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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Midwinter in Antarctica with Roald Amundsen

With midwinter upon us and an ever-so-slight chill in the air, my thoughts go straight to the land of ice, where the darkest day of a four-month twilight darkness means so much – the coming of the sun. Today expeditioners on Antarctica’s scientific bases jump into the icy seas, feast and celebrate with all the ritual and high-jinks befitting the occasion.

With an air temperature of -33.5°C and the water temperature just -1.8°C, 15 of the team at Davis station plunged through a hole in the sea ice for the traditional midwinter swim.  22 June 2017 Photographer © Robert Bonney courtesy Australian Antarctic Division

With an air temperature of -33.5°C and the water temperature just -1.8°C, 15 of the team at Davis station plunged through a hole in the sea ice for the traditional midwinter swim.  22 June 2017 Photographer © Robert Bonney courtesy Australian Antarctic Division

Equally so for their forebears 100 years ago. Bold explorers and adventurers – among them Norwegian Roald Amundsen and his team, who sledged into the interior across uncharted ice to claim the South Pole for Norway in 1911.

Lessons from the Arctic – How Roald Amundsen won the race to the South Pole, a panel exhibition on display in ANMM’s Vaughan Evans Library from the Fram Museum in Norway, explores life for those men on their incredible journey. Catch it until June 30, while the sun is low in the sky and think of those men on midwinter day 1911.

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A Poignant Remnant from the ‘Plucky little Ship Aurora’

20 June 2017 marked 100 years since the famous polar vessel Aurora left Newcastle, Australia with a cargo of coal, never to be seen again.

The museum recently accepted the gift of the ship’s lifebuoy, recovered from the seas six months later.

A powerful emblem, with the ghost lettering of its famous Antarctic expeditions on its rim, it acts as a lifeline to all the sailors, whalers, scientists, workers, expeditioners and sealers whose lives, toils and achievements were entwined with it.

Importantly, the lifebuoy connects all of us to the tragic loss of its captain and 20 officers and crew in 1917. This is the incredible story of a powerful wooden ship and its men.

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The world of Thomas Lawson: Big ships, books and sofas

Thomas W. Lawson in his office, surrounded by the fresh flowers and books he loved. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Thomas W. Lawson in his office, surrounded by the fresh flowers and books he loved. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, the world seemed unbearably young. It had yet to experience a World War or the Great Depression. Fossil fuels were the future and any new technology was seen as a good thing. It became known as the Gilded Age and it must have been heady times for those who had the cash to enjoy it. And there were plenty of those. One, in particular, was Thomas W Lawson. At one time Lawson was thought to be one of the wealthiest men in America with a fortune estimated at over USD $50 million (over $1 billion in today’s money).

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Capturing cuttlefish and other photographic wonders with Scott Portelli

Photo of Scott Portelli with his underwater camera equipment. This picture is taken at Malabar Beach in Sydney. ©Michaela Skovranova - http://www.mishku.com

Photo of Scott Portelli with his underwater camera equipment. This picture is taken at Malabar Beach in Sydney. – ©Michaela Skovranova

During the opening of our new exhibition Wildlife Photographer of the Year we had the opportunity to welcome a special guest: Scott Portelli, an Australian photographer living in Sydney has already travelled the world extensively and took pictures in some of the most remote destinations like The Arctic, Antarctica, Galapagos, etc. He spent hundreds of days in pursuit of different wildlife. Due to his experience, he is privileged to be up close and personal with many creatures. Scott has already won multiple awards, this year he got selected by Wildlife Photographer of the year and his picture can be seen in the exhibition.

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Midget submarine attack on Sydney 31 May – 1 June 1942

The wreck of M14 being recovered. Image: <a href="https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C48694">Australian War Memorial</a>, via Wikimedia.

The wreck of M14 being recovered. Image: Australian War Memorial, via Wikimedia.

My mother has often told me this story of the evening of Sunday 31st May 1942:

‘It had been a normal Sunday: Church, followed by lunch, a visit to my grandparents, some radio and then suddenly, while I was taking a bath, sirens split the air, Dad turned off the lights, and I shivered in the dark.’

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Out of Hawaii: Surfing goes global with Australia’s King of the Surf

Jack Eden, Bernard ‘Midget’ Farrelly in action at the first world open surfboard championships Manly, May 1964. ANMM Collection ANMS1078[002] Gift from Jack and Dawn Eden.

Jack Eden, Bernard ‘Midget’ Farrelly in action at the first world open surfboard championships Manly, May 1964. ANMM Collection ANMS1078[002] Gift from Jack and Dawn Eden.

Sydney surfer Bernard ‘Midget’ Farrelly surprised the world in the early 1960s by winning the two keynote world surfing contests of the time. He quickly became the youthful face of surfing in Australia. Yesterday Farrelly was posthumously awarded an AM (Member of the general division of the Order of Australia) for significant service to surfing as a competitor and industry pioneer.

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Crafting a sensory forest

Finished craft: A sensory jungle. Image: Annalice Creighton / ANMM.

Finished craft: A sensory jungle. Image: Annalice Creighton / ANMM.

