Earlier this month I was lucky enough to travel to Muttaburra to deliver some workshops. Although a (very) small town, Muttaburra boasts two museums – the Dr Arratta Memorial Museum and Cassimatis Store and Cottage – which are managed by a small but dedicated team of volunteers. Keen to learn about how best to care for and interpret their collections, we devised a series of four workshops covering collection policies, interpretation panels, cataloguing, and object labelling.
While we all may know what is exciting and unusual about our own collections, it is worth giving some thought to how we share this with our visitors to make sure we’re providing the best possible experience of what our collections have to offer. During our workshop on interpretation panels, the Muttaburra volunteers thought and talked about how to plan exhibitions and displays (and what’s the difference between the two!), how best to interpret objects to make them accessible and interesting for visitors, and the nuts and bolts of what makes good interpretation panels. Thinking and talking is good, but doing is even better, so the volunteers soon got stuck into making their own interpretation panels. Now armed with the tools of the trade, I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with their new skills!
Writing a Collection Policy may not sound like the most exciting aspect of museum life, but it is really the most important document in helping you manage your collection well. It helps you clearly define all the main aspects of managing your collection, including how you will collect objects, how you will document them, how you will care for them, as well as tackling some of the more tricky issues of deaccessioning and ethical considerations. With two very different collections to manage, some thought had to be given to how to structure the collection policy to best suit their situation, but very quickly the volunteers worked together to painlessly produce a document which will be their first port of call in all important decision making processes.
Another hallmark of a well managed collection is good documentation, but with backlogs common to all museums, it often gets put in the too hard basket. We spent some time in Muttaburra looking at the processes for accessioning items into the collection, followed by the more detailed work of cataloguing. While some useful work has been done in the past at the Hospital Museum, we had to spend some time trying to establish if previous location systems were still practical, and devising new ones for the Cassimatis Store and Cottage. As always, practice makes perfect so getting their own electronic catalogue started was an important component to the workshop.
A good catalogue is of little use if you can’t identify your objects, so applying accession labels to objects was our last topic. Good object labelling, combined with good documentation, is also another weapon in the museum arsenal when confronted with a disaster. There are several options for doing this safely and unobtrusively dependent on the materials of each object, so the volunteers were introduced to a range of techniques. I expect that soon everything that isn’t nailed down will have a number attached to it!
The workshops were funded by the Regional Arts Development Fund through Barcaldine Regional Council. Thanks to the volunteers for being such wonderful hosts and willing students, and also to the volunteers from the Aramac Tramway Museum who made the trip to Muttaburra to take part. It’s great to see small museums and communities working together. I’m looking forward to seeing more of your new skills in action.
North Queensland Museum Development Officer, Ewen McPhee, has continued to work with the Norfolk Island Museum on a project detailing the material culture from Pitcairn Island.
With the permanent population on Pitcairn Island decreasing, the Norfolk Island Museum decided to start documenting the material culture that is held in the Pitcairn Island communities on Norfolk Island and in New Zealand (Auckland and Wellington). The Norfolk Island Museum was also interested in looking at collections that were held in other museums to ensure their own collection policy, research and interpretation planning was well informed and appropriate.
Janelle Blucher,Team Leader of Heritage Management, at the Norfolk Island Museum applied to the Pacific Development and Conservation Trust for funding to undertake this project. This funding was successful and in February 2016, Ewen joined Janelle on Norfolk Island to start the project.
Initially the aim was to try and identify objects that arrived on Norfolk Island in 1856 when the entire population of Pitcairn Island moved to Norfolk Island. This trip was undertaken on the vessel Morayshire and has been well documented in historical accounts. Janelle and Ewen were particularly interested to find out which objects the Pitcairn Islanders deemed important enough to bring with them on this initial voyage from Pitcairn Island.
Community recording days were held at the Norfolk Island Museum where people were encouraged to bring in their objects and retell their family histories and stories. Janelle and Ewen developed a standard recording sheet that in time will inform a database of community collections that will be maintained by the museum.
The response on Norfolk Island was very positive with Pitcairn Island descendants and other members of the community, including collectors, bringing in their objects to the Museum. Janelle and Ewen were able to photograph, record and document information about the families and the objects over a number of days. They were also invited into private homes where they viewed many larger items such as Boston whalers rocking chairs, photograph albums, paintings and souvenirs. Objects that Norfolk Island community members brought into the museum included yollo stones, baskets, hats, wooden carvings, a signed cricket bat, painted Hatti leaves, photographs, letters, bibles, turtle shell hair combs, and dolls.
