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vol 21 (3) – autumn 2013 $15.00

Museums Australia

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for the Museums Australia National Conference 2013! Be challenged by Australia’s leading cultural thinkers Learn about your industry and career opportunities Network and share knowledge with your regional, national and international peers Experience over four days a vibrant program of talks and interactive workshops that explore some of the challenges facing the cultural industry today such as the joys and pitfalls of working collaboratively, operating within a budget and mapping your career. In addition to the formal conference program, enjoy an active social program including an awards night, a vodka bar and film night at the National Film and Sound Archive, evening receptions and tours to some of Canberra’s leading cultural institutions.

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Robyn Archer AO, Creative Director, Centenary of Canberra (2013) In her inimitable and generous style, Ms Archer will share her untrammeled passion for Canberra and provide an assessment of museums and galleries derived from her experience as a private citizen, entertainer and festival director.

Dr Tom Calma AO, Social justice campaigner and national finalist for Australia of the Year 2013

MA2013 Keynote Speakers

In his keynote address, Dr Calma will reflect on his personal experiences of museums and galleries and explore the contribution they make to strengthening Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures today and into the future.

Dr Brendan Nelson, Director, Australian War Memorial Dr Nelson’s paper will explore, from the perspective of a newcomer to the museum industry, how Australian stories are told in museums and will be grounded in his deep conviction that Australia’s history is everything to do with its future. Dr Stefan Hajkowicz, Principal scientist, CSIRO Drawing on CSIRO’s ‘Our Future World’ report, Dr Hajkowicz will outline the key social, economic and environmental changes Australia faces over the next 20 years. He will particularly address those changes which have the potential to impact on museums including those changes arising from the economic shift to China and India and from the ageing population. Michael Lynch CBE AM, CEO, West Kowloon Cultural District Authority (Hong Kong) Mr Lynch will reflect on how large cultural development projects are repositioning cities and other socio-economic agendas in the Asia-Pacific region, with the West Kowloon Cultural District of Hong Kong as an example. His presentation will describe how the astoundingly ambitious M+, due to be completed in 2017, is being conceptualised and reveal some of the challenges in creating an institution described by its director as ‘the game changer – a new role for museums in the 21st century’.

Dr Michael Brand, Director, Art Gallery of New South Wales Dr Brand has had an extraordinary career in leading cultural institutions in Australia and North America. An important focus of his work has been the collection and interpretation of Asian art and culture, for he played a significant role in the Queensland Art Gallery’s third Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in 1999. As Director of the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles he led reforms in the way American art museums dealt with issues of provenance and restitution claims. In this paper, Dr Brand will reflect on his professional journey and the prospects for cultural engagement between Australia, Asia and the global museum world. Patrick Greene OBE, Chief Executive Officer, Museum Victoria; Chair, Council of Australasian Museum Directors; and Chair, National Cultural Heritage Committee Dr Greene will head up a panel of three museum and cultural heritage professionals that will respond to the issues raised by Dr Stefan Hajkowicz in his future trends paper. Drawing from his considerable experiences, Dr Greene will share his views on the future of museums in Australia and how the industry can address the challenges ahead. Kate Clark, Director, Historic Houses Trust of NSW How do we measure the public value of museums? Drawing on studies commissioned by the Heritage Lottery Fund in the UK, Kate Clark, CEO, Historic Houses Trust of NSW, will explore the question of why do museums matter.

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MA2014 Museums Australia National Conference 2014 16-19 May, Launceston, Tasmania

Connecting the Edge: within and beyond the museum • Creative links: new cultural paradigms • Collaborations: museums, technology, tourism • Live Museums: linking with community


Museums Australia Magazine – Vol. 21 (3) – Autumn 2013  7


In this issue Museums Australia National Council 2011—2013 Contents President’s message . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 Recent national honours for distinguished colleagues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 Overview of an outstanding leadership training program offered since 1999 . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 Roll out the red carpet: How museums welcome their visitors . . . . . . . . . . . 13 Re-examining the ‘insides’ and ‘attitudes’ of animal specimens: The Macleay Museum’s Victorian taxidermy project . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 Archaeology’s ‘curation crisis’ and the Australian Museum. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21


Andrew Sayers AM (Director, National Museum of Australia, Canberra) vice-president

Vacant treasurer

Suzanne Bravery (Manager, Grainger Museum, University of Melbourne) secretary

William (Bill) Storer (previously: President, MA-NSW; Chair, Community Museums National Network; Newcastle) members

Belinda Nemec (Museum consultant, Melbourne) Rebekah Butler (Executive Director, Museum & Gallery Services Queensland, Brisbane) Richard Mulvaney (Director, Queen Victoria Museum & Art Gallery, Launceston)

The Australian Dress Register: Garments and costume animating social history. . . . . . . . . 23

Robert Heather (Event & Exhibition Manager, State Library of Victoria, Melbourne)

Dressing Sydney: The Jewish Fashion Story. . . 27

Soula Veyradier (Manager, Western Australian Museum, Perth)

Theatre, fashion and costume at the National Gallery of Australia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33 The Australian Fashion and Textiles Collection at the National Gallery of Victoria . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37 Flotsam and jetsam transformed: Contemporary artists animate Perth City Council’s role as patron of living heritage . . . . . . . . 39

ex officio member

Frank Howarth (Chair, ICOM Australia), Director, Australian Museum public officer

Dr Don McMichael CBE, Red Hill, Canberra state/territory branch presidents/ representatives (subject to change throughout year)

ACT Carol Cartwright (Former Head, Education & Visitor Services, Australian War Memorial, Canberra)

Book Review: Heritage and Social Media . . . . . . . 42 COVER IMAGE: X-ray of Dendrolagus dorianus, Ramsay 1883. Macleay Museum NHM.378.

Museums Australia Magazine PO Box 266, Civic Square ACT 2608 Editorial: (02) 6230 0346 Advertising: 02) 6230 0346 Subscriptions: (02) 6230 0346 Fax: (02) 6230 0360 Editor: Bernice Murphy Design: Brendan O’Donnell & Selena Kearney Print: Paragon Print, Canberra

Printed on 100% Australian, 70-100% recycled carbon neutral paper stock.

© Museums Australia and individual authors. No part of this magazine may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher. Museums Australia Magazine is published quarterly and on-line on the MA Website, and is a major link with members and the museums sector. Museums Australia Magazine is a forum for news, opinion and debate on museum issues. Contributions from those involved or interested in museums and galleries are welcome. Museums Australia Magazine reserves the right to edit, abridge, alter or reject any material. Views expressed by contributors are not necessarily those of the publisher or editor. Publication of an advertisement does not imply endorsement by Museums Australia, its affiliates or employees. Museums Australia is proud to acknowledge the following supporters of the national organisation: Australian Government Office for the Arts and Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities; National Museum of Australia; Museum Victoria (Melbourne Museum); Western Australian Museum; and Link Digital (Canberra). Print Post Publication No: 332582/00001 ISSN 1038-1694

NSW Dr Andrew Simpson (Director, Museum Studies Program, Macquarie University, Sydney) NT Janie Mason (Charles Darwin University Nursing Museum, Darwin) SA Regan Forrest (PhD Candidate, Adelaide) TAS Sue Atkinson (Museum Consultant, Tasmania) QLD Edith Cuffe OAM (Director, Abbey Museum of Art and Archaeology, Caboolture) VIC Daniel Wilksch (Coordinator, Digital Projects, Public Record Office Victoria, Melbourne) WA Soula Veyradier (Manager, Western Australian Museum, Perth)

8  Museums Australia Magazine – Vol. 21 (3) – Autumn 2013

President’s message

Andrew Sayers


n May 2013, Canberra is the place to be. There’s a great deal to engage everyone who is involved in museums in Australia and interested in the future picture for our sector. This year the Museums Australia National Conference returns to the time-slot of May, after some years of staging this event successfully in the second half of the year. There are various reasons for returning to a May time-slot this year. One of the prime drivers has been the ACT Committee’s commitment to host a stimulating conference for the national sector in Canberra’s Centenary year – when there is a rich array of exhibitions and programs being hosted by the national cultural institutions. Another driver has been assessment of the practical advantages of staging the National Conference in the first half of the calendar year, together with the convenience this affords of providing an AGM for all the association’s members at a suitable location and timing. The recent MA Conferences in Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide were all universally judged as providing stimulating and diverse programs for the sector. Each Organising Committee pursued a thematic emphasis that provided a focus on specific challenging themes in their plenary sessions, while still maintaining a rich diversity of topics and speakers throughout the parallel programs and events of several days. In preparation for the Canberra Conference, our ACT colleagues asked MA members for suggestions in streamlining the conference program. The 2013 conference program overall will be a little shorter and tighter, and takes account of both a more crowded landscape of events annually and the more constrained training and travel budgets in many museums. The most significant change you will notice in the conference structure is the concentration of all the plenary sessions in one high-profile opening day – which we are calling ‘Super Saturday’, and which also happens to be International Museum Day!

