Beyond a book’s cover

Lucilla Ronai is the Paper Conservator at the Museum. She ensures the many books in the collection are physically and chemically stable. A Paper Conservator also considers the condition of collection items, methods of display during exhibition and loan as well as their safe storage when not in use. Image: Kate Pentecost/ANMM.

Lucilla Ronai is the Paper Conservator at the Museum. She ensures the many books in the collection are physically and chemically stable. A Paper Conservator also considers the condition of collection items, methods of display during exhibition and loan as well as their safe storage when not in use. Image: Kate Pentecost/ANMM.

A booklovers guide to bookbinding and conservation

You might be surprised to discover that over 50% of the Museum’s collection is paper, photographic material and bound items – also known simply as ‘books’. Where else would those swashbuckling adventurers record their travels than in their trusty but often weathered journals?

Our collection includes over 2,000 bound volumes. This ranges from printed books (such as dictionaries), manuscripts (such as logbooks, journals, diaries and sketchbooks), atlases and magazines. The earliest book is an account of the first journey of the Dutch to the East Indes and dates from 1617. The most recently printed book is the Year Book of HMAS Toowoomba, from 2009.

What are the main differences between these books you ask? The materials and techniques used to string words, images, paper and covers together to create the functional item you know and handle as a book. Continue reading

Identifying the cannons from HMS Bounty

The fourth cannon from HMS Bounty?

A few days ago a Scottish newspaper ran a story about an upcoming auction of a cannon from HMS Bounty set to make £500,000. According to the article, the cannon was gifted by JR McCoy (the Pitcairn Island President) to a British sea captain who stopped at Pitcairn Island in 1898 and it subsequently made its way to Scotland. The article included three pictures showing a badly corroded gun missing its trunnions and cascable but with some surviving details of reinforce rings and the touch hole.

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Capturing a lighthouse in 3D

The Cape Bowling Green lighthouse, at the museum in 2017. Image: ANMM.

The Cape Bowling Green lighthouse, at the museum in 2017. Image: ANMM.

Conservators rarely have the opportunity to access made-for-conservation equipment, software, tools or chemicals. We borrow and adapt things intended for other environments. Conservation labs are often populated with dental tools and equipment, surgical scalpels, entomological stainless steel pins, book binder’s presses and felts, as well as a tradesman’s array of socket sets, drills, punches and pliers. We put Tyvek® Homewrap® covers over collection objects as it is breathable and keeps off dust. We transport small objects in prawn crates and often display costume on off the shelf mannequins.

When it came time to document the Cape Bowling Green Lighthouse prior to major conservation work, our conservation team turned to technologies which are often used by insurance companies and real estate agents to photograph buildings and record damage.

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How to build a lighthouse

The timber structure of the lighthouse going up. The photograph was taken from aboard the visiting vessel <em>Cape Grafton</em>, 24 March 1994. Image: Deborah Gillespie.

The timber structure of the lighthouse going up. The photograph was taken from aboard the visiting vessel Cape Grafton, 24 March 1994. Image: Deborah Gillespie.

In 1993, the Australian National Maritime Museum was ready the rebuild the Cape Bowling Green Light.  After some discussion, a site near the wharf was selected.  Reconstruction of the lighthouse started in late 1993.  This visual story shows how the lighthouse was rebuilt piece by piece at Darling Harbour.

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How to move a lighthouse

Cape Bowling Green Lighthouse prior to dismantling 1987. Credit: Mike Lorimer (Ove Arup and Partners).

Cape Bowling Green Lighthouse prior to dismantling, 1987. Credit: Mike Lorimer (Ove Arup and Partners).

How do you move a building from a remote cape in far north Queensland? In 1987 the 113-year old Cape Bowling Green Light was superseded by radar beacon, decommissioned and sold to the Australian National Maritime Museum. Somehow, the museum had to transport a 22-metre structure from Cape Bowling Green to Darling Harbour, Sydney. So, how does a lighthouse travel over 2000km?

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A wandering light: Cape Bowling Green lighthouse

Ever wondered how a lighthouse came to be at the museum? Image: Kate Pentecost / ANMM, 2017.

Ever wondered how a lighthouse came to be at the museum? Image: Kate Pentecost / ANMM, 2017.

