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

What do you call a group of curators? Answers from #AskACurator 2016

Ask A Curator logo 2016.

Ask A Curator logo 2016.

What do you call a group of Curators? #AskACurator 2016

Thank you for your questions for this year’s #AskACurator. Many of your questions centred on the topics of curatorial practice in a changing world as well as the personal experience of being a curator. In discussing the answers, our curators reflected that they each approach their job in unique ways: the exhibition specialist, the art history major, the maritime archaeologist, the historian and seeking a way to connect with Indigenous communities.

We began our #AskACurator round table with a quib asking what does one call a group of curators? A gaggle. A curiosity of curators. An exhibition of curators.

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Sir Oswald Brierly: A man for all occasions

'Amateur whaling, or a tale of the Pacific' by Oswald Brierly, 1847. ANMM collection 00005660.

Amateur whaling, or a tale of the Pacific by Oswald Brierly, 1847. ANMM Collection 00005660.

Oswald Brierly is probably known to most Australians for the whaling scenes he painted while at Twofold Bay, near Eden in New South Wales, which perfectly captured the drama and danger of the whaling at that time. He spent five years at Twofold Bay managing a business there for the Scottish-born entrepreneur and pioneer Ben Boyd. However, his time there would end up being just a small part of this versatile man’s truly remarkable life. Continue reading

Climb inside the head of a museum curator: #AskACurator 2016

Ask A Curator logo 2016.

This Wednesday, 14 September, we’re participating in International #AskACurator Day on Twitter and Facebook. It’s an opportunity to ask our curators about anything that you are curious about or would like more information on. Our curatorial team will be on standby to answer your curliest questions about our collections, exhibitions and programs. Simply ask your question using the hashtag #AskACurator and mention @ANMMuseum in your tweet or leave the question on our Facebook post.

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Treasures of the American Collection

European, American and Australian ships used Hong Kong as a centre of trade in the 19th century. This painting depicts the American vessel S.R. BEARSE as it enters Hong Kong Harbour with fully rigged sails. ANMM Collection 00005647.

European, American and Australian ships used Hong Kong as a centre of trade in the 19th century. This painting depicts the American vessel S.R. BEARSE as it enters Hong Kong Harbour with fully rigged sails. ANMM Collection 00005647.

Where else can you see a President’s signature (Abraham Lincoln), a Queen’s signature (Victoria R), rare books and etchings, and a seventy-year-old gardenia in one place – but in the USA Gallery of the museum!

These are just a few of the objects from the multi-million dollar collection of paintings, models and artefacts we’ve compiled from the museum’s American collection to represent more than 200 years of the close maritime connection between the seafaring nations of the USA and Australia.

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Time in motion: capturing the clockmaker’s art

How many people does it take to assemble a clock?

For the replica of John Harrison’s H3, currently on display as part of Ships, Clocks & Stars: the Quest for Longitude, the answer is two master clockmakers. David Higgon and Sean Martin, from Charles Frodsham & Co, London, spent four days reassembling a thousand pieces to create the working model.

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Barbarism and brutality: surviving the Batavia shipwreck

A depiction of the massacre among the marooned survivors of the Batavia. From Pelsaert's published journal, 1647. ANMM Collection: 00004995.

A depiction of the massacre among the marooned survivors of the Batavia. From Pelsaert’s published journal, 1647. ANMM Collection: 00004995.

Almost 400 years ago, in the hours before dawn on 4 June 1629, a flagship of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) was wrecked upon Morning Reef near Beacon Island, some 60 kilometres off the Western Australian coast. It was the maiden voyage of the Batavia, bound for the Dutch East Indian colonies of modern-day Jakarta, but the tragedy of shipwreck would be overshadowed by the subsequent mutiny among the survivors on the isolated Houtman Abrolhos Islands.

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Songlines: The art of navigating the Indigenous world

‘Zugubal’ 2006. Travellers paddle a gul (canoe), which is a key symbol of connectivity in Zenadh Kes (Torres Strait) cosmology, navigating all the cycles of land, sea, sky and spiritual life. ANMM Collection 00054665. Reproduced courtesy Alick Tipoti and Australian Art Network.