‘Super Saturday’ is 18 May, with Conference sessions at the Canberra Convention Centre & dinner at the National Gallery of Australia The new model means that registrants will now have access to all major guest-speakers (whether international or local) in a high-energy Opening Day, when the leadthemes of the conference are laid out alongside each other in a more concentrated and contrasting framework. The Conference Dinner this year will for the first time be advanced to the night of the Opening Day – at the National Gallery of Australia – maximising social interaction between all participants, speakers and leading guests at an early stage of the gathering – rather than towards the end of the program.

Then, following the high-energy survey of major themes on ‘Super Saturday’, the parallel sessions of the remaining two days will be equally advantaged with all the lead-issues and special speakers accessed at one time. This will positively frame the more detailed presentations and specialist debates pursued by the National Networks and others afterwards. The National Networks themselves have meanwhile been more actively drawn into planning of the Conference Program. Gone are the days when some Networks or SIGS were allocated only lunchtime meetings as their main conference presence!

Other collegial events occurring around the National Conference An unusually favourable concentration of other opportunities for dialogue has emerged in 2013, with CAMD (the Conference of Australasian Museum Directors) deciding to convene one of its own peak-body meetings adjacent to the MA Conference in Canberra. (CAMD will meet over two days prior to the MA Conference opening.) The ICOM National Committee – ICOM Australia – will also hold its AGM in Canberra during the MA Conference. And of course the MA AGM occurs at the end of the Conference program, on Monday 20th May. It is clear that the opportunities for interaction and exposure to nation-wide work and topical challenges involving museums and galleries are strongly enhanced by such connections occurring this year in Canberra.

The R+R Training Program to precede the Conference (17 May) The R+R (Regional and Remote) Training Program, occupying a stand-alone day adjoining each Conference for many years, has continued to prove a strongly attended and much appreciated feature of MA’s conferences annually. The R+R programs of the last decade have played a significant role in bridging the historical divide between ‘the city and the bush’ that often affects our sector. And the programs have regularly connected the best-practice institutions and high-performing colleagues and programs, demonstrating museums’ and galleries’ strong presence in public awareness. In sum, 2013 offers a unique opportunity for MA to play the lead role in drawing the whole museums sector together in imagining and shaping the future in a confident and nationally embracing way. I look forward keenly to welcoming colleagues to Canberra in May. Andrew Sayers AM National President, Museums Australia (Director, National Museum of Australia)

Museums Australia Magazine – Vol. 21 (3) – Autumn 2013  9

Museums-sector colleagues honoured for outstanding service to the nation

Recent national honours for distinguished colleagues

Mary-Louise Williams AM

Former Director, Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney Mary-Louise Williams, who retired in 2012 as Director of the Australian National Maritime Museum, and who served on the ICMM Executive Council and as Vice-President of ICMM (International Congress of Maritime Museums), was made a Member in the Order of Australia in the 2013 Australia Day Honours List. The honour’s citation emphasised her ‘significant service to the museum sector and the preservation of maritime history’. Mary-Louise began work at the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) as a senior curator in May 1988, before the Museum opened to the public, and progressed to the position of Director in 2000. She retired from this position in 2012. There were many outstanding achievements during her leadership at the Maritime Museum: visitor numbers grew to half a million people annually; the National Maritime Collection increased by 30%; and the museum site and facilities also expanded to include additional wharves, pontoons and public program areas. As director, Mary-Louise oversaw the management of one of the largest museum fleets, which in 2005 included the acquisition of a fully operational ocean going vessel – the HMB Endeavour replica – which became integrated into the museum’s responsibilities and underwent a major refit. However Mary-Louise also counts her earlier career with the museums sector at the community-based level, providing outreach services to communities in remote and regional Australia and reaching out to communities across the country, as among her proudest contributions to the museums sector, providing key experiences that she later translated to a national level at the Maritime Museum. From 1982 to 1988, she worked with the NSW Branch of the Museums Association (now Museums Australia), in a period of intense activity for regional Australia with the development of many new museums. In the delivery of museum advisory programs and field services in the 1980s, she forged a number of friendships with many dedicated and talented people, several of them remaining close friends over subsequent years. Since the 1980s Mary-Louise has represented the sector as Chair of the NSW Government’s Cultural

Advisory Council, Chair and member of the Museums and Galleries Foundation, and a member of the Ministry for the Arts (NSW) Museums Committee. At the Australian National Maritime Museum, her continuing focus on regional Australia was pursued in a robust Outreach Program that include an ongoing nation-wide grants and internship service. She maintains respect for the enormous contribution made by regional communities to recording Australia’s history at the local level, and affection for the people involved.

Frank Howarth PSM

Director, Australian Museum, Sydney The Public Service Medal, established in 1989, was awarded to Frank Howarth in June 2012 as part of the official Australian system of honours and awards. The PSM award, alongside other divisional awards within the Order of Australia, was established to recognise employees of the Australian Government and state, territory and local governments who have given outstanding public service. With experience in science policy and the management of science-based programs, Frank Howarth was appointed to his current position as Director of the Australian Museum in March 2004. His achievements in this role, as well as his leadership contribution to the development of the Australian museums sector more generally (including participation in key international museum-sector forums), has earned national recognition within the Australian honours fold. Frank has been particularly active in driving national initiatives making cultural and biological collections more accessible to the public via the web, and formulating sector-wide responses to national policy issues such as the illegal trade in cultural objects and cultural heritage legislation. Frank was Chairperson of the Council of Australasian Museum Directors (CAMD) between 2007 and 2010, and the Chair of the Atlas of Living Australia, a national partnership between CSIRO, Australian museums and herbaria, that has realised an outstanding digital platform coordinating access to Australia’s scientific collections, and a dynamic resource for information relay and ongoing engagement with the Australian community (including the encouragement of ‘citizen science’). The Australian Museum is being strategically

10  Museums Australia Magazine – Vol. 21 (3) – Autumn 2013

Museums-sector colleagues honoured for outstanding service to the nation

developed to ensure it is well placed to encourage the public to explore and appreciate cultural and biological diversity, to encourage school and university students to learn about science and consider it as a career, and to encourage life-long learning as well as researchers expanding our knowledge of the cultural and biological universe. In a rapidly changing environment affecting all museums today, Frank Howarth is keen to ensure that the Australian Museum is a national hub for learning about the natural sciences and indigenous cultures, and one of its leading destinations for culture and science tourism. Passionate about the Museum’s scientific and anthropological collections, and their potential to inspire, he continues to be influential in biodiversity conservation science and policy, particularly through international collaboration. Other keenly pursued objectives include resolving options for the continued physical development of Australian Museum, the development of new Pacific and Indigenous exhibitions, and finding new ways to engage with Pacific and Aboriginal communities. Frank Howarth is currently serving (on a voluntary basis) as Chair of ICOM (International Council of Museums) Australia, since 2010; a member of the National Council for Museums Australia (2010-present); and is a Board Member of Museums & Galleries NSW (2005—present).  

Alan Froud PSM

Deputy Director, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra The Public Service Medal was awarded to Alan Froud in the Australia Day Honours List of January 2013: ‘For outstanding public service through leadership in arts administration in leading public institutions.’ A veteran of service to two of Australia’s principal art museums, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and the National Gallery of Australia, Alan Froud is now the most honoured arts administrator within the executive team of any of our major museums. Details enlarging the background for this award provide a concise summary of Alan Froud’s extensive achievements and service to art museums over three decades: ‘Alan Foud has demonstrated outstanding public service through his leadership in arts administration

in leading public institutions over the past 30 years in both state and federal sectors. As Deputy Director at the National Gallery of Australia, Mr Froud is responsible for the management of the Administration Program which is focussed on facilitating the Gallery’s operations and providing corporate services. The Administration Program includes responsibility for functions relating to Council secretariat, financial administration, planning and investment, human resource and occupational health and safety management, building and facilities management and security, governance and business support. Importantly, Mr Froud was responsible for overseeing the complex delivery of the Gallery’s new south entrance and world class galleries of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art. ‘Mr Froud was also responsible for the revamping and relaunching of the Gallery’s Foundation which seeks to supplement federally funded activities. He has overall responsibility for the management and investment of Gallery funds and has been highly successful in obtaining sponsorship for the Gallery. His effort has ensured the efficient and effective management of one of Australia’s national treasures.’