Ewen and Janelle then traveled to New Zealand to the cities of Auckland and Wellington where they continued the community recording. In Auckland they were shown contemporary weaving of baskets, hats and mobile phone covers, along with tapa and print making items. More yollo stones appeared, along with a whalebone picker used to thatch house roofs with, wooden souvenir boxes, Hattie leaves, painted coconuts, woven fans, baskets and a top hat. Ewen and Janelle also visited the Auckland Museum where they were shown the collection of over 11000 stone tools that were acquired by the Museum. All of these items, held in the archaeology collection, pre date the arrival of the HMS Bounty on Pitcairn Island but nevertheless add to the body of knowledge surrounding the occupation of Pitcairn Island. In Wellington, Janelle and Ewen made contact with Pitcairn Islanders and their descendants as well as visiting the Alexander Turnbull Library and Te Papa Museum to view their Pitcairn Island collections.
Possibly one of the most prized objects brought out from Pitcairn since 1856 is made from stone, a vesicular or aerated basalt stone, fashioned into a functional Polynesian style domestic item known as a ‘yollo’ stone or a food grater. Measuring approximately thirty by twenty centimetres this rectangular shaped stone is scored across its surface and used to grate or ‘yollo’ breadfruit, banana and yams. This food preparation tool made from Pitcairn Island’s basalt is still used by some, and is highly valued by island families on Norfolk and also by Pitcairn families now living in New Zealand.
The Te Papa collection revealed an exquisite whalebone tapa beater, a wooden candle holder with an inscription of the Bounty story, painted clam shells, a wooden magic box, contemporary tapa, and other souvenir trade items.
Also in Wellington, Janelle and Ewen met with the donor of a collection of glass plate negatives taken in 1928 and now in the Alexander Turnbull library. These photographs clearly show what life was like on Pitcairn Island in 1928 and are an important snapshot in time for further family history and documentary work. The Library also contained an 1814 account by Royal Navy Lieutenant Willis on approaching Pitcairn Island complete with a narrative and paintings. Other objects included newspaper cuttings, photographs, and souvenirs.
Janelle and her team at the Norfolk Island Museum are continuing to collect information and developing the database. The Norfolk Island Museum facebook page has been used to connect with the Pitcairn community and shows more photographs from the project.
The early hours of Saturday July 18th will mark the first anniversary of the fire which claimed the Waltzing Matilda Centre in Winton. It has been a long hard road for the volunteers of the Winton District Historical Society so it is timely to reflect on the enormous amount they have achieved since the devastating impact of the fire. Previous blogs have detailed the remarkable results achieved by conservators on a number of significant objects (Winton Fire response – Waltzing Matilda Centre, Winton Fire Response – the next phase of recovery, Phoenix objects from Winton, The conservation of a fire damaged print), but the work hasn’t stopped there.
Since March 21st the volunteers have opened those areas of the complex unaffected by the fire on a daily basis, and have welcomed over 1800 visitors. Although displays in the main Waltzing Matilda Centre were impacted by the fire, there’s still plenty for visitors to see in the museum complex with a fascinating range of cultural and natural history objects from the region on display. Visitors can also see objects salvaged from the fire and the ongoing work of volunteers in conserving them.
The Waltzing Matilda Story, which previously formed part of the Billabong Show in the Centre, was saved from the fire and can be viewed in the Sarah Riley Theatre, which has also played host to a variety of community activities since the fire, including Waltzing Matilda Day, a famil tour and smoko for interstate journalists, and a free talk on overshots in Western Queensland by historian Sandi Robb.
In amongst all this activity, the volunteers have continued to work steadily through the objects still requiring attention. Locals and visitors have also donated their time and expertise in the ongoing cleaning process, and the Winton Creative Arts Group have achieved stunning results with some of the collection, reading room, and storage furniture, with 11 large items and 12 chairs restored.
With all these achievements it’s easy for outsiders to forget the physical and emotional toll a disaster such as this takes on those who face loss and damage of their treasured collections. But the images below demonstrate just what a huge accomplishment the successes of the past year have been. The Winton District Historical Society are collaborating with Council, architects and the curatorial team on plans for the new Waltzing Matilda Centre, incorporating the museum precinct, and we can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.
