As a volunteer intern at the Australian National Maritime Museum it has come to my attention that museum personnel are inherently just as fascinating and enigmatic as the objects which are kept and displayed in the exhibits. In my quest to find a suitable artifact in the Maritime to be the focus of this blog, I encountered an entertaining and unsuspecting specimen in the form of a security guard. He has often regaled me with comical anecdotes as I’ve passed him on my way to lunch from time to time and as such I was pleasantly surprised to find a familiar face wandering around the galleries. My questions about any ‘curious’ objects left him pondering for a moment or two before he proceeded to detail to me a rumour he had heard concerning a display statue outside the ‘Passengers’ exhibit. The statue is a depiction of a young boy seated amongst travel baggage grasping a teddy bear.
Museum labels inform me that children were commonly passengers on sea vessels. They travelled via ship to Australia with their families, at times to grasp the new working opportunities the country had to offer, other times to seek refuge. Children were also known to travel on their own, as part of the British scheme to populate the newly colonized country.
The security guard divulges to me that two former security guards of the museum swore they saw the spirit of the child walking along the platform adjacent to where the statue is situated. Night at the Museum eat your heart out. They have not since returned to the museum, he adds for further emphasis. Distinctive of many urban legends, a precise date is not specified and the witnesses of the specter are not identified by name.
He does not cease there. On his first 3am shift following the revelation of what transpired in the after hours of the museum, the elevator proceeded to run on its own. No buttons were pressed and no one else was in the building. Upon being asked if he was ‘spooked out’ he chuckled and reported the elevator had been known for working in mysterious ways for some time.
Thanking him for his input and preparing to move on he appeared to have had an epiphany; his eyes became focused as he insisted that he show me the wild animals that secretly frequent the museum. He explained that he is about to tell me the story he tells the adolescent patrons of the museum. I am led to a gallery with a large, wharf crane holding wooden crates in suspension by a roped net. This crane is characteristic of the ones used to move catches of fish along the Victorian coastline during the early 20th century. I am instructed to stand directly beneath it. I do as I am told.
“Now look to your left.”
Adjacent to the crane, atop more wooden crates and ropes is a small rat. The guard explains that once a person is standing right underneath the target, Mr. Rat gnaws at the rope in the hope of breaking free the cargo. However this is not a one rat job. He has an accomplice, in the form of a small pigeon that is perched on the other side of the exhibit, a la Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven. He acts as a scout and helps finish off the job by flying about the undoubtedly dazed victim.
I am told that in the beginning there was also a mouse involved. Must’ve been quite a trick- some trio. I suggest possibly it was the mouse that enticed the unsuspecting victim under the trap. My input delighted the security guard and he agreed that it was indeed plausible. Unfortunately however the mouse went missing, although I promised to keep an eye out for him during my wanderings through the museum.
The exchange ended with him recounting a talk he had in 2008 with young pilgrims who were visitors to the museum during World Youth Week. Seeing the Southern Cross portrayed on the ceiling along with the other constellations they exclaimed that they were in a blessed place. I put it to you that they were quite correct. The Australian National Maritime Museum is indeed fortunate to employ such animated staff, like my friend the security guard, with a fervency to evoke the imaginations of the patrons with the products and the vividness of his own. He, and others like him, are valuable contributions to the aura of the museum.
Walking back to the office in Wharf7 I glance at the artefacts on exhibit in the Sydney Heritage Fleet Artefact Store, opposite the Conservatory Laboratory. What do you know? There is a little mouse in the display.
Funny that. I’ve never taken much notice of him before.