Jeanne Liedtka OAM

(Darden School of Business, University of Virginia) (Honorary international award within the Order of Australia, 2013) It was with great pleasure across the Australian museums sector that colleagues learned of an honorary international award, in the Australia Day Honours List of 26 January 2013, recognising the services of an American colleague who has contributed to outstanding development of leadership in this country. Dr Jeanne Liedtka, United Technologies Corporation Professor of Business Administration at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, has received an honorary Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the General Division, for ‘her service to the development of leaders in the museum profession through the Museum Leadership Program’. Jeanne was honoured in an impromptu ceremony in January among her campus colleagues in Charlottesville, Virginia, when the news broke that she had received outstanding national recognition in Australia. Gordon Darling AC CMG and Marilyn Darling AC phoned in to

Museums Australia Magazine – Vol. 21 (3) – Autumn 2013  11

ensure that they conveyed their personal congratulations to Jeanne during the celebration party in the US. As a faculty member of the Getty Leadership Institute’s flagship program for senior museum executives, Jeanne Liedtka was first invited to teach Australian museum professionals in 1999. Since then she has been the key presenter in the Museum Leadership Program courses for senior museum executives and leaders in Australia – supported by funding through the Gordon Darling Foundation. ‘Professor Liedtka has inspired a whole generation of leaders and enhanced their capacity for strategic thinking and innovation’, stated a release from the office of the Governor-General of Australia, when the honour was announced. ‘She has made a major impact on how the Australian museum world operates today in guiding, influencing and mentoring over 200 participants of the program over the past 13 years. Her style and the practical content taught in her classes have been credited by many alumni as turning points in their professional careers.’ Formerly executive director of the Darden School’s Batten Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Jeanne Liedtka teaches design thinking, innovation and organic growth in Darden’s MBA and Executive Education programs. Her research focuses on how design thinking can be used to spark inclusive, strategic conversations about the future of an organisation. In 2011 her book, Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Tolkit for Managers, co-authored with Tim Ogilvie, won the 1800 CEO READ best management book of the year. Her previous book, Catalyst: How You Can Become an Extraordinary Growth Leader, with Robert Rosen and Robert Wiltbank, was named one of BusinessWeek’s best innovation books in the US in 2009.

Neil MacGregor AM, 1. Roslyn Russell, ‘Plants, baskets, and prints in London: Australian season at the British Museum’, Museums Australia Magazine 20(1), Museums Australia, Canberra, August 2011, pp.22–25. 2. See an article arising from the remarkable discovery of papyrus fragments of an ancient Book of the Dead in the Queensland Museum, identified by visiting British Museum expert Dr John Taylor in an earlier MAM issue: Brit Asmussen and John Healy, ‘ “The oldest book in Queensland” – Discovering The Book of the Dead of Amenhotep’, Museums Australia Magazine 21(2), Museums Australia, Canberra, Summer 2012, pp.25–33.

Director British Museum, London (Honorary international award within the Order of Australia, 2013) Neil MacGregor AM OM FSA, Director of the British Museum, was honoured in the Australia Day Awards announced on 26 January 2013, with the citation for this honour emphasising his ‘service to promoting Australia and Australian art in the United Kingdom’. Neil MacGregor has imaginatively promoted Australia and Australian art and

flora in Britain, particularly through the Australian season exhibition held in 2011, which included: Out of Australia: Prints and drawings from Sidney Nolan to Rover Thomas, the forecourt Australian Landscape display, and the exhibition Baskets and belonging: Indigenous Australian histories. This suite of Australian exhibitions featuring Australian landscape and culture at the British Museum was reviewed in an earlier edition of Museums Australia Magazine.[1] The AM citation further acknowledged Neil MacGregor’s distinctive contribution to Australia as follows: ‘As Director of the Museum since 2002, Mr MacGregor has collected over 880 Australian prints and drawings and has made annual visits to Australia, including as guest lecturer at the Museum Leadership Program held at the Macquarie Graduate School of Management in 2009. He has also organised a series of exhibitions to be lent to Australian museums from the British Museum collections. The first exhibition, Extraordinary Stories from the British Museum, was staged at the Western Australian Museum from October 2011 to February 2012; the second, Mummy: Secrets of the Tomb, was featured at the Queensland Museum[2] from April to August 2012; and the last, The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia, opened at the Melbourne Museum in May 2012. ‘Mr MacGregor’s collaboration with Australian museums and his contribution to promoting Australian art has been outstanding.’ []

12  Museums Australia Magazine – Vol. 21 (3) – Autumn 2013

MLP 1999–2012: A far-sighted initiative elevating museum leadership capabilities in Australia

Overview of an outstanding leadership training program offered since 1999 Gordon Darling AC CMG and Marilyn Darling AC (patrons of the MLP program) Distinguished private patrons and philanthropic supporters of museums’ development, Gordon Darling AC CMG and Marilyn Darling AC, have since 1999 provided steerage – backed by financial support through the Gordon Darling Foundation – of the Museum Leadership Program (MLP) for long-term skills development of the Australian museums sector. The idea for this intensive, residential training program (usually over about five days) came from Gordon Darling himself, through his experience as inaugural Chairman of the Council of the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra (1982–1986). Gordon Darling came to the view that our major museums and art galleries were facing such a rapidly changing world – in which they were becoming high-stakes cultural program providers in an increasingly competitive environment – that new training in leadership for the museums sector should be cultivated. He believed that new strategic capabilities, and especially business-aware knowledge, should be added to aspiring museum leaders’ experience, to ensure they could become multi-skilled, top-ranking performers as directors or senior managers, enabled to make the most of the their institutional opportunities emerging in future. The American Federation for the Arts and the American Association of Museums had begun working with the Getty Leadership Institute in the 1990s to develop a live-in training course in a university business school environment, to cultivate a higher level of US museum leadership. Some senior Australian museum personnel had gained admission to that competitive training program offered for three weeks in the American summer annually. Gordon Darling and Marilyn Darling subsequently brought a couple of the key players in the development of the US course to Australia, gathered together a representative group of Australian museum directors to advise on leadership training, and a plan for a condensed course tailored to the Australian museums sector was born. An MLP course, backed by the Gordon Darling Foundation, has now been operating at regular intervals since 1999. The most recent edition of the course was offered in 2012, along with a Masterclass for alumni of past MLP courses – which always attracts strong enrolment, through the outstanding teaching skills of Prof. Jeanne Liedtka and her long-standing history of leading the MLP faculty biennially in Australia.

In recent years Museums Australia has provided administrative support and nation-wide projection of the Leadership course, and its adjoining Masterclass programs for MLP alumni, to ensure that the MLP program achieves maximum awareness, enrolments and impact for the sector. The 2012 Museum Leadership Program attracted governmental support from three state ministries, in support of candidates from New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. Museums Australia, and the Gordon Darling Foundation, gratefully acknowledge this bursary support from Arts New South Wales, Arts Queensland, and Arts Victoria. [] Citation for this text: ‘MLP 1999–2012: A far-sighted initiative elevating museum leadership capabilities in Australia’, Museums Australia Magazine, Vol. 21(3), Museums Australia, Canberra, Autumn 2013, pp. 12.


MLP 2009 in session, Macquarie Graduate School of Management. Photo courtesy Gordon Darling Foundation.


MLP 2009 in session; Prof. Jeanne Liedtka seated far right.Photo courtesy Gordon Darling Foundation.

Museums Australia Magazine – Vol. 21 (3) – Autumn 2013  13

Some lateral thinking about engaging audiences

Roll out the red carpet: How museums welcome their visitors


Laura Miles.


Eva and Franco Mattes aka 0100101110101101.ORG Anonymous, untitled, dimensions variable Carroll / Fletcher, 2012 Reproduced with kind permission of Carroll / Fletcher Gallery, London.