At 22 metres tall Cape Bowling Green Lighthouse seems a solid, immovable structure. In fact, it was designed for ready disassembly and has been moved at least three times in its 150-year life.  It has also been continuously modified throughout its history.  The lighthouse at the museum is only partially the lighthouse that was built at Cape Bowling Green in 1873-4. The lighthouse and its changing history challenges ideas about the preservation of immovable cultural heritage. Continue reading

What Goes on Behind the Scenes of a Museum

Behind the scenes at the ANMM – a conservation perspective

In late May, the Conservation Department at the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) welcomed me for three weeks as an intern to learn about the role of conservation within the museum, as well as further my understanding of the role a conservator has in caring for a collection. I spent my time at the ANMM constantly shadowing the various members of the conservation team.

What I found opened a new world for me.

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Digital preservation

Examples of the scanned image quality from degraded negatives. Images: © Estate of Denis George / ANMM Collection ANMS1274[615] and ANMS1273[043].

Examples of the scanned image quality from degraded negatives. Images: © Estate of Denis George / ANMM Collection ANMS1274[615] and ANMS1273[043].

It’s in the nature of all materials to degrade and break down, some faster than others. Even with our conservation, preservation and archiving techniques designed to slow that degradation, objects from our collection need a bit of extra help to survive. While digitising the National Maritime Archive last year, I came across a surprising discovery: a collection of photographic negatives that were degrading while in our archive storage. Continue reading

The Seafarers Memorial Anchors

The Seafarers Memorial Anchors. Photograph Andrew Frollows

The Seafarers Memorial Anchors in September 2016. Photograph Andrew Frollows

Since the early 1990s the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has held an annual commemoration for World Maritime Day (29 September) at the museum. The union members gather to remember fallen merchant sailors during wartime and the dangerous work of seafarers in the past and present. They march across the Pyrmont Bridge at Darling Harbour and lay wreaths at the two large anchors in front of the museum.

Maritime Union of Australia members march across Pyrmont Bridge to the Seafarers Memorial

Maritime Union of Australia members march across Pyrmont Bridge to the Seafarers Memorial

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Penguins, dogs and onesies: A day in the life of a Conservator

One of our conservators, suited up for work. Image: Kate Pentecost / ANMM.

One of our conservators, suited up for work. Image: Kate Pentecost / ANMM.

When you tell people that you work at the museum, most will assume that you are a curator. Little do they realise that there are many other career paths in the cultural sector. Indeed, few teenagers would be advised by their guidance counsellor to study materials science at university. But those unfortunate souls will never get the chance to wear a onesie at work.

Object conservators specialise in the preservation, treatment and care of three-dimensional and mixed-media objects. In the collection, our conservators work on a wide range of objects including cannons, boats, model ships, swimsuits, canoes, glass-plate negatives, ethnographic items, marine archaeological objects and paintings. The diverse nature of the collection means our conservators often have to employ a range of preventative measures and treatment methodologies to look after a single collection item.

Dismantling Shackleton: Escape from Antarctica was a normal day for our object conservators. The objects were on loan from Museum Victoria and they were wonderful additions to bring the story of Shackleton’s epic Antarctic escape to life. Several of the taxidermy specimens required the team to don filtered masks and hazmat suits. As one conservator called it, ‘the science onesie: which is the only acceptable type of onesie’.

These specimens were over fifty years old and had been created with a series of treatments to keep insects away. Such treatments used hazardous chemicals including lead, arsenic, mercury and bromine. Decades later, these treatments are still rather effective at keeping the bugs away – and can still be harmful to humans if the proper safety precautions aren’t followed.

Hence the need for a science onesie.

After condition reporting the objects, our conservators suited up. Their Tyvek coveralls are made from a flash-spun, high-density polyethylene which provides a barrier against hazardous dry particles, aerosols and light liquid splashes. The outfits were completed by half-face respirators with particle filters.

Removing the objects from display was a delicate and time-consuming job. Each step required planning and consideration of how best to move the objects from their plinths and sliding the objects into their specialised packing crates.

Team work, coordination and communication are key qualities of an object conservator on jobs such as this, especially when you and your co-worker are handling a 100-year-old albatross while wearing a suit that doesn’t breathe, a mask which muffles your voice and cumbersome oversized gloves protecting your hands.

But our conservators are talented professionals with great passion for their jobs. They ensured that the operation ran smoothly. The objects are now safely in their crates ahead of their return to Museum Victoria.

Object conservation is a vital skill for the care of our collection. Materials science is an intriguing field of study with unique job opportunities. Suiting up to move a taxidermy penguin is certainly a fascinating day on the job.

