Michael Durrant has spent the last 35 years amassing one of the largest collections of fossil replicas in the world, earning him international acclaim and recognition.
Michael has the local spotlight on him too, with the February 2023 announcement that a natural history museum set to be built in Gulgong would feature a specially-curated selection of his work.
Fascinated with history as far back as he can remember, Michael grew up in the country and enjoyed hiking and the exploration that afforded him.
"I'd find snakes and lizards and skulls and rocks and things and bring them home," he said.
"I had this insatiable thirst for learning about the natural world.
"As a kid it was such a daunting prospect... trying to work out where things fit into the history of life over such an enormous period of time and yet this extraordinary thing just evolved. So I wanted to get hold of some of this material.
"I remember finding those few fossils when I was young and I thought 'this is extraordinary'. But the reality is a lot of stuff is incredibly rare and I thought 'well okay, if I'm ever going to get a collection, like a good reference collection together, I'm going to have to get some casts'."
Eager to preserve and archive his growing collection, Michael began on the art of casting replicas himself - the first being created in the 80s over his kitchen sink. Unsatisfied with the state of the art at the time, he decided to lift the bar.
"I started talking to museums and universities and private collectors, and people would give me things. I got to be trusted, and so I'd get extraordinary fossils given to me," he said.
"Then I found I could mold them, I just became very good at it, molding and casting, and then finishing and painting them and the collection sort of started. It was like a hobby that got out of control."
Soon he was fielding calls from other museums and the likes of Australian Geographic who wanted to tap into his expertise for preserving history. He set up a studio in his home at Young and worked on commissions for a number of years.
Michael is busy curating an exhibition of his work that would feature at a not-yet-built natural history museum in Gulgong. He became involved with the project when searching for a place to create and display some his work. Remembering Gulgong from visits in years past, he was impressed with the history that remained in the town and the welcoming nature of its residents. Originally it was floated that the collection could be housed in a room at the Gulgong Gold Experience before plans changed and an idea to construct the history museum was put forward.
While the museum is still in the early stages of planning and would likely bolster Gulgong's strong tourist appeal, a contingent of the Gulgong community have rallied against Gulgong's Red Hill as the preferred location for the museum. Two detailed Council surveys have found that Red Hill is the preferred location for the museum. The outcry however, made Michael ponder whether or not he would find a different home for the collection.
"...it's messy enough as it is but it got to the point where honestly I just thought you know 'what the f--k am I doing?' I thought, stupidly, naively, a town like Gulgong would think, 'wow, this guy's gone to all this trouble, he's got this collection that can go anywhere in the country and he's bringing it to Gulgong for perpetuity'," he said.
"The aim is to produce something artistic that looks good, so the audience can come in and go 'that looks great', even if they're not particularly fascinated with science of it they they go away with a positive impression. It just helps with the reputation of Gulgong too."