Laura Miles

1. L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between (London, 1953). [Ed: The Go-Between, a novel by L. P. Hartley, published in London in 1953, begins with the line: ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’ This motif provided the framework for a seminal book by American historian David Lowenthal, The Past is a Foreign Country (Cambridge University Press, 1985). Lowenthal suggests that complex tensions between inherited tradition and innovation fuel paradoxes underlying both the rejection and intensification of our desire to commemorate culture and heritage, including the popularity of the ‘nostalgia industry’ today.] 2 INSITE, Museums Australia (Victoria), Melbourne, SeptemberOctober 2010 issue, p.8. 3 Georgia Rouette, ‘Converging dichotomies: critique of exhibition design and management practices in Australian museums’, Museums Australia Magazine, Vol. 21 (2), Museums Australia, Canberra, Summer 2012, pp. 21–24. 4 See John Cross, ‘Adult learning and museums’, Why learning?, Seminar, Australian Museum/AUT, Sydney, 22 November 2002; John Cross, ‘Crossing the moat: art museums and life-wide learning’, Museums Australia National Conference, Melbourne, 20 May 2004.


ontemporary museum experiences can be inspiring, engaging adventures. For some visitors however, the museum presents an intimidating and mystifying experience: the museum is a foreign country.[1] There is more to be done to include non-traditional audiences, such as the uninterested child or reluctant teacher on a class excursion, people with disabilities who may not be sure if the museum is accessible, new arrivals, and anyone who finds the museum space unwelcoming, daunting or just ‘not for me’. In the September 2010 issue of INSITE magazine, Professor Richard Sandell described museums’ role as agencies concerning issues of disability as ‘offer[ing] visitors particular ways of seeing the world ... [through] their potential to give...credible and authoritative ways of understanding difference.’[2] The best museums proactively offer vibrant, equitable experiences for both traditional and nontraditional audiences. In the previous issue of MAM, Georgia Rouette suggested some strategies that allow and encourage creative, innovative teamwork to result in unique, memorable experiences for visitors[3]. Museums draw upon a range of interpretation techniques in both the physical and online museum space, from passive displays to interactives and public engagement programs, and beyond the museum walls with sophisticated online tools that invite people to create and share user-generated content alongside authoritative museum facts. On a recent overseas trip to museums in Romania,

the Basque Country and the UK, I compared the codes and conventions used for wayfinding in exhibitions to gauge how much of the museum experience relied on fluency in the local language. This matters because elements of the museum experience – the architecture of entrances, the labels or absence of labels in exhibition spaces – can consciously or unintentionally create an alienating experience. How can visitors be effectively welcomed into museum spaces? If you didn’t plan to visit a museum, what would draw you in? In 2012 I presented these questions to both the Albury-Wodonga Regional Conference and the Museums Australia National Conference in Adelaide, as a ‘call to arms’ to offer engaging museum experiences for more visitors, more often. These ideas are not new; however, the underlying issues continue to be current. In 2002 and 2004, John Cross detailed the danger of excluding audiences from our museums[4]. Cross cited examples where museum experiences packaged for children tended to be described as active, playful and participatory, whereas adult offerings were more passive and deferential. He asks ‘[W]hy do children get to have all of the fun in museums?’ and ‘[H]ow does the provision

14  Museums Australia Magazine – Vol. 21 (3) – Autumn 2013

Some lateral thinking about engaging audiences

right top and bottom:

Albokas and the workbench where they are made, at the Basque Music Museum. <>

5. See http://canopycanopycanopy. com/16/international_art_english

of ‘accurate facts’ ensure that learning will take place?’ My explorations of a Romanian museum of pedagogy and the Basque music museum revealed that despite not speaking either language fluently, I could gain some understanding of the significance of the collections. The Romanian museum used sheet music, textiles and books to tell the stories, and the museum was opened especially for us by the collections manager and parish priest. He kindly sang some of the traditional songs, depicted in neumatic notation, which predates Guido d’Arezzo’s modern notation, aloud with us in the museum. The Basque music museum used a one-page English translation of the collections policy and significance statement, which was also available in French and Spanish. Interestingly, the museum staff also provided a handheld device that played back recordings of the musical instruments displayed by typing in threedigit numbers on the labels. The Basque museum also displayed the actual workbench used by the owner/ curator to make the alboka, a wind instrument made from a cow’s horn and two reeds. The name is derived from the Arabic al-bûq,meaning ‘horn’ or ‘trumpet’. According to Juan-Mari Beltran, the Basque music expert and owner of the museum, each alboka is hand-made, usually by the person who intends to play it, with perhaps less than five Basque craftsmen still making this instrument today. The combination of seeing the instruments and photographs of their makers, plus the audio recordings, provided a rich example of a museum engaging audiences even if they don’t speak the language. In this case I mean a native English speaker in a nonEnglish context. There are parallels between literally not speaking a foreign language, and not understanding ‘art-speak’, the specialist writing style and vocabulary used in some museum spaces. This concept was deftly skewered last year by Triple Canopy[5]. If museum visitors feel sidelined by academic language, they may prefer to leave the museum than to provide feedback. This can have enduring consequences if it discourages repeat visits. Museum staff and volunteers know what makes a good label; we know how to define the significance of a collection item and open up new worlds by introducing information and ideas. At the Albury and Adelaide conferences, each participant contributed to writing informative, engaging labels for a group of non-museum props brought in to elicit some bestpractice on the fly. The sessions were conducted with humour and the audiences discussed why labels were ‘good’ or needed tweaking. The highly positive response to the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Tasmania suggests that physical labels are not always essential, and layers of academic and more informal information accessed via a handheld device gives visitors the choice of how or whether to explore further. Moreover, MONA responds to John Cross’s dilemma because a playful approach is ‘allowed’ for visitors of all ages.

Where to from here? If it is the case that museum people know their collections and how to bring them to life for audiences, what ingredients do we need to ensure we continue to offer the best possible experience in our museums and online? Ask yourself the three questions following: • Is the entrance to our museum welcoming? Consider the foyer of your museum. What would someone using your museum foyer to shelter from a sudden downpour see? Would they be engaged by the objects in the space and be tempted to explore further, or discouraged by dated, dusty, ambiguous photographs or leaflet stands? We should consider what our entrances say about our museums and the collections to be explored within. • What have you learned and used from other sectors? The museum profession benefits from people with arts and cultural heritage backgrounds, and also people who transfer from other sectors such as banking, insurance, and marketing. If the sector can capitalise on the diversity of people running museums, perhaps we can also look beyond the museum walls for inspiration to enhance the museum experience. For example, what makes your favourite shop so welcoming? Can these techniques be used to improve the front-of-house experience for the shy or sceptical visitor? Why do your children love reading in the local library? What strategies does the library staff use to make the physical space warm and friendly? What makes it a playful space? What gives people permission to express themselves?

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• What lessons can you adopt from everyday life? What do you do in your spare time? What is it about sport, hobbies or the outdoors that lift the spirit? Can some of the elements be implanted into the museum context? If you work at a desk, is it purely functional or is it personalised? What impression would a stranger get about your likes, dislikes, learning styles, aesthetic choices if they sat at your desk? Can any of these impressions be used to improve your museum spaces?

Small-scale approaches to digital engagement in Victoria Museums are embracing traditional and non-traditional audiences online at a rapid pace. In Victoria, more museums are switching to Facebook, blogs and Twitter to promote their collections and events. The Victorian branch of MA has developed a regular column in INSITE magazine about new websites and apps (applications) with links listed on the MA (Vic) website. In partnership with Accredited museums, the MA (Vic) website invites visitors to explore significant cultural treasures[6]. These trails are promoted in the Tourism Victoria Cultural Guide, which has a circulation of 50,000 print copies in tourist information centres and is also available online. Videos of the National Standards in practice in Accredited museums are available via YouTube. Short presentations display the approved ways of handling and photographing objects, effective storage techniques, one-cabinet displays and more. Each video is closed-captioned with subtitles to enable people with a hearing disability and those without speakers on their computers to learn from other museums. Each video is designed specifically to illustrate ideas that can be emulated by others, no matter whether a museum has a large or small budget. Future topics include handling maritime objects and navigating maritime legislation, and how to create your own museum video on a budget. Finally, the Victorian Collections tool[7], in partnership with the Victorian Cultural Network[8] and Museum Victoria, enables community museums to catalogue, digitise and share their significant items. Collectively these tools provide ways for museums to raise their profile and engage more audiences, including in their preferred languages. []


From Bureaucratics by Jan Banning. Photographed in the foyer of the Department of Planning & Community Development, Melbourne.

right top: Front page of Museums Australia (Victoria)’s Victorian Collections website, which enables collecting organisations to freely digitise, catalogue and share their significant items online <> right below: Front page of Museums Australia (Victoria)’s YouTube channel < user/MuseumsAustraliaVic >

Laura Miles is the Executive Director of Museums Australia (Victoria), working with a team of 12 to support Victorian museums and the broader community. Laura migrated to Melbourne from London in 2008, where she held a directorship of a multilingual European news service. The author gratefully acknowledges the contributions of Dimity Mapstone, Roisin O’Dwyer and Georgia Rouette to this article. Citation for this text: Laura Miles, ‘Roll out the red carpet: How museums welcome their visitors’, Museums Australia Magazine, Vol. 21(3), Museums Australia, Canberra, Autumn 2013, pp. 13–15.

