A voyage into registration standards: insights from a registration intern

The exterior of the Nautilus in Voyage to the Deep

The exterior of the Nautilus in the exhibition Voyage to the Deep

“Nature’s creative power is far beyond man’s instinct of destruction.”
― Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Every Monday and Friday since the beginning of February I have assisted the Registration Department as a student intern, cataloguing the in-house travelling exhibition Voyage to the Deep.

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How to make a no-sew Steampunk Soctopus Softie

Down in the bottom of the deep blue sea, there are strange and wonderful things. Fish that glow in the dark or squirt bellyfuls of slime, one metre wide jellies and snaggle-toothed fearsome slithering things. This month we’ve been inspired by our Voyage to the Deep exhibition to craft a mischievous deep sea creature of our own — an octopus — that is hands-down the easiest soft sculpture craft you could make.

finished sock octopus softie

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How to make an easy deep sea diver costume

What might there be at the bottom of the sea? Oceans galore for you to explore; A shipwreck’s sunken treasure, a fearsome colossal squid, a stealthy submarine or a deep sea diver, out to explore the ocean’s floor.


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Bringing an exhibition to life: Voyage to the Deep

Constructing exhibitions such as Voyage to the Deep is the work of preparators, or ‘preps’. They are an integral cog in the machine of traditional museums and, as the name implies, are employed to prepare objects, specimens or exhibits. Originally they included embalmers, flensers and taxidermists as well as model makers and tradespeople. The museum has four preps, all of whom have visual arts degrees. Creativity is just as essential as practical skills in a job which requires us to exercise our minds as well as our hands.

Preparator Peter Buckely with the airlock-style door that forms the entry to the exhibition Voyage to the Deep

Peter Buckley with the airlock-style door that forms the entry to the exhibition, Voyage to the Deep.

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Make your own carrot submarine

This month’s hands-on activity is inspired by our new interactive exhibition, Voyage to the Deep, featuring the fantastical steampunk Nautilus submarine. In this activity you’ll get to the root of how submarines work.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 carrot – fairly straight, not too tapered (If you don’t have a carrot; cut down a potato)
  • Baking powder (not baking soda)
  • Toothpicks
  • Deep bowl or pot of water

Materials needed to make a carrot submarine

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Creating an underwater world of fact and fantasy

The other day, a friend said to me, ‘You have an awesome job’, and I guess I do. As a creative producer for the museum, I get to dream up new exhibitions and bring them to life. My friend’s comment was prompted by a photo I posted of the Nautilus, the steampunk submarine star of Voyage to the Deep, an interactive exhibition for families loosely based on Jules Verne’s novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas. It’s about underwater adventure and discovery, and uses the book as a foundation, but then builds on it to contrast the fantasy of the novel with real submarines and modern deep-sea research – the facts behind the fiction. Kids will be able to climb aboard a fantastical deep-sea vessel and take it for a drive (or should that be a dive?), exploring various undersea worlds and discovering what it’s like to live and work under water.

Voyage to the Deep submarine

Construction of the submarine at the museum.

The project started about 18 months ago, when I was given the basic topic and started research. We used the 1998 Oxford World Classics translation by William Butcher for reference, as many of the earlier English editions contained translation errors (Butcher even got the title right: ‘seas’ not ‘sea’). We formed a team of people from different areas of the museum and started brainstorming ideas.

My role was to work out ways to turn these ideas, plus concepts from the book and factual information, into a cohesive interactive exhibition. So, as well as reading the novel, a lot, I had to research all sorts of topics, from the psychological testing of submariners to the size of squid eyeballs.

Installing the submarine, ghost net reef and giant kelp forest.

Installing the submarine, ghost net reef and giant kelp forest.

There was no shortage of inspiration or ideas to include. The tough part was passing these through the necessary practicality filters of what we could afford, what things we could build in such a way that they’d be safe, durable and able to travel (as the exhibition will tour to other venues), and what would appeal to our family audience. The latter was helped by holding focus groups with parents to seek their opinions and suggestions.

