use of the nice vehicles our society has engineered and used in past times. To me, that can be a worry.
This worry of mine is not retrograde, not mere sentiment, but is a concern growing from the observed fact that our Australia, still youthful, quite multicultural and increasingly focussed on the now, mostly forgets the base from which it has sprung so recently.
This can be hurtful to the social cohesion that a shared interest in literature, hobbies, sports will foster. In the case of our splendid historic motor cars, bikes, vehicles of all types … we will all benefit from a source of inspiration about the heritage (not of the monetary value type) that surrounds them.
We are making the opportunities now on an organised platform, to hear and learn from our senior and experienced Ambassadors and club friends.
Oral history is so very important now. Frankly, I love the written word. I have a lawyer’s respect for the organised written record, and I find the motor car and aeroplane alike to be fascinating as agents for massive change and social advancement. The oral records and the multitude of opportunities come to us from the clubs working with Brian Caldersmith.
So here in Sydney, where Brian and I and our Foundation colleagues happen to live, we have ridden our luck, preserved the big core collection, gathered in some other good collections as well, and what you have suddenly now is an Australian asset in its own home, with an international outlook, permanent and accessible online, understood to be unique and useful,
……. an overnight success that has been ten years in the making.
Chair, Australian Motor Heritage Foundation