Feathers, fur or fins,

shell or skin or scale,

if it walks on legs or flys on wings,

if it runs or crawls or slithers or swims…

I’m not sure if the timeless lyricism of Don Spencer echoes in anyone else’s mind when they behold the stunning selection of images that make up this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year but they sure do for me (possibly just a side effect of life in the kids programs lane – there is a catchy tune for almost everything!) Mischievous lizards catching tiny birds on the tip of their tongues, frenzied swarms of cuttlefish, grinning foxes, a veritable feast of tones, textures, unbelievable moments so magical and yet so vivid you feel like you could reach out and touch them.

Inspired by the Wildlife Photographer exhibition and our upcoming Sea-side Strollers sessions this month’s craft spot is devoted to wilderness themed sensory play resources, it’s a craft activity that is not necessarily done with kids but crafted for very young children.

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The Last Pirate

船員と犬 A watercolour of a foreign sailor and his dog by Japanese Samurai artist Makita Hamaguchi in 1830. Image courtesy of Tokushima prefectural archive

In the early 19th century Japan had closed its doors to foreign ships in an effort to resist colonisation. One day in January 1830, a British flagged ship appeared off the coast of Mugi, in Shikoku, southern Japan. A low-ranking Samurai official duly recorded information about the ship and its crew before being ordered to send it away by firing cannon at the vessel. The ship, the brig Cyprus, was in fact a pirated vessel with a crew of escaped convicts from Tasmania under the command of the self-styled ‘Captain William Swallow’. Until now, this wonderful record of Australian pirates in Japan has been sitting, unrecognised in a Japanese archive.

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A Roman rostrum

The rostrum in Escape from Pompeii. Image: Andrew Frolows / ANMM.

The rostrum in Escape from Pompeii. Image: Andrew Frolows / ANMM.

One of the most amazing objects in Escape from Pompeii: The Untold Roman Rescue is a rostrum from a Roman warship. A rostrum is a bronze ram attached to the bow of an ancient warship. It was used to punch holes into the hull of enemy ships to disable or sink them. The Roman historian Livy gives a description of their use at the Battle of Side in 190 BC:

Whenever a ship encountered an enemy vessel head on, it either shattered its prow, or sheared off its oars; or else it sailed through the open space in the line and rammed it in the stern[1]

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War and Peace in the Pacific 75 education project

USS Lexington during the Battle of the Coral Sea, May 1942. Image: Naval History and Heritage Command.

USS Lexington during the Battle of the Coral Sea, May 1942. Image: Naval History and Heritage Command.

Three years ago the museum’s education team and the NSW Department of Education began to investigate how to run a student-centred research program to engage high school students with stories from World War II (WWII). This program would mark the significant anniversaries of the WWII battles in the Pacific. Eight high schools from Australia and the USA joined the scheme this year to research ‘War and Peace in the Pacific 75 years’, a project funded by the Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney Australia, the New South Wales Department of Education – Learning Systems Directorate and supported by the USA Bicentennial Gift Fund.

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Visiting the JFK Library in search of the President’s rescue coconut

Coconut on President John F. Kennedy's Desk. Image: JFK Library, KN-C23153.

The coconut on President John F. Kennedy’s Desk. Image: JFK Library, KN-C23153.

After the Battle of the Coral Sea Commemoration dinner on the USS Intrepid, I was up early and on the train to Boston and the John F. Kennedy Presidental Library and Museum.

I seem to have bad luck visiting this northern city, teaming rain, windy, 6 degrees (celsius) – just like my last three visits! Bad to worse, the train ran late by half an hour and when I arrived at the JFK Library for my meeting with Karen Abramson, Head of Archives, building works nearby had cut their cable to the outside world. So, with no computers, no phones, and no voicemail, the friendly docent (US word for volunteer) at Reception did not have any mobile numbers, couldn’t look them up and didn’t have access to ‘go fetch’ Karen, and the security officer didn’t have a radio and couldn’t leave his post.

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Dinner on an aircraft carrier: Remembering the Battle of the Coral Sea

Last Thursday I had the privilege to attend the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea on board USS Intrepid, a WWII aircraft carrier, where the museum’s new documentary Clash of the Carriers, premiered in front of Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull and Mrs Turnbull, President of the United States, Donald and Mrs Trump, veterans of the battle and 700 guests.

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Stories from across the seas: New names on the Welcome Wall

Welcome Wall, May 2017. Image: Andrew Frolows / ANMM.

Welcome Wall, May 2017. Image: Andrew Frolows / ANMM.

Last Sunday, 7 May 2017, saw 364 new names unveiled on our Welcome Wall in honour of all those who have migrated from around the world by sea or air to live in Australia. The museum unveils new names on the Welcome Wall twice a year. The new names now bring the total number of names on the wall to 28,657. Of these 9,330 are from England, 3,526 from Italy, 1,627 from The Netherlands, 1,630 from Germany and 1,317 from Greece.  In all, more than 200 countries are represented.

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The Batavia tapestry

Melinda Piesse with her Batavia tapestry

Textile artist Melinda Piesse with her Batavia tapestry. Photographer Kristina Kingston, reproduced courtesy Melinda Piesse

Last week we unveiled a new large-scale embroidered work by Melbourne textile artist Melinda Piesse at the museum. Known as the Batavia tapestry (2017), it illustrates the tragic story of the wreck of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) flagship Batavia in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Western Australia, on 4 June 1629 and the sorry fate of the ship’s company.

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