Misenum in miniature. An up close look at the diorama created by Geoff Barnes and Roger Scott for Escape from Pompeii. Image: Andrew Frolows / ANMM.
In 79 AD Mount Vesuvius erupted, sealing nearby Pompeii and Herculaneum into time capsules that would not be reopened for many centuries, and which have been incredibly rich historical and romantic resources for today’s world.
The eruption was clearly visible from the Roman navy’s major port-city of Misenum, along the coast at the northern end of the Gulf of Naples. In response, the admiral of the fleet, Pliny the Elder, ordered his ships to go to the rescue. It is one of the first recorded attempted rescues of civilians by sea by a military force.
A diorama from the independence museum in Bali, Indonesia. Photo: Jeffrey Mellefont
On a recent trip to Indonesia I was struck by how many museums were based around dioramas. Rather than how we usually think of museums — as a display of things from the past (objects) with labels and text — many Indonesian museums are solely based around snapshots of history, with no objects in sight. They are examples of how museum-makers quite literally construct the past for their audiences.
We often think of dioramas as an outmoded, old-fashioned display method. But in Indonesia they are quite an accepted way of communicating stories. Many tell a sanctioned, official version of history. But I was surprised by just how popular they are with audiences.
Scene from an Australian War Memorial diorama showing Anzac troops being ‘cut down’ at The Nek
British officers at Suvla Bay ‘taking tea’.
What to do with all these stores?
Building a ‘crib’ for wharf foundations
Bracegirdle at work
The rust red barges and the Nile barge to their left were nowhere near as useful as the ‘black beetles’.
Reading a book in the shade of the stores
Soldiers looking on while the RANBT work
“These men took pride in the fact they were the only Australian naval unit serving in the European theatre of war … They were therefore bent on proving to the Royal Navy and the Army that they could overcome any difficulties”. CMDR L. S. Bracegirdle, RN, commanding the Royal Australian Navy Bridging Train at Gallipoli, 16 November 1915
One of the most popular parts of the War at Sea – The Navy in WWIexhibition at the museum is a wonderfully old-school diorama. It has no bells or whistles. You can’t swipe, touch or play with it — apart from a series of buttons that light up various sections. But everyone — even the ‘walk through’ visitor — stops and checks it out.