6. 7. 8.

16  Museums Australia Magazine – Vol. 21 (3) – Autumn 2013

Reviewing zoological specimens and taxidermy in one of Australia’s oldest university museums

Re-examining the ‘insides’ and ‘attitudes’ of animal specimens: The Macleay Museum’s Victorian taxidermy project


ollections of botanical and zoological specimens, Alexander Macleay’s[3] move to the Colony of New and taxidermic preparation of animal skins for South Wales in 1826 brought to Australia one of the display and systematic study of natural history, most highly regarded collections of entomology then arose early in the history of Australia’s oldest known, a legacy of enlightenment Britain and of the universities. In many cases, these university expansive era of exploration. This invaluable constelcollections shared links with other collections being lation of research specimens was later augmented by formed in the nineteenth century, encompassing the his French-influenced, philosophically minded son, founding decades of our oldest state museums. Such William Sharp Macleay. a framework strongly shaped the rise of specific William expanded the collection to include crustacollections within the University of Sydney as well as ceans and birds, as he toiled on his ‘Quinarian System’ within the NSW colony’s major scientific institution, – a complex, short-lived system of classification that the Australian Museum (the oldest natural history sought to refine existing methods (such museum in Australia). In the previous issue of the MA as Linnaeus’s 1758 systema naturae) and Magazine, an article by Brit Asmussen and John Healy reconcile natural science and theology: on the exciting identification in 2012 of Queensland to illuminate God’s order in the natuMuseum fragments of a rare Egyptian Book of the Dead, ral world. William Macleay’s resulting linked to larger fragments in the British Museum, has publication, Horae Entomologicae (1819– detailed some of these early collection development 21), gained attention among the scientific connections in Australia.[1] elite of the day. It was famously studied Meanwhile concerning the oldest biological collecby Charles Darwin, but later eclipsed by tions and mounted animal specimens, there has been Darwin’s own work setting out the founa sharp revival of audience interest in such material dations for evolutionary biology, On the when presented in well-designed displays that animate origin of species (published in London in the study of creatures through increased interpretive 1859). support available through digital technology. The most A great expansion of the Macleay advanced presentation of reinterpreted natural history family collections into all areas of zoolcollections in Australia currently is evident in the multi- ogy – from mammals to intestinal worms award-winning displays in the redeveloped Science and – was pursued by William John Macleay Life Gallery at the Melbourne Museum – notably the (hereafter WJ). Arriving in Australia display entitled ‘Wild: Amazing animals in a changing in 1839, orphaned and in his cousin world’ – which was featured in an MA Magazine article William’s care, Alexander’s nephew WJ in 2010.[2] [Ed.] prospered as a squatter and politician on lands granted to the family around the MurrumJude Philp bidgie River. He retired early to commit his energies to science, a term still new to his age. ackground research that increases the evolving In 1875, WJ both funded and led the northern knowledge-bank in museums is vital to their voyage of the Chevert, the first overseas Australian front-line roles in sharing that knowledge and scientific expedition launched from the continental engaging audiences. However donations or mainland, returning with thousands of species from grants that fund esoteric but vital research on the ecosystems of the Torres Strait and New Guinthe history of collections are not easily come by. The ea’s south-east coast. Consolidating that venture, WJ Macleay Museum at the University of Sydney was pursued the gathering of a huge variety of specimens on his return to Sydney: to ensure a comprehensive the fortunate recipient of one such grant – from Dr zoological collection for the educational benefit of Michael Hintze – to explore the insides of some if its staff and students of the University of Sydney; and for remarkable Victorian taxidermy specimens. continued research use by members of the Linnean Context Society of NSW. This century of remarkable collecting by the The Macleay Museum, within the University of Macleays accounts for most of the Museum’s natural Sydney, is investigating methods and techniques history specimens to this day. These three Macleay men of Victorian taxidermy in order to plan how best to were also, during their lifetimes, closely in touch with preserve the museum’s natural history specimens into the most advanced international work in taxonomic the future. Founded through the donated collections, classification of their era, the systematic description dating from the 1790s, of three generations of the and naming of species. Macleay family, the Macleay collections have extraorWith Alexander having once been the long-serving dinary reach. Secretary to the Linnean Society of London, William

These three Macleay men were in touch with the most advanced international work in taxonomic classification of their era


1. Brit Asmussen & John Healy, ‘The oldest book in Queensland: Discovering The Book of the Dead of Amenhotep’, Museums Australia Magazine, Vol. 21(2), Museums Australia, Canberra, Summer 2012, pp.25-33. 2. Museum Victoria [various authors], ‘Wild and contemporary – Melbourne Museum’s progressive redevelopment of its long-term displays’, Museums Australia Magazine, Vol. 19(1), Museums Australia, Canberra, September 2010, pp.13-16. 3. Alexander and William Sharp lived in an age of variable spelling. Their names are recorded by themselves and others in a variety of forms including M’Leay, M’lay, McLeay. Macleay is used here.

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Sharp the co-founder of the Zoological Society of London, and WJ the founder of the Linnean Society of NSW: it is no surprise that their interrelated work was governed by the then-exemplary taxonomic practice formulated by Carl von Linné (better known as Linnaeus) in the mid-eighteenth century. In consequence, the Macleay collection today still houses many type specimens (international reference material) essential for international research and, because of the age of the collection, some of these type specimens are also mounted specimens. The Macleay Museum today is an institution that continues to care for these natural history collections: on the one hand preserving them for ongoing international scientific investigation (especially with the revived potential for mining these collections with genomic study and bioresearch frameworks today); and as a richly layered resource for researching the history of science. Victorian museum techniques have largely been preserved in the Macleay, both by chance and by careful curation. Among the pins and insects of Alexander’s entomological cabinets, many leading ideas of nineteenth-century taxonomy can be traced, along with recognition of the networks of discovery, exploration and exploitation that contributed to the huge international range of material housed. The boxes, papers and glass slides first used to display material are also still in use, although subtle conservation changes are also now employed – for example to reduce the risk of the negative impact of acidic papers on shell and other specimens. Remarkably, the specimens that were mounted[4] for exhibition in the 1870s are largely still intact today, and it is this material that became the focus of the Victorian taxidermy research project. The project began with work on improved housing of these collections. The museum’s collections were once stored within the entire envelope of the Macleay building – but, famously, were crammed into an attic space only one-third the length of the building in the 1920s, as space was desperately needed to accommodate the expanding University population, and the accommodation of unique scientific collections often became a casualty to other priorities. Today the famously confined attic space in the Macleay Museum, the ‘Macleay gallery’ loved by many, remains the storage space for all the institution’s zoological specimens – except entomology – and those specimens that are stored in ethanol solution. The Hintze donation now supporting the Museum has enabled us to purchase much-needed furniture to improve housing and access of this material. Such a simple but nonetheless expensive solution has itself already greatly assisted the preservation of the oldest scientific specimens, but it has not entirely relieved all problems.

Taxidermy Natural history museums house hundreds of thousands of mammal and bird skins as vital research libraries for today’s scientific community. In the nineteenth century such specimens were preserved in a variety of ways, both in the field and in museums, utilising arsenic soap and other similarly toxic preparations. For exhibition purposes – understood then as longlasting scientific displays – specimens were stuffed, wired and mounted in life-like positions, to educate the public about the natural world. While mammal and bird type specimens are generally preserved in the form of skins, some older museums also have type specimens that are mounted. This frames a core problem faced by the Macleay Museum today: for not only are some of the type


Pacific Gull (Larus pacificus) shot and skinned at Elizabeth Bay House. Photo: Robyn Stacey. UA2007.13.

