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.
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.
The UTS Micro-CSI, on site at the Australian National Maritime Museum during National Science Week
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the ‘invention’ of the shipping container. As a cornerstone of the global economy, the humble steel box has revolutionised the way we live in profound ways. From the food on our plates to our clothes and mobile phones, there are very few items today that don’t travel to us by sea.
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.
It all started with a discussion with my daughter, about the number of girls opting out of studying science because of negative stereotypes. She said it was such a shame that girls were not considering science as a worthwhile option to study. As an environmental scientist, she knows that those girls are locking themselves out of some amazing careers.
What do you say to someone who has lived underwater?
Or has propelled himself through the Greek islands in a human-powered submarine, visited Antarctica and even holds a Guinness World Record for the most electricity generated by pedalling underwater?
Strangely enough meeting underwater pioneer Lloyd Godson led to one of the most interesting and fascinating conversations of my life.
National Science Week 2014 is fast approaching and it will be a week packed full of discovery, experiments and adventure for all ages. SO, if you seek to learn new things, try something different and above all, have a fantastic fun-filled time, then the museum is for you.
Open to all Apple users, (just present the Tag Town app at our front of house desk for entry): ‘Hide, Seek, Dive and Peek @Anmmuseum’ is on from 16th of August to the 19th of August. Users can start playing “Tag Town” – a photographic scavenger hunt where pictures lead players, assisted by GPS, to discover real locations. Played in the real world via mobile app, players swipe through the image clues on their mobile device and when they find the location in the real-world, they snap and upload their own photo of it. Tag Town taps into the fun and creativity of photography and builds an expanding collection of shared photos of the local area’s most interesting features and locations.
The museum is pleased to be a recipient of a 2014 National Science Week grant from the Federal Government’s Inspiring Australia program. Our program, Endeavouring Science, looks at how science has both evolved and remained the same from the 18th century to the 21st century, featuring a range of activities located aboard the iconic HMB Endeavour replica as well as activations across the whole museum site. It will cover themes of weather and navigation, biology and botany, signals and communication and the scientific principles that underlie these.
There is something intriguing about natural history illustrations. The plants look as though they are sprouting from the page but the animals appear slightly on the edge of reality, with blankly staring eyes and stiffly posed limbs. Perhaps this is because the immobility of plants permit them to be drawn from life whereas animals do not generally allow the painter that luxury unless they are in a more, well, deceased state.