Follow the new Centre’s progress at Waltzing Matilda Centre
At the recent Q ANZAC 100 Heritage Leaders Workshop held at the State Library in Brisbane, I was asked to participate in a forum about community involvement in First World War Projects with three other speakers. This gave me the opportunity to discuss a few of the projects I have worked on as the MDO for far north Queensland:
Portraits of the North (Mareeba Historical Society)
Cooktown at War (James Cook Museum, Cooktown)
HistoryPin Project (Australian Sugar Industry Museum, Mourilyan)
Re-Honouring Cardwell (Cardwell and District Historical Society)
But as we sat and discussed the projects and their merits, I wish, in hindsight, that I had reflected a little more on what aspects of the projects didn’t go to plan or experienced hiccups. I am the first confess that the delivery of some of my projects encountered speed humps and that we had to make changes and deviations along the way. It’s rare that we speak publically about mistakes or hiccups – but I find these are the very things that provide invaluable learning. If we shared these experiences more readily with some of the other groups undertaking projects we might help them avoid some of the issues we have encountered.
I was also aware that the projects I discussed are but a few of those that have been produced locally, and that one of the legacies of this extraordinarily busy period of history making was the skills and contributions of museum and historical society volunteers. In far north Queensland, Cairns Historical Society, Mareeba Historical Society, Mareeba Shire Council, Cairns Regional Council, Douglas Shire Historical Society, Loudoun House Museum, Mount Garnet Visitor Information centre, Cooktown History Centre, to name just a few, have all delivered a range of exhibitions and events that provide a distinctive far north Queensland take on the First World War and involved people in undertaking historical and museum based work.
Fortunately, the Heritage Leaders Workshop gave participants an opportunity to see projects from across the region, and also appreciate the different sort of people involved. Far north Queensland was represented by volunteers from Mareeba Heritage Centre, Douglas Shire Historical Society, Atherton Library and Mulgrave Settlers Museum. Ken Keith spoke about the Douglas Shire Historical Society’s Douglas Diggers WWI Project. During one of the workshops, Don Lawrie from the Mulgrave Settlers Museum took the stage and entertained the audience with his storytelling and object based remembrances. I think it is this personal involvement, and the satisfaction that people glean from it, that lies at the heart of these projects’ success.
After months of research and preparation, the exhibition on the Fryer brothers and the medical history of the war opened at the Springsure Hospital Museum on April 24th. Two of my previous posts, The Legacy of War and Dear Mother… dealt with the experiences of four of the Fryer brothers of Springsure during the First World War and the impact this had on their lives, and that of their family, following the war.
While researching the exhibition I had found, despite the terrible tragedies which had befallen the family during and after the war, the Fryer brothers were still survived by children, grand children, great grandchildren, nieces and nephews. The family have contributed to the research and followed the journey of discovery, and to have so many attend the exhibition opening to remember the lives of these young men made the event thoroughly unforgettable. Family had travelled from as far afield as Darwin and Tasmania to be at the event, and the opening was attended by around 80 family members and invited guests.
Another special guest at the opening was the Manager of the Fryer Library, Simon Farley. Simon and his team have been extraordinarily generous in allowing me access to the Fryer material and providing images for the exhibition. As the custodian of so much of significance to the family and researchers, Simon’s presence was greatly appreciated by everyone. The Fryer Library have honoured their namesake with their own online exhibition JD Fryer: Student and Soldier Also attending the opening were local veterans from WWII and Afghanistan, which gave the content of the exhibition added relevance.
The heritage listed 1868 Springsure Hospital Museum provided a beautifully intimate setting, given added weight by the Fryer family’s connection to the building. The exhibition was funded by the Central Highlands Regional Council Regional Arts Development Fund. Cr Kerry Hayes, Central Highlands Regional Council Mayor opened the event and other Council representatives attended, with many having worked behind the scenes to help make the day a success.
This blog will outline the conservation treatment I carried out on a print that was damaged in the fire last June at the Waltzing Matilda Centre in Winton. The print was on loan to the Winton and District Historical Society for their ANZAC exhibition “More than a name” when the fire struck. The print suffered water damage, weakening of the paper support and isolated areas of charring.