4. Museum specimens are colloquially called ‘skins’ or ‘mounted’ specimens. Skins are the dried skin of an animal, with some bones retained, which are softly stuffed. These are generally the specimens kept for scientific investigation. Mounted specimens are sculptural representations of the animal skin. They are made by inserting wire along with stuffing into the skins to create a life-like appearance.

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Reviewing zoological specimens and taxidermy in one of Australia’s oldest university museums

specimens mounted, but mounted animal skins also form a large part of the collection. These specimens are regarded in the Macleay Museum as vital historical records of scientific practice in the past as well as specimens of continuing scientific research today; and they constitute a rich part of the intangible heritage values that many historical collections are also understood to convey today. To maintain these historic strands of such diverse scientific collections as the Macleay Museum cares for, and to review their conservation requirements and improved usage today, research was urgently needed to understand the original preparations used, the armatures employed, and the consequences of the presence of these early materials and techniques in the environment of twenty-first century practices.


5. R.A. Donkin, Dragon’s Brain Perfume: An Historical Geography of Camphor (Leiden, Koninklijke Brill, 1999). 6. Natural History Museum, London, archives: Samuel McFarlane to the Keeper of Zoology, Albert Gunther; letter numbered 351, dated May 20 1878. 7. Both Ramsay and Miklouho-Maclay published their research in the Proceedings of the Linnean Society of NSW; Ramsay’s description appeared in the Proceedings of 1883, p.17; Miklouho-Maclay’s in 1884, p.1151.

Macleay staff approached the specimens in two ways: one framework employing research techniques from the disciplines of history and of art; the other employing the techniques of scientific analysis. It is crucial to use both frameworks in conjunction, for a number of reasons – as explained later. Most prominently, it is not yet possible to test for the spectrum of organic substances used originally in the preparation of animal skins. Camphor is an example of a common organic substance used on specimens dating from the eighteenth century. It was the precursor to naphthalene, the synthetic substance employed for protection of organic material up to the turn of this century. However because testing cannot show whether or not camphor is actually present, we needed to go back to published and archival records indicating what was, or was not, commonly used in particular periods or circumstances. There are also matters of commerce impinging on these questions, for there were several different kinds and sources of camphor employed historically, the most potent thought to have originated in Java and China (Donkin, 1999).[5] The research on commercial suppliers also assists in understanding more about the composition of substances that can be tested for – for example, arsenic – which tended to be mixed with a range of organic substances before it was applied to a collected skin. In the case of spirits for storing wet collections, Anthony Gill has been researching the question of how early in New South Wales’ history large amounts of clean alcohol were available on the market for the use of collectors. Spirits of wine formed the most common preparation for specimens, particularly for untrained collectors such as the London Missionary Society’s Reverend Samuel McFarlane. When

collecting in the Torres Strait, McFarlane used large tins of spirit to drop specimens into – and in this way he managed to send a great number of reptiles, fish and other sea creatures to the British Museum.[6] Prominent amongst the conservation issues surrounding many of the specimens in the Macleay’s care is that many items appear to ‘wilt’ over time; and that extremities such as claws and ears become brittle with age, an effect exacerbated by the reduced humidity levels of the modern museum environment. The four animal specimens that formed our initial case-study provide a case in point. The types were all collected by Andrew Goldie from the Port Moresby region in 1882, and include a unicoloured tree kangaroo (Dendrolagus dorianus), forest wallaby (Dorcopsulus macleayi), and a male and female dusky pademelon (Thylogale brunii). The tree kangaroo was described by EP Ramsay of the Australian Museum (in 1883) and the other three specimens by Russian scientist NN Miklouho-Maclay (in 1885).[7] In their descriptions, both Ramsay and Miklouho-Maclay note the poor condition of the specimens, due in part to the salt-brine in which they were shipped. Today these specimens show fur loss, corrosion of skeletal material, and brittle extremities (of feet, paws and ears). Little can be done to stabilise these specimens without knowing more about the methods used in their internal structures. The Australian Museum’s conservation department was contracted to do the work on the type specimens. The X-rays they took disclosed the presence of bone material in all the limbs of the marsupials. Further, the images revealed that not all the specimens had been prepared by the same taxidermy method. For all but one specimen, blocks linked internal wires, and minimal stuffing was employed. The Dorcopsulus macleayi specimen however was stuffed in a more lifelike way, and no blocks were used in constructing the internal armature. Further research into MiklouhoMaclay’s work on this specimen revealed that he had removed a skull from the skin of this ‘stuffed specimen’ (as he described it). It is likely that this animal was in fact taxidermied twice: once before and once after Miklouho-Maclay wrote the description. With such tantalising results, the Macleay staff determined to follow up on these insights. Thanks to the expertise of the pathology department of Sydney Veterinary Hospital, we were able to x-ray a further 40 specimens. These further investigative x-rays have shown that bones were predominantly physically broken, often leaving sharp edges, and then roughly pinned in place subsequently; but that the pattern of breaking was haphazard. Some show flat edges, suggesting that a saw was used; others appear to have only had the cartilage removed, while others have

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been roughly broken. These are likely to be the marks of the various collectors as well as the taxidermists. Similar practices were applied to the bird specimens, with some collectors removing the head when preparing the skin, and others removing soft organs through the beak and leaving the bird intact. Metal loops were usually made to fasten together the various wires, much as is shown in early taxidermy manuals such as Edward Donovan’s publication of 1805[8]. It is these connections between wires that have, with age, mostly become detached. As a result legs, wings, and heads of birds are commonly found to be loose or detached altogether. In subsequent x-rays, some specimens also showed the wide-spread use of plaster, or a similarly dense material, in various areas. The lower jaws of some mammals appear either to have been replaced by plaster, or modelled over – presumably to be able to control the shape and/or to prevent weight falling on the delicate skin covering this area. In one bird, B6821 Rupicola crocea (Guianan cock-of-the-rock), there is a large amount of loose plaster around the legs visible

through x-ray as well as to the naked eye. Plaster of Paris was used by taxidermists, both for keeping skins dry in preparation and transit[9] and for the process of transforming an older skin into a mounted specimen. Knowing more about the specimens’ insides should mean that we can track evidence of particular taxidermists’ work through the collection – such as those using plaster and those not; or assist in tracking histories of animals, such as the age of the Rupicola. In the shorter term, the x-rays gained will now enable us to make bespoke containers and mounts to reduce the stress on vulnerable areas of many specimens. Metal testing will follow, to determine the life-time and integrity of any metals used. Where metals with a high percentage of lead are evident, the x-rays should help to determine the best methods for reinforcing weak internal structures. Finally, the skins themselves are being tested to discover what we can about the composition of chemicals employed.


Mustela erminea, prepared by Wards Emporium, Rochester. Photo: Michael Myers. NHM.11.

8. Edward Donovan, Instructions for collecting and preserving various subjects of natural history (London privately published 1796 (1805 ed)) 9. William Swainston, Taxidermy (London: Longman ,Orme, Brown, Green & Longmans, 1840).

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Reviewing zoological specimens and taxidermy in one of Australia’s oldest university museums


X-ray of mustela erminea, showing the tight interior packing material and wire construction. Image: Helen Laurendet, 2013.


Conservator Sheldon Teare from the Australian Museum working on repairs. Photo: Kate Jones 2013.

Creating a life-like specimen

An end in sight?

Already with x-ray evidence it is possible to distinguish the methodology employed by WJ Macleay’s chief taxidermist, Edward Spalding, and that used by less gifted taxidermists. From here it will be necessary to turn to supplementary methodologies, derived from art history and visual typologies, to understand how Spalding determined the desired appearance of an animal. For Australian animals the problem was not too demanding: Spalding was well travelled in Australia, having worked as an independent collector in the Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales, and he would have had ample opportunities to observe animals as they moved in the landscape. However throughout the 1870s WJ was spending large sums on purchases and exchanges with international collectors, dealers and museum curators – so Spalding’s locally-amassed items were augmented by skins of exotic animals: of lemurs, orang-utans, surgeon fish, and kakapo, amongst others—each requiring a life-like posture in their taxidermic treatment. In the case of these foreign collections, and some of the older specimens collected by previous generations of the Macleay family, different approaches to preserving the various skins can be seen – such as with the Rupicola. Here almost no ‘lifelike’ attitude has been attempted, and instead wires serve to keep the skin upright and attach the feet to the supporting stand. There was no shortage of illustrated material for Edward Spalding to work from. The Macleays had excellent libraries (much of which later fell out of their hands, through debts and various disasters). Meanwhile the state museum of which the Macleays were trustees – the Australian Museum – already housed one of the world’s great libraries of natural history. This points the way to ongoing research at the Macleay. In stage two of this project, we will focus on these bibliographic materials, to understand how such resources were used in the preparing of zoological specimens for public display.