– Kate Pentecost, Digital Curator

If you wish to get up close to our collection but without wearing a onesie, head over to our Google Cultural Institute page.

Applications for MMAPSS 2016-2017 grants now open

2014 MMAPSS grant recipients Museums Australia mid North Coast Chapter Waterways. The grant funded conservation projects for five smaller museums.

2014 MMAPSS grant recipients Museums Australia mid North Coast Chapter
Waterways.

Applications are now open for the 2016–2017 round of the Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme (MMAPPS), with applications closing on 31 March 2016. Check the website for more details on how to apply.

In recognition that much of Australia’s maritime heritage exists in regional organisations outside the major collecting institutions, the museum is committed to providing outreach support. We are proud to administer this national outreach program, awarding grants annually, of up to $10,000 each, and supporting internships so that regional organisations can continue to care for, conserve, preserve, interpret and display Australia’s maritime heritage.

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Saltwater Barks go to Istanbul

Installing the second bark at Istanbul Modern

Warning: these photos show artwork by deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Staff from Istanbul Modern hanging the second bark: ‘Murunamirriwuy at Manybalala’ by Boliny Wanambi, 1998, ANMM Collection 00033796

The Australian National Maritime Museum, with the assistance of Stephen Grant of the GrantPirrie Gallery, purchased a large collection of 80 bark paintings produced to assist the Yolnu, the Aboriginal inhabitants of north-east Arnhem Land to express their ownership, law and traditional knowledge over their lands and waters.

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How MMAPSS is Funding Australia’s Maritime Heritage

Oyster punt. Merimbula–Imlay Historical Society Inc / Old School Museum.

Oyster punt. Merimbula–Imlay Historical Society Inc / Old School Museum.

The museum is thrilled to announce the 2014–2015 recipients of grants through the Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme (MMAPSS), supporting not-for-profit organisations to care for Australia’s maritime heritage.

We’re also pleased to announce that applications are open for 2015-16.

In total, we received 61 project applications for 2014-15 requesting $474,376 in funding, as well as six internship applications. Grants were awarded to 29 organisations including in-kind support offered to ten organisations and Internships were also offered to three applicants. Continue reading

Blasting the Zeewijk Cannon, Conservation in action

Ok, so we didn’t blast the cannon in the conventional sense, but stabilising a 289yr old cannon was almost as satisfying!

In June 1727, a Dutch East India Trading Company ship, the Zeewijk, was headed for Batavia (Jakarta) when it wrecked off the coast of Western Australia. The survivors made it to Gun Island and were able to salvage chests of coins and other cargo but could not float the ship. In July 1727, a longboat with 11 survivors was sent for help, never to be heard from again.

The remaining survivors were able to use salvaged materials from the Zeewijk and local mangrove timbers to construct a new ship, the Sloepie. It was in the Sloepie that the remaining 88 crew members set sail, yet only 82, of the original 208 people, made it to Batavia. It is believed that the Sloepie represents the first European-style ship constructed in Australia and with Australian timber.

In 1840 those aboard the HMS Beagle discovered relics at the camp site, and further relics were discovered during guano mining in the 1880s and 1890s. Over the years, many more objects were found until the Western Australian Maritime Museum conducted a series of expeditions on the wreck site from 1976 .

One cannon from the Zeewijk wrecksite was treated by the Western Australian Maritime Museum using electrolysis, and was later allocated to the Australian National Maritime Museum.

The Zeewijk Cannon displaying active corrosion.

The Zeewijk Cannon displaying active corrosion.

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Goat Island – Conservation Kayaking

‘Conservation kayaking’, by former conservator Julie O’Connor. From Signals 103 (June-August 2013).

Centrally located in Sydney Harbour, Goat Island is managed by NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). As part of the recent Sydney Harbour National Parks Management Plan, NPWS plans to encourage greater use of the island.

NPWS officers are working with volunteer organisations to preserve the botanical and biological environment surrounding the island’s buildings. During August, September and October 2012, I made three visits to historic Goat Island with a group of conservation kayakers, which offered an insight into the island’s maritime history.

Preparing for the trip.

Preparing for the trip.

On each visit to the island, we launched our kayaks from Birchgrove Park, and then circumnavigated the island from east to west. Approaching from the south-east, we passed an Aboriginal shell midden, a pile of discarded shells on the shore. This is the last dietary remnant of the Sydney Aboriginal people who used Goat Island before its colonial occupation from the 1820s. It later became a source of lime for mortar during the construction of buildings on the island.

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