The print is a duplicate of the iconic oil painting “Menin Gate at Midnight” painted in 1927 by Australian artist William Longstaff. The painting depicts the shadowy ghosts of fallen soldiers marching past the Menin Gate Memorial in Belgium. The image gained iconic status in Australia as the nation mourned the thousands lost in World War One.
The treatment process took approximately 4 days to complete and involved the following steps:
Step 1: Surface cleaned front of the print
- The surface of the print was cleaned using a soft brush and air compression avoiding the charred areas.
Step 2: Consolidating the charred areas – part 1:
- The weak charred areas on the front of the print (see right) were consolidated with a thin Japanese Tissue (Bib Tengujo) and wheat starch paste to prevent any loss of the damaged paper. The tissue was then carefully toned using pastel pencils to reduce the visible impact of the charred areas.
Step 3: Removal of the window mats:
- The window mat was mechanically removed.
- Under the mat board was a thick layer of adhesive tape residue which had to be removed from the surface of the print (see image below right). As the paper support was very porous, it was necessary to use methyl cellulose poultices to soften the adhesive as direct applications of water would have caused staining of the paper.
Step 4: Backing board removal:
- Once the window mat was removed the acidic and charred backing boards, which the print had been directly adhered to, were removed.
- The first layer of mat board was very thick strawboard which had swollen significantly on exposure to water (see image above right). Most mat boards are a composite of a number of layers of paper glued together which can be carefully removed layer by layer. Straw board is made by compressing straw pulp in one thick layer. If the board gets wet, the pulp forms dense clumps of fibres which make removal very difficult and time consuming. The removal of the board had to be carried out without water and took more than two days.
- Under the strawboard was another thinner mat board layer that was also removed. The bulk of the mat board layers were removed dry. Fortunately the second backing board was layered in structure making removal much easier than the strawboard layer.
Step 5: Consolidation of charred areas – part 2:
- The charred areas of the print were consolidated on the back of the print using Lens Tissue and wheat starch paste.
- Areas where the paper was weak but not charred were also consolidated.
Step 6: Reduction of water staining:
- The water solubility of the printing inks was tested and found to be stable so the print was blotter washed in deionised water to reduce the heavy staining. Blotter washing uses capillary action to gently remove any soluble staining and discolouration without the need to apply water directly to the paper surface. The treatment was successful and reduced the staining making it much less visibly intrusive to the image.
Step 7: Cleaning the brass plaque:
- The brass plaque was cleaned by firstly brushing off any loose dirt and then very gently cleaned with a jewellers’cleaning cloth. This did not change the appearance of the plaque but further treatment was not carried out to prevent damaging the surface.
Step 6: Rematting and reframing:
- A new window mat package was created matching the original mat configuration including the brass plaque. Canson 100% cotton cellulose mat board was used for the mat and backing board.
- The print was then placed in its original cleaned frame. New glazing and an archival quality backing board were used to seal the frame package.
Early on Wednesday 1st December, a fire broke out at the Hervey Bay Historical Village and Museum. The fire started in the rear building adjacent to the Workshop. The fire has caused major damage to a number of historic vehicles, stationary engines and machinery. The Museum’s tools were also destroyed in the blaze.
Thankfully the fire was contained to the Workshop area and the rest of the village was left unscathed and the Museum will be open as normal.
Since the fire, the Museum has been overwhelmed by offers of help and donations of tools. They are confident that the future is bright and the fire has made them more determined than ever to keep improving the Museum for their visitors.
For more information and to see images of the damage, please go to the Museum’s website: http://herveybaymuseum.com.au/stop-press/
If you are interested in donating to the Museum’s recovery fund, please contact the Museum’s Secretary:
Phone: 07 4128 4804 (Opening hours)
Post: 13 Zephyr St, Scarness, QLD
You can also show your support by visiting the Museum!
For me, the bulk of the subject matter of Surf World is completely foreign. Having grown up in country NSW, I know little about the surf. Sharks concern me- if I’m swimming at the beach, I know that I’m on their turf. Despite our home being girt by sea, I really haven’t made the most of this particular part of the Australian landscape. So I didn’t know what I would make of the exhibition and objects at Surf World.
