Lindsay: I came to York in 1976 as the Shire Clerk.
James: I am from South Perth, and came to York in 1979 to establish the York Motor Museum with my partner, Peter Briggs. He had money, I had flair and I was married to a York girl.
I first came here in 1946, just after the war with a friend of mine, John Craig, who had the Castle hotel. While I was here I met a girl, Gwen Marwick. One day I was a bit adventurous and I said ‘Would you like to marry me’ and she said ‘Yes’. So that was the start of a wonderful relationship.
I could see the possibilities of a Museum in York. I came up here one day to lunch with my brother in law and while I was here I was told about a stately home that was for sale. Gwen and I had a look. She said ‘It’s lovely, but you’d hate York’. I said ‘Darling, when I’m with you I’ll go anywhere’.
I soon ran into Peter Briggs, looking like he’d just come into a lot of money. He thought the Museum sounded like a good idea and we became partners. After we arrived in York the first thing I did was demand, in a nice way, to see the Shire Clerk, who happened to be my friend Lindsay. I explained what I was going to do. He was excited. We decided that we would turn this little town, which was in a moribund state, into something exciting, and where people came to visit. We saved York and gave it a period of time that I don’t think I ever previously saw or will ever see again.
When I bought the property for the Museum it was empty. The front door window was broken. The place was full of cobwebs and out the back was a jungle. As we developed and expanded we bought the Ford dealership and knocked a hole in the wall, leaving us with a huge accommodation for about 150 cars.
Lindsay: As Shire Clerk, we also started a focal point on tourism. And we were lucky at that time to have quite a famous state planner in Margaret Fieldman, who had recognised the historical significance of the main street of York because it was relatively untouched in those days except for the 1968 earthquake. Margaret developed the restoration that we could do in the main street and brought in some heritage grants. So we re-established the Town Hall and the whole of the main street. We offered access to grant funds if people developed their buildings in the way that was recommended. And we did things like paint scrapings to find out what the original colours of the buildings were, and street scaping. It really was a unique time to do this, and now York is preserved as a result.
Tourism was being developed on the theme of ‘York’s future is in its past’ and this development won many awards in the early days. It was a matter of encouraging various self-made tourist attractions to utilise the buildings. So the Motor Museum timing was perfect. Its uniqueness got the main street going with tourists coming to visit it. James started up a vintage bus tour around the town for tourists too, which people thoroughly enjoyed. Before long it became a very popular little town and the shortage of accommodation meant that a lot of money was invested in the town to provide accommodation for tourists from the metropolitan area.
The old York hospital was turned into accommodation and a mutual friend became caretaker. Some guests said there were ghosts in the building; that story even hit headlines in the West. People claimed to be woken up in the middle of the night and that there were people rushing down the passages and all of this. Our friend got to the stage of putting a sheet over himself and running down the halls like a ghost just for the thrill.
James: The bus tour took place on what was very much a vintage bus. In order to start it you had to crank it by hand - one of the reasons I’ve got a sore back today. We had a lovely bell and I used it to announce that a tour was about to happen. I’d get people on board and in a very happy, jubilant mood, and point out, as we went around the town, various historical buildings and their uses. Some people didn’t smile so I would ring the bell lustily when I saw them and say ‘And she’s from the Cheer Up Society’ and people would laugh like crazy. We also used to take the cars and air them out on the main street. Sometimes we’d take them to Northam or interstate. We got things going. We put York back on the map.