In the short term, the results achieved have moved the project from the realm of esoteric research (an aspect of one museum’s collection) into worldwide relevance, because the Macleay collection drew from the same collectors who were furnishing both international institutions and the various Australian state museums with collections. By defining the methods used by Spalding and others at the Macleay, we are also providing bench-marks against which other museums can investigate a range of local institutional issues. Spalding, for instance, went on to a successful career within the Queensland Museum in Brisbane. But to what extent did his expertise form the practices of the QM? Did QM have its own requirements and standards for taxidermy, or did these vary from taxidermist to taxidermist? Owing to the Macleay family’s networks, they also purchased from collectors and fabricators whose material today forms the basis of major international collections elsewhere – such as in the Natural History Museum in London, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, the Kyoto University Museum in Japan, as well as museums in New Zealand, India and Russia, to name only a few. In view of the wider issues opened up through this research, the ongoing issues and questions it has fuelled are likely to be pursued long after the generous funds that initiated the project have been spent. [] Jude Philp studied anthropology and museum studies at Cambridge University, completing MPhil and doctorate degrees. She has worked on research documentation for museum collections in Cambridge University museum of archaeology and anthropology, the Australian Museum, and now the Macleay Museum, where she has worked as senior curator for the last five years. Citation for this text: Jude Philp, ‘Revisiting the ‘insides’ and ‘attitudes’ of animal specimens: The Macleay Museum’s Victorian taxidermy project’, Museums Australia Magazine, Vol. 21(3), Museums Australia, Canberra, Autumn 2013, pp.16 –20.

Museums Australia Magazine – Vol. 21 (3) – Autumn 2013  21

Archaeology’s ‘curation crisis’ and the Australian Museum

Scott Mitchell

The challenge of archaeological collections

right: Dr Scott Mitchell in the Australian Museum collection storage. below: Australian Museum collection storage.

A recent national symposium of archaeology collection managers concluded that our museums and archaeological repositories ‘are at capacity ... groaning under the weight of [their] assemblages’.[1] Struggling to resource the archaeological collections they already hold, most museums in Australia are now unable or unwilling to accept any new archaeological collections. Despite this situation, archaeologists continue to excavate and collect from archaeological sites, often under salvage programs mandated by state and territory government heritage agencies. In some cases, culturally and scientifically significant collections are being stored in university labs, warehouses and even archaeologists’ bedrooms, awaiting resolution of their long-term fate. This problem is a local manifestation of an international issue commonly described as archaeology’s ‘curation crisis’. Like many places in Europe, the Middle East, North America and Japan, the sheer volume of material generated by research and salvage archaeology has simply overwhelmed the capacity of our museums and other repositories to store and care for it. The ‘curation crisis’, and the increasingly active role played by Aboriginal communities in the management of heritage surviving from their earlier history, have seen the role museums play under their respective state and territory heritage legislation change dramatically over the last decade. Repositories like the Australian Museum are now actively rethinking how to manage archaeological collections over the long-term, to best meet altered circumstances and dynamically changing community expectations.

Australian Museum and NSW archaeology 1. C.H.F. Smith, ‘Workshopping ideas for a sustainable approach to managing archaeological assemblages’, in. C. Smith and T. Murray (eds), Caring for Our Collections: Developing Sustainable, Strategic Collection Management Approaches for Archaeological Assemblages, (Museum Victoria, Melbourne, 2010). 2. The Museum also holds a substantial collection of Egyptian archaeological objects, which have been on longterm loan both to the Nicholson Museum at the University of Sydney and to MacQuarie University since the 1980s. See B.Asmussen and J Healy, ‘’The Oldest Book in Queensland’ – Discovering the Book of the Dead of Amenhotep’, Summer 2012, Museums Australia Magazine, Canberra, pp. 25-33.

The Australian Museum holds one of the country’s largest and most accessible Indigenous archaeological collections, notable for its geographic and thematic extent as well as the quality of its documentation. Although mostly consisting of stone artefacts, the Museum’s collections encompass a broad range of bone, shell and fibre tools, faunal remains, and other items such as charcoal and sediment samples[2]. Achieving a sustainable program for the care and custody of the NSW archaeological collections poses a particular challenge for the Australian Museum. Archaeology is the only museum-related discipline in which a collection management role is authorised by a piece of state legislation other than the Museum’s own governing Act (the Australian Museum Trust Act 1975). Under NSW state legislation Aboriginal archaeology is the only collection deemed to be the direct property of the Crown,

rather than the property of the Australian Museum Trust. Most importantly, amongst the huge variety of cultural and scientific collections maintained by this institution, archaeology is the only field where the rate and scale of collecting is dictated by events completely outside the Museum’s control. For example, one of the most important factors dictating the rate at which archaeological collections are accumulated in NSW is now the scale of archaeological salvage or mitigation work associated with major infrastructure developments. The Australian Museum acquired its first Aboriginal archaeological objects in the nineteenth century, and the archaeology collections grew relatively slowly until the passage of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. This act protects Aboriginal archaeological sites and objects in NSW, and nominates the Australian Museum as a potential repository for Aboriginal (archaeological) objects collected as a result of research or salvage projects. Approximately 750,000 archaeological objects were accepted by the Museum under the auspices of the National Parks and Wildlife Act between 1974 and 2002. Ultimately the challenge of maintaining such an expansive rate of acquisition within the institution’s resources proved unsustainable. As a result, the Museum repository was almost entirely closed to new acquisitions between 2002 and 2010.

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Archaeology collections into the future

3. A ground-breaking, bicultural consultative process in the early 1990s, led by co-Chairs Dr Des Griffin (then Director of the Australian Museum) and Lori Richardson (then an experienced Curator encompassing both Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage in her work within the developing National Museum of Australia) achieved a world-leading ethics policy, entitled Previous Possessions, New Obligations: Australian Museums and Indigenous People. Thispolicy was promulgated in 1993, with sectorwide support, as a benchmarking document in Australia to guide museums in their responsibilities to Indigenous people thereafter. It was the first policy adopted by Museums Australia as it was being formed out of separate museum associations in late 1993, and became incorporated as a single national body for the museums sector in January 1994. In 2000 a review of the PPNO Indigenous Policy was undertaken – again led by the Australian Museum (Phil Gordon, Lynda Kelly and Tim Sullivan) – and substantial revisions were developed to the founding policy, again after close Indigenous consultation. The work was taken forward subsequently by Museums Australia. A detailed questionnaire was distributed throughout Australia in 2003, and work was guided by a Museums Australia Steering Committee and Indigenous Reference Group to achieve appropriate revision and updating of the founding PPNO policy. Results were compiled (and refined through contracted work by Janey Nolan, WA) in a revised document, entitled Continuing Cultures, Ongoing Responsibilities: Principles and Guidelines for Australian museums working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage. This revised document (CCOR, for short, replacing the PPNO document of 1993) was adopted and promulgated by Museums Australia in 2005. The CCOR policy (building on a continuous affirmative action position and policy on Indigenous issues for Australian museums since 1993), is available for download from the MA website at < userfiles/file/Policies/ccor_final_ feb_05.pdf> <http://museumsaustralia. final_feb_05.pdf> [Ed.]. 4. Sydney Morning Herald, 10 September 2011, Fairfax, Sydney, p.12.