‘Zugubal’ 2006. Travellers paddle a gul (canoe), which is a key symbol of connectivity in Zenadh Kes (Torres Strait) cosmology, navigating all the cycles of land, sea, sky and spiritual life. ANMM Collection 00054665. Reproduced courtesy Alick Tipoti and Australian Art Network.

For thousands upon thousands of years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have navigated their way across the lands and seas of Australia using paths called songlines or dreaming tracks. A songline is based around the creator beings and their formation of the lands and waters during the Dreaming (creation of earth). It explains the landmarks, rock formations, watering holes, rivers, trees, sky and seas.

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Man in the machine: submarines, ships, sailors and National memory

Johnnie and Mehmet concept drawing detail. Image: Alexander Knox 2015.

Johnnie and Mehmet concept drawing detail. Image: Alexander Knox 2015.

This is not a blog about the current Federal election … this is about something much more enduring and exciting – a bold new art installation that plays with the idea of animus, memory, the machinery of war, and to a degree geopolitics. It will be launched in the coming months on the forecourt at the Australian National Maritime Museum, and today, International Museums Day with its focus on cultural landscapes, seems an appropriate time to reveal something of the art work.

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‘Good housekeeping, you know. Economy, common-sense.’

View of McMahons Point, from 1937, showing the boat building yards including Holmes yard on the far left. Image: ANMM Collection 00037893.

View of McMahons Point, from 1937, showing the boat building yards including Holmes yard on the far left. Image: ANMM Collection 00037893.

On 2 June 1949 a small advertisement appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald. It was for the sale of Hegarty’s Ferries, a family-owned service which at that time operated between Circular Quay, McMahons Point and Kirribilli. The whole enterprise was now up for sale, including the ‘diesel-engined boats, its wharves, offices, and equipment’. The owners, the well-known Hegarty family from Drummoyne, were heading south to Victoria.

A surprising purchaser stepped forward to take on the business – three women, headed up by Maud Barber. Maud, although no stranger to the Sydney harbour scene, bought the business along with her daughter and Miss Jean Porter. Maud was married to the boatbuilder and naval architect Arthur Barber, best known for his design of Rani, the first ever winner of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, in 1945.

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It’s a Wrap: The Windjammer Sailors

What's wrapped up under the silk? Image: Andrew Frolows / ANMM.

What’s wrapped up under the silk? Image: Andrew Frolows / ANMM.

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

Cook and the ‘Swan of Litchfield’

Death announcement of Captain Cook in the London Gazette, 18 January, 1780 (source – British Library)

Death announcement of Captain Cook in the London Gazette, 18 January, 1780 (source – British Library)

When the news of Cook’s death reached London in 1780, it did not make front page news, but rather, was merely noted with a small announcement of a single paragraph. But public expressions of grief came, one being ‘Elegy on Captain Cook’ written by Anna Seward in 1780.

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Penguins, dogs and onesies: A day in the life of a Conservator

One of our conservators, suited up for work. Image: Kate Pentecost / ANMM.

One of our conservators, suited up for work. Image: Kate Pentecost / ANMM.

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 want to wear an onesie, head over to our Google Cultural Institute page.

Celebrations of Easter: From our collection 

Easter in our collection

Easter in our collection

How did you spend your Easter Sunday? Hopefully you won the Easter egg hunt, had a delicious family barbeque or attended an Easter service. Today, we’re looking at several objects in the museum’s collection which explore the variety of ways Australians have celebrated Easter (and the long weekend).

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Buckets of fun

Child’s toy sand bucket, manufactured by Chad Valley Toys and featuring the boat ‘Saucy Sal’, circa 1930. ANMM Collection 00001533.

Child’s toy sand bucket, manufactured by Chad Valley Toys and featuring the boat ‘Saucy Sal’, circa 1930. ANMM Collection 00001533.

Where does Australians’ love of the sea first start if not at the beach as children? Absorbed for hours by the sand, ignoring the heat and discomfort of constantly wet swimmers, they diligently build and rebuild imagined cities and swimming holes, filled up by countless trips down to the water’s edge to return with slopping buckets of seawater.

In the big scheme of the museum’s collection, they are not your standout items. Overshadowed by bigger and bolder objects jostling for gallery space, the collection of beach buckets sits in storage protected from the rigours of the outside world. But they are very much part of the fabric of Australian maritime history.

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