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

Preserving the Dart: a piece of working history from the Murray River

A very clear image of DART with its pile driving machinery set up for work, and moored beside the shoreline at Waikere on the Murray River in South Australia, in 1930. ARHV <a href"http://arhv.anmm.gov.au/en/objects/details/149688/dart?ctx=b346e9c3-7f7a-4113-98fe-e838cd2c5c95&idx=0">HV000221</a>.

A very clear image of Dart with its pile driving machinery set up for work, and moored beside the shoreline at Waikere on the Murray River in South Australia, in 1930. ARHV HV000221.

The traffic on the Murray River owes a big debt to the simple working vessels that serviced the infrastructure that made commercial operations possible. One of these crafts, the barge Dart, lies onshore at Goolwa, shaded and partially protected by the big Hindmarsh Bridge that spans the passage between the port of Goolwa and Hindmarsh Island. Dart is out of the water for a much-needed restoration. Recently I visited the Dart as in-kind support to inspect the Australian Register of Historic Vessels (ARHV) listed barge and write up a Vessel Management Plan (VMP), thanks to a  Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme (MMAPSS) grant.

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Old Wrecks, ‘Black Reefs’

Invasive corallimorphs have colonised a modern shipwreck at Palmyra Atoll in the Line Islands. The corallimorphs have benefitted from a phase shift in the reef’s ecosystem brought on by the shipwreck’s iron components leaching into the water column. Image: Susan White/US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Invasive corallimorphs have colonised a modern shipwreck at Palmyra Atoll in the Line Islands. The corallimorphs have benefitted from a phase shift in the reef’s ecosystem brought on by the shipwreck’s iron components leaching into the water column. Image: Susan White/US Fish and Wildlife Service.

This past January, a collaborative research team comprising maritime archaeologists from the Silentworld Foundation and the museum conducted a shipwreck survey at Kenn Reefs in Australia’s Coral Sea Territory. The team relocated a number of historic shipwrecks documented by the Queensland Museum in the 1980s, as well as four new wreck sites. The Kenn Reefs complex is a seamount system located within the ‘Outer Route’, a seaway used by nineteenth-century mariners in an effort to avoid the Great Barrier Reef when travelling to and from Australia’s east coast. The discovery of multiple shipwreck sites of nineteenth-century vintage at Kenn Reefs demonstrates the hazards faced by mariners as they transited through waters that were insufficiently charted. Field investigations included reef-top inspections, metal detector and magnetometer surveys, and diver-based ground-truthing of observed features and buried anomalies.

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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

The Bulk of the Iceberg: What’s NOT On Display at the Museum

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Green job-fish (Aprion virescens). ANMM Collection 00019588. Gift from Walter Stackpool. Reproduced courtesy of Dr Jane Stackpool.

One of the issues we readily face in the museum world is how to increase the proportion of our collection that is accessible to the public. The unfortunate reality is that due to collection size and the display space available the percentage of the collection on display at any one time is limited to approximately 9%.

The solution: digitise.

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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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Reflections on a piece of pewter: The Hartog plate

Dirk Hartog plate, 1600–1616

Dirk Hartog plate, 1600–1616. Tin alloy (metal), 36.5 cm (diameter). Reproduced courtesy Rijksmuseum

This week a very special piece of pewter is coming to the museum … the Hartog plate, on loan from the Rijksmuseum to mark 400 years since Dutch mariner Dirk Hartog made the first recorded European landing on the west coast of Australia in October 1616. As a testimony of his visit, Hartog left behind an inscribed pewter plate that is recognised as the oldest European artefact found on Australian soil.

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Behind the scenes of Escape from Pompeii

The reproduction of the garden fresco from the Villa of Livia just north of Rome, 30–20BC. Fresco image courtesy National Roman Museum – Palazzo Massimo alle Terme is installed in the exhibition. Image: ANMM.

The reproduction of the garden fresco from the Villa of Livia just north of Rome, 30–20BC. Fresco image courtesy National Roman Museum – Palazzo Massimo alle Terme is installed in the exhibition. Image: ANMM.

The Roman artist who painted the beautiful wall fresco in the Villa of Livia could never have dreamt that 2,000 years later it would be reproduced at actual size and on display in an exhibition on the other side of the world.

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Applications for MMAPSS 2017-2018 grants now open

The Jetty Train is the perfect way to experience the Busselton Jetty. Image: <a href="http://www.busseltonjetty.com.au">Busselton Jetty</a>.

The Jetty Train is the perfect way to experience Busselton Jetty. Image: Busselton Jetty.

As a national cultural agency, the museum provides support for Maritime Heritage nationally and the importance of supporting local communities, smaller museums and historical societies to care for, conserve, preserve, interpret and display Australia’s maritime heritage is recognised. Several of the avenues for doing this involve funding opportunities and engagement in collaborative travelling exhibition development.

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Careers in science and museums: Meeting our conservators

Textile conservator Sue Frost. Image: ANMM.

Textile conservator Sue Frost. Image: ANMM.

What a museum without its collection? The stories we tell are imbued in the objects the museum collects and the conservation department is tasked with caring for these objects. Our conservation team look after a range of artefacts, from paper to paintings, ceramics, textiles and even archaeological material recovered from the seabed. From small coins to the HMB Endeavour replica, every object is condition reported, treated and conserved. The team monitor the environmental conditions our objects are either stored or displayed in, checking light levels, relative humidity and maintaining a stable temperature.

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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

Artefacts as windows to the past: Answers from #AskAnArchaeologist

Archaeology on the Great Barrier Reef. Image: ANMM.

Archaeology on the Great Barrier Reef. Image: ANMM.

In the spirit of National Archaeology Week 2016 we took the opportunity to open the floor to you, our audience and community, with the hashtag #AskAnArchaeologist. This was a chance for you to ask your questions about all things archaeology and maritime heritage to our team.

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