The Organ Historical Trust of Australia was founded in 1977 and incorporated in 1978 under the Victorian Companies Act. Its establishment followed a period after World War 2 when major significant pipe organs in Australia, such as the 1880 Grand Organ in the Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne, were destroyed and broken up for scrap and others, such as the Anglican cathedral organs in Sydney and Brisbane, and the town hall organ in Adelaide, rebuilt and greatly altered. Since OHTA's establishment, Australia has enjoyed a period of outstanding organ restoration work and many significant instruments have been carefully conserved to international standards. This has enabled Australian organbuilders to develop exemplary restoration skills and associated crafts people, such as organ pipe decorators, to attain an outstanding level of competence.
This national organisation has the following aims and objectives:
- To preserve historic pipe organs and organbuilding records;
- To stimulate public interest in pipe organs which are of national or local importance;
- To encourage scholarly research into the history of the organ, its musical use, and organ music.
The membership of the Trust currently stands at more than 250, including members throughout the country and overseas. The membership includes professional musicians and organbuilders as well as those who have an interest in the organ and its history and preservation.
The Trust is actively involved in promoting the cause of organ preservation at a national and state level. It has been strongly involved with governments in making legislative provision for preservation and in providing grants for restoration work. It also enjoys a close working relationship with such bodies as the Heritage Council of New South Wales and the National Trust of Australia (Victoria).
Through its listing on the Federal Government’s Register of Cultural Organisations OHTA has deductible gift recipient status and has been able to sponsor restoration appeals for a number of significant pipe organs in New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria.
The Trust publishes a quarterly journal, OHTA News. It is also involved in publishing a revised edition of the Gazetteer of Pipe Organs in Australia, which lists all of the known pipe organs in the country. Work on this ambitious project is well advanced. OHTA also has an informative website that started in 1998 and has been accessed more than 32,000 times.
Annual conferences have been held since 1978 in all Australian states and in New Zealand. The conferences have acted as a forum for the preservation of historic pipe organs and included recitals, scholarly papers and visits to significant instruments. At the Trust's 2005 Sydney conference, many younger performers were given the opportunity to perform on a wide range of significant instruments and display their musical skills.
The Trust makes an award for research into the history of organbuilding in Australia. Known as the Charles Ivor Matthews Memorial Scholarship, this commemorates the life and work of an important Australian organbuilder. It also manages the Christopher Dearnley Award to promote recordings of Australian organs and organ music.
For a period of some years, the Trust employed a research officer to research and provide full technical documentation of almost 300 organs in Australia and New Zealand.
An important current project is the restoration of the 1875 Hill & Son organ formerly in Adelaide Town Hall for the Barossa Regional Gallery, South Australia.
The Trust also offers an advisory role in the restoration and preservation of historic organs with designated members offering an expert consultancy role.