As you might expect, surfboards visually dominate a lot of the space, brightening it with a range of glossy kaleidoscopic colours that would equally be at home in the Great Barrier Reef, or in a psychedelic flashback from the 60’s. For many of the surfing enthusiast visitors, the opportunity to see the boards used by a range of surfing pioneers and legends is the real drawcard. It’s an opportunity to see up close where surfing has come from, and the subtleties of design that make a board perform. I’m told that surfers just can’t help themselves and regularly touch the objects on display, gently tracing the rail lines with their fingers , sensing the curvature of the board with their palms and obtaining all sorts of new information about the objects through their tactile senses. And although signs at the entry to the exhibition space request that you refrain from touching, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the staff aren’t secretly pleased at just how engaged and appreciative of the collection the visitors to Surf World are.
But it’s not all about the boards. The permanent exhibitions chronicle the growth of surfing culture in both Australia and on the Gold coast. It is largely arranged chronologically by period in rows that guide you back and forth across the space, almost like a piece of flotsam being moved on the shoreline by rolling waves. The exhibitions are complimented with interludes of other surf culture displays, such as filmmaking, music, fashion, photography, ephemera and art. You really don’t need to be a surfer to appreciate the history and material culture that have embedded this activity firmly in our national identity.
Surfing has been described as being as much a lifestyle as it is a sport. It’s not until you see the way that the volunteer staff, largely surfers themselves, engage with both the museum and the visitors that you get a true sense of what that means. I listened with fascination to a spontaneous interchange between staff and a young tourist hailing from the Basque country. With surfing as their common ground, their conversation quickly snowballed into a series of anecdotes about their shared surfing fraternity, peppered with jargon and exotic sounding place names that won’t ever make it onto the common tourist maps (hopefully). I was treated to an interpretation of some of the highlights of the collection by a passionate ex board shaper, who pointed out the craftsmanship of board design, the physics of surfing, as well as the impacts of technology on the industry. It would be tempting to describe Surf World as a special interest museum, but I can see it embodies more community museum values than we might initially give it credit for.
So, as I pointed out earlier, by the end of the visit I was swimming in the subject. My newfound guide friend’s enthusiastic accounts of the feeling of freedom found in the waves was so infectious that I found myself paused longingly in front of a board on the “for sale” rack in the gift shop as I left. Maybe there’s something in this surfing thing after all….
With the first low developing in the Coral Sea it is a good time to enact your cyclone preparedness plans.
Usually this should involve:
- checking that all volunteers and local council staff are aware and have read the cyclone preparedness plan, and understand what need to be done if a cyclone watch is declared;
- checking your disaster response bin and ensuring that it is up to date with the list enclosed in the bin (see below for list);
- ensuring a recent backup of all computer files has been carried out, or check that routine automatic backup systems are working and up to date;
- ensuring the museum curator and office holders have updated personal contact details for each other stored in their personal mobile phones;
- checking the list of phone contacts for volunteers, local council contacts and emergency services;
- checking local council cyclone plans;
- checking that any procedures dealing with post disaster event are located in a safe place and that volunteers and staff are aware of these;
- locating all keys to display cabinets, testing that all locks work and access is available to remove objects. Storing the keys in the key safe and ensuring volunteers and staff know how to access;
- ensuring collection items and display images have been updated and that volunteers and staff are aware;
- ensuring any loaned objects are assessed and that they are returned if practical. Contacting lenders and make them aware that cyclone season is approaching;
- cleaning all gutters, down pipes and removing overhead branches
Your disaster bin should be located in an area that is readily accessible and should have a list, kept with the bin, stating what the contents are. It is important to replace things like batteries and review its contents on a regular basis.
THIS DISASTER BIN SHOULD CONTAIN:
- 1 torch
- 1 head torch
- 1 spare battery
- 10 metres plastic sheeting
- 2 rolls waterproof tape
- 1 pair scissors
- 1 stanley knife
- 4 packets paper towelling
- 40 Chucks wipes
- 1 sponge mop
- 1 spare mop sponge
- 1 hand sponge
- 1 plastic bucket
- 1 brush & pan
- 8 garbage bags
- 2 boxes nitrile gloves
- 1 large & 1 medium rubber gloves
- 2 dust masks
- 2 waterproof pens
- 30 tyvek labels & ties
- 1 roll cotton tape
- 1 notebook
- 2 pens
- 30 ziplock bags
For more information about cyclone and disasters preparation, visit some of the Museum Development Officer previous blog posts or contact us.