Alison Stillwell is a volunteer and Secretary of the Kingston SE Branch, National Trust SA. She has recently coordinated a project, partially funded by Maritime Museums of Australia Project Support Scheme (MMAPSS), called the ‘Margaret Brock Room Development’ within the Cape Jaffa Lighthouse. She shares with us her experience of managing the project and the significant events that their organisation celebrated last November.
When I first came to the museum, people kept calling me a ‘salty sea dog’. I thought they meant it literally, as I sometimes fall in the harbour when I chase seagulls too enthusiastically – but no! A salty sea dog, it turns out, is someone who spends a lot of time on the water, not in it.
Imagine being thrown about in your small yacht surfing down a 20-metre wave. You’re in the Southern Indian Ocean, it’s freezing, you’re exhausted and soaked through. You’re days or weeks from land. You have no GPS. You’re alone.
When I first came to work here, my human colleagues had strict instructions never to let me inside the actual museum. Ha! That didn’t last long. My furry charm worked its magic, and today , after I’d had my bath and was all squeaky clean, I was invited to review our exhibition Wildlife Photographer of the Year.
Last week saw a Christo-like wrapping of silky black satin on the wharf at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney’s Pyrmont. Intriguing and mysterious the form it enveloped was unreadable…
What could be under the silk? Well it’s an amazingly beautiful material, bronze. Used for millennia for public statuary, it is here applied to fuse old and new in an incredibly detailed and exacting process. This has produced a sculpture that explores something of the history of the site as a mercantile and maritime centre. Continue reading
The problem of longitude – how to determine your location in an east-west direction at sea – plagued sea travel for centuries. The lack of reliable methods to determine it led to dangerous, long and costly voyages. The loss of cargo, ships and lives was high and demanded an immediate solution.
Ships, Clocks & Stars: The Quest for Longitude commemorates the 300th anniversary of the Longitude Act of 1714. The Act lead to the greatest scientific breakthrough in maritime history: the ability to determine a ship’s position at sea. This discovery brought together two solutions to calculate longitude: developing accurate timekeepers for seafaring and tracking the movement of celestial bodies.
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.
‘Grog and cigarettes are mostly out…milkshakes and tins of baby food are generally in, birds are acceptable provided they never ride a surfboard and keep always in the background, except on those special occasions…’ reported photojournalist Jeff Carter in his Surf Beaches of Australia’s East Coast in 1968.
Well it was a special occasion when the museum opened its Australian beach photography exhibition at the Noosa Regional Gallery recently, in the same week as International Women’s Day, and with seven times world champion Layne Beachley on the podium. She was in company with other surfing luminaries Phil Jarrett, Bob McTavish and Pete Townend, and me but the ironies and the passage of time brought pause for reflection.
Superman has it, and so does the Smithsonian Institution: x-ray vision. We’ve just finished hanging 40 intriguing x-ray images of fish specimens from the USA’s National Fish Collection, a library of more than 4 million preserved specimens of some 20,000 fish species from around the world held by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC (that’s a lot of preserving jars).
I’m pleased to announce the May winner of the museum’s #HoodsHarbour People’s Choice competition. Robert Osborne chose this photograph from the museum’s Samuel J Hood collection via our Flickr Commons photostream. Robert noted the picture ‘reminded me of the Manly Ferries as I used to spend the journey looking into the engine room from the passenger area and soak up the sights and smells‘. He composed a poem, which now forms the basis for the photograph’s exhibition label:
A memory of the past,
the glorious days of old.
The smell of oil and steam,
the shine of brass.
Gone, but still a dream.
Congratulations to Robert and thanks to all those who participated in our #HoodsHarbour competition. It was a museum first for us and was aimed at engaging visitors by allowing them to explore our historic photographic collection online as well as participate in the exhibition process. We hope you enjoyed it just as much as we did! 🙂
#HoodsHarbour is open at the museum until 9 June 2014.
I’m pleased to announce the first winner of the museum’s #HoodsHarbour People’s Choice competition for the month of April. Myleah Bailey from Victoria has chosen this photograph from the museum’s Samuel J Hood collection via our Flickr Commons photostream. It depicts crowds at Circular Quay, Sydney welcoming home the crew of HMAS Sydney II on 10 February 1941. The ship had left Australia 10 months previously for battle in the Mediterranean and relatives were keen to see their fathers, uncles, cousins, brothers, husbands, fiancées, boyfriends and friends again. Myleah told us why this was her favourite from the Hood collection, which now forms the basis for the photograph’s exhibition label:
The faces and fashions change, but be it 1941 or 2014 the heartfelt message, and title, of this image remains the same – ‘Welcome Home’.
Our winner told me she ‘was very surprised to receive it! I really enjoyed seeing the pictures in the exhibition and there were many beautiful ones displayed.’ Congratulations Myleah!
This Sunday 2 February 2014, you might notice something rather unexpected standing on Pyrmont Bridge. Migaloo is one of 125 painted rhino sculptures that will form a sculpture trail across Sydney from February to April to help raise awareness and funds for Taronga’s world leading Black Rhino breeding program. Painted by artist Alejandra Diaz, the museum’s rhino depicts Australia’s famous white humpback whale, one of only two ever sighted.
Named after an Indigenous Australian word meaning ‘white fella’, Migaloo is regularly sighted migrating up Australia’s east coast from Antarctica to the waters of Tropical North Queensland. The inspiration for Migaloo the Wild! Rhino came from two exciting upcoming exhibitions here at the museum – Amazing whales – Evolution and survival (from 20 March 2014) and Beautiful Whale – Photographs by Bryant Austin (from 11 April 2014).
The museum is proud to sponsor this exciting program supporting Taronga’s Black Rhino breeding program and other wildlife conservation projects.
Download the Wild!Rhinos App to learn the whereabouts of all 125 Wild! Rhinos.
There’s something ambient about Kenneth Macqueen’s The Beach Fisherman, 1934. A man stands barefoot on a beach, fishing line in tow, with the shore stretching out further than the eye can see and the clouds threatening rain in a decidedly gloomy way. This is one of the many artworks on display at the museum’s Fish in Australian art exhibition.
Today marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin and five weeks until the grand opening of our forthcoming exhibition Charles Darwin – Voyages and ideas that shook the world.
Around the world there are celebrations, exhibitions, seminars, book launches and other activities during the whole year – not only marking 200 years since Darwin was born but 150 years since he published On the Origin of Species.
Our exhibition will be in the North Gallery and Gallery One opening to the public on Friday 20 March with material from our own collection plus The British Museum, National Maritime Museum Greenwich, Oxford University, SLNSW, National Library, Queensland and Tasmania. Some material will be on show for the first time.
We are also holding a symposium on 20 and 21 March in conjunction with the Australian Research Council – In the wake of the Beagle – Science in the southern oceans from the age of Darwin.
Cheers and enjoy the year of Darwin
Senior Curator Maritime Technology Exploration & Navy