Once the content had been worked out, the next challenge was sourcing all the stuff we needed. Fortunately eBay proved excellent for finding weird props; who knew you could buy replica moray eel skulls and stingray spines? We engaged suppliers in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, and had components built all around Australia. By the time it’s all in one place, I suspect the exhibition will have come close to travelling its 20,000 leagues.

We’re also building some key elements in house, including the fantastic entry portal and one of my favourite exhibits – a shark that you have to reach inside to find out what he had for dinner. We even managed to create a forest of giant kelp for children to explore.

Voyage to the Deep airlock

It’s been a challenging project, but a lot of fun too. I can’t wait to see it all assembled and in one place – a stunning steampunk submarine, a coral reef made from ghost nets and other marine debris, a giant kelp forest, a shipwreck and even the fabled lost city of Atlantis – yes, I definitely have an awesome job.

– Em Blamey, Creative Producer

Voyage to the Deep opens on 10 December. This exhibition was made possible by the support of Nine Network, Laissez Faire Catering, 2DayFM, and Douglas Fabian Productions.

Make your own marine creatures

Since September 2014, museum staff and visitors have been working with Ghost Nets Australia to create a large coral bombora (or ‘bommie’) sculpture out of ghost nets and marine debris. This collaborative art project aims to raise awareness of threats to marine ecosystems from fishing industries, discarded rubbish and marine debris. All the ghost net and marine debris materials being used for this project have been collected by Mapoon Land and Sea Rangers and volunteers from the Mapoon beaches in Cape York, Queensland.

The ghost nets bommie in progress, including creatures made from discarded thongs, rope, nets and other marine debris.

Close up of the ghost nets bommie in progress, including creatures made from discarded thongs, rope, ghost nets and other marine debris. Photo by Michelle Mortimer.

The sculpture will be on show in our summer exhibition Voyage to the Deep: Underwater Adventures as part of the seafloor environment.

We are continuing to add to the bommie sculpture over the coming months, and encourage our visitors on site and online to contribute their own creative sea creature sculptures to bring the reef to life. All ages are welcome to contribute!

A fish made from recycled fishing nets.

A fish made from ghost nets and marine debris. Photo by Ester Sarkadi-Clarke

Collect your materials

As you can see from the photos of the scupltural ghost net bommie and marine creatures so far, it is made of found materials collected from beaches: nets, rope, bottles, thongs and other discarded objects. We suggest that your creatures are also made of marine debris and recycled materials, or other materials from bushland or parks if you are not near to the coast (remember to clean the recycled materials before using them).

Get inspired

Coral made from rope and fishing debris.

Coral made from rope and fishing debris. Photo by Ester Sarkadi-Clarke.

Think about what types of marine flora or fauna you can create from found objects—there are infinite numbers of creative ideas. Some examples so far include rope-wrapped coral, plastic bottle fish, or starfish made of thongs.

For ideas and downloadable instructions for creating your marine creatures, head to the ‘kids craft’ section of our Voyage to the Deep website.

You can also take a look at our Flickr album to see some of our creatures so far and to follow the progress of the reef as it continues to grow.

Share your work

Share your creation with us to have it added to the sculpture. You can visit the museum in person to bring in what you have made or come along to one of our summer Ghost Nets Weaving Workshops.

If you can’t make it to the museum, you can still contribute! Email a photo of your marine creatures to web@anmm.gov.au and we’ll add it to our virtual ghost net reef on Flickr. Please include details of the marine life that you were inspired by, and the found materials you used to make your creations. You can also post creations via mail to the museum:

Australian National Maritime Museum
2 Murray Street
Darling Harbour
Sydney, NSW 2000

We look forward to seeing what you make!

– Ester Sarkadi-Clarke, Ghost Nets Project Intern

You can contribute to the ghost nets bommie before Voyage to the Deep opens on 9 December 2014, and throughout the duration of the exhibition until 27 April 2015.

Read more about ghost nets and this bommie project on the blog post Creating art from ghost nets, and find out more about the important work of Ghost Nets Australia on the Ghost Nets Australia website.

This project is proudly supported by Blackmores.

Creating art from ghost nets

When I first heard about Ghost Nets Australia and its work collecting discarded marine and fishing waste and human-made debris, I was intrigued. As I learnt more about the organisation’s inspiring, creative and innovative environmental projects, I began to appreciate the deeper complexity and change-making effect of their work.

Turtle caught in ghost nets

This turtle was found barely alive during patrol by Dhimurru Rangers. Photo by Jane Dermer. Courtesy Ghost Nets Australia.

Ghost Nets Australia is a multi-faceted organisation dedicated to rescuing and protecting marine environments from ghost nets—fishing nets which are lost at sea and collect marine organisms as they float in the oceans and wash onto shores. Working with Indigenous Ranger Groups and volunteers, Ghost Nets Australia collects massive amounts of discarded ghost nets and marine debris from coastal areas, creating art from it, educating people, collaborating with communities, collecting data and bringing about lasting change.

Ranger freeing a turtle from ghost nets

Senior Nanum Wungthim Ranger, Phillip Mango cutting free a juvenile Hawksbill turtle. Photo by Matt Gillis. Courtesy Ghost Nets Australia.

Ghost nets are a major threat to marine fauna and flora. Marine debris such as thongs, plastic bottles and cans are also collected. Most ghost nets come from discarded fishing vessels from the Indonesian region and Arafura Sea, and the majority are from from trawl fisheries and gill nets. The data collected by Ghost Nets Australia shows that most nets are found in the far north of Australia, especially the Gulf of Carpentaria where 90% of the nets are found. The Gulf of Carpentaria is one of the last remaining ecosystems for endangered marine and coastal species such as six of the world’s seven marine turtle species, dugongs and sawfish. Ghost Nets Australia prioritises rescuing turtles, which represent 80% of marine life caught in the nets, with over 300 turtles rescued so far. Since 2004, over 13,000 nets have been removed from Australian beaches and estuaries.

Ghost Nets Australia and the Ghost Nets Art Project aims to transform the destructive ghost nets and marine debris materials into artworks. A major part of this work is community collaboration and community workshops, predominantly held where ghost nets are found. This not only benefits the environment, but has wider positive effects for communities and for educational purposes.

Sue Ryan from Ghost Nets Australia

Sue Ryan, Director of the Ghost Nets Australia Art Project, working on the initial structure of the bommie at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

The museum is excited to be working with the Ghost Nets Australia on a collaborative sculpture of a coral reef ‘bommie’, or coral outcrop, which will be part of our upcoming exhibition Voyage to the Deep: Underwater Adventures. In September, we hosted a week-long workshop with visiting artist Karen Hethey and Ghost Nets Art Project Director Sue Ryan, who helped create the structure of the bommie. The sculpture recreates the seafloor environment and coral reef ecosystem, using collected ghost nets and marine debris, all stitched together using fishing line.

Making marine creatures for the bommie sculpture

Artist Karen Hethey working on marine creatures made of thongs and marine debris for the bommie at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

The sculpture is an ongoing project. Staff, volunteers and museum visitors have assisted over the past few months, adding coral made of ropes, marine creatures made of thongs, fish made of bottles, ropes and ghost nets. Members of the public are also invited to contribute.

Bommie sculture in progress at the museum

Progress: museum staff and visitors contributing to the bommie sculpture.

Ghost Nets Australia’s projects educate on a wide-reaching scale, and this has ongoing positive impacts on the environment, local communities, and has a significant role in influencing lasting change for present and future generations.

See the bommie at Voyage to the Deep, open from 9 December 2014 to 27 April 2015. Read more about ghost nets on the Ghost Nets Australia website.

To learn how to make your own marine creatures for our ghost net bommie, stay tuned for part two of this blog.

Ester Sarkadi-Clarke, Ghost Nets Project Intern