However recognising the importance of archaeological collections as a resource for Aboriginal communities, researchers and students, the Australian Museum was keen to find a way to allow for the ongoing development of these collections. The Museum was also keen to find a sustainable way to fulfil its statutory functions, and so developed a new policy and set of procedures governing the acceptance of archaeological collections. Released early in 2011, the policy is built around three principles: 1. Sustainability. In order to defray the ongoing costs of archaeological collection management, lodgement fees will apply to most new depositions, and depositors will be responsible for packaging and documenting collections to a standard suitable for immediate inclusion in the collection. 2. Selective acquisitions. The Museum maintains the right to refuse any archaeological material offered into its care. The decision whether or not to accept material is based on an assessment of both its cultural and scientific significance, and the curatorial capacity of the Museum to accept the material. 3. Indigenous consent. Approval of the relevant Indigenous custodians is required before the Museum will accept new Indigenous archaeological materials. Furthermore, the Australian Museum acknowledges the aspirations of many Aboriginal communities that seek to retain Indigenous heritage ‘on country’, and encourages the use of community keeping places and other locally-based solutions as an alternative to gathering and storing collections within the Museum.

Ultimately the success of the new archaeology policy of the Australian Museum will depend not only on balancing the relevant resourcing implications, but meeting the ethical responsibilities inherent in holding Aboriginal cultural heritage within a museum. With financial support from the Australian Government, the Museum is continuing a long-standing commitment to actively repatriating secret/sacred objects and ancestral remains to Aboriginal custodians.[3] However, as Wiradjuri man Stephen Ryan stated recently, museums may need to go even further. Calling for a change in NSW legislation to allow Aboriginal people to take ownership and direct charge of their cultural heritage, Mr Ryan reminded us of his community’s position: ‘All of our memories, sites and artefacts are sacred... The Australian Museum has a warehouse full of our artefacts... Let us control our own culture.’[4] The broader question of how the Australian Museum will respond to calls to return ‘secular’ components of the Indigenous collections, such as archaeological objects, is yet to be resolved. Aboriginal stakeholders consulted during the development of the new archaeology policy expressed a range of views on this topic. Some suggested that the Museum should be an automatic, ‘default’ repository for all archaeological materials derived from NSW, while others believe that the Museum should not acquire any more of this material (although it should be prepared to store objects temporarily on behalf of relevant traditional custodians). Despite this broad range of views, there was a commonly expressed concern that in many parts of NSW the existing Aboriginal community keeping places are too few in number, and too poorly resourced, to empower Aboriginal people to effectively manage archaeological collections at a local level. A long-term solution to archaeology’s ‘curation crisis’ will require both the active participation of Aboriginal communities, and more than likely a concerted program for capacity building (both in terms of infrastructure and skills development) for locally based storage solutions to be achieved across NSW and nationally. []   Dr Scott Mitchell is Head of Culture, Conservation and Business Services, Australian Museum, Sydney. Citation for this text: ‘Scott Mitchell, Archaeology’s ‘curation crisis’ and the Australian Museum’, Museums Australia Magazine, Vol. 21(3), Museums Australia, Canberra, Autumn 2013, p.21–22.

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A collections access platform attracting national and international visitors

The Australian Dress Register: Garments and costume animating social history top:

The Australian Dress Register Team

middle: bottom: left: right:


Museums and Galleries National Awards Certificate for Winner, Sustainability


Back detail, Afghan jacket, 1890-1894. Collection: Broken Hill Migrant Heritage Committee.

In 2012, the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, won a Museums Australia national MAGNA award for the Australian Dress Register, in the category of Sustainability, Level 3 ($150,000 to $500,000 budget scale). The project also won an earlier IMAGinE award in 2011, covering museums and galleries across New South Wales in the category of collection management achievements. [Ed.]


he Australian Dress Register brings together for the first time a detailed study of garments across public, private and community collections of dress. The site also offers virtual global access to these Australian collections, engaging museum colleagues and audiences from other countries. Brought to light, often after many years in storage, these garments act as a medium through which history comes alive. Not only does the site facilitate the sharing of personal, regional and important national stories, but it offers ways to enhance the care of these collections. A core purpose of the Australian Dress Register project is to record vulnerable garment histories and associated stories before they are lost forever. This ambitious project is a collaboration managed by the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, involving Australiawide collecting institutions, including regional museums, historical societies and private collectors. It aims to document significant and well-provenanced men’s, women’s and children’s clothing with an Australian provenance, ranging from garments worn on special occasions to items of everyday dress. A venturelike this requires long-term commitment from the individuals and organisations involved. Recalling the origins and development of the Register, it is noteworthy that a small team of collections staff at the Powerhouse has been meeting weekly since 2007 on this project. While progress was initially slow in some strands of the work program, momentum has been steadily building overall. The results are already strong and potentially far reaching, and we now anticipate a very productive and exciting year ahead. The ADR website was officially launched in 2011 at the Museum of the Riverina in Wagga Wagga. One of the many congratulatory emails received at the time came from a member of the costuming community in the United States, who described what the website was attempting as ‘nothing short of incredible’. Inspiration for the venture came from the National Quilt Register, a ground-breaking collections database project developed in the 1990s, which aimed to identify and document quilts in public and private collections across the country. That earlier-developed Register remains hosted on the Collections Australia Network (CAN) website, and is still accessible as a closed (non-developing) site. (http:// Choosing a thematic subject area such as dress in collection research is now acknowledged as an effective coordinating concept and conduit for identifying significant movable heritage items. It facilitates knowledge and connections across collections that

may be widely separated physically; and it helps to build and share stories of national value. Drawing upon current concepts like crowd sourcing and harnessing recent advances in web technologies – such as cloud computing’s expansion of data-storage possibilities – the profiling of dress as a linking theme in social history has proved an attractive option. It has also enriched interpretation and wider engagement for public benefit. The ADR site further stimulates ongoing upgrades in documentation and collection management practices. In addition, it produces resources for local museum practice and training – especially at regional levels, as detailed below. It also provides a single web platform interconnecting the many small but important textile collections distributed across Australia. The Australian Dress Register encourages museums and private collectors to provide information on garments they own, and to research and share their associated stories. Users of the portal are invited to tell whatever is known about original wearers’ relationships to a social community; and to contextualise what these people wore in the past. In these respects, the Register places importance not just on the design or physical attributes of particular garments, but also on what they can reveal about their original historical context and fabrication. While many of the documented garments remain safely stored within collections in their own communities, a world-wide audience can now browse related holdings and have access to the often fascinating, interrelated stories they reveal. The portal can also handle privacy provisions for the protection of some information — for example, excluding identifying names or location details when the garments are in private ownership. Dipping into the Register, audiences can find nineteenth-century clothing ranging from a standard convict jacket, to William Charles Wentworth’s

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A collections access platform attracting national and international visitors


Child’s lederhosen, 1940-1945. Collection: Albury Library Museum.

[1] Significance assessment is also a comparative process, requiring knowledge of other collections on which any discriminative judgment must be based – appraising how one item may be related to others of a kind or type; or indeed how unusual or unique a particular item may be in its own right.

embroidered vest and court costume, owned by the Historic Houses Trust of NSW. Elsewhere can be found formal wedding dresses and christening gowns; an 1839/1840 Aboriginal possum skin cloak held in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington; a velvet Afghan migrant’s jacket collected at Broken Hill; and a woman’s corset. From the twentieth century a variety of items may be retrieved: a child’s crêpe-paper ‘gum blossom’ fancy dress costume; a pair of men’s underpants made from tram destination roll fabric during the austerity of World War II; a 1930s Manly Warringah rugby jersey manufactured by David Jones; or a migrant girl’s Lederhosen shorts, bearing heart-shaped pockets. Dress is an accessible vehicle for conveying personal stories, and has great potential to connect audiences both physically and emotionally with the life experiences of past generations. There are many highly significant examples of dress, particularly early colonial garments, held in regional and community collections across Australia. In fact the local provenance information supporting items in regional collections may sometimes be richer than that for similar material held in major city institutions. Garments from community donors or from deceased estates, along with other items relating to family histories, often provide a vivid human context illuminating the built environment and history of settlement in a particular area. Garments may not be the most valuable items in a museum or historical society’s collection, in terms of their monetary or aesthetic value; nor survive in the finest condition. However increasing knowledge about some items in a deteriorated or fragile state might support long-term conservation objectives and shape future workplans. The Register can also be used as a resource for accessing a garment in many useful and revealing aspects – while the original may remain rarely to be viewed, due to its precarious condition or delicate materials. While the Australian Dress Register interconnects for the first time a broad range of public, private and community collections of clothing, it also allows the linking of related objects, such as photographs and archival material, within and between collections, enhancing connections with multiple historical contexts. The site meanwhile encourages a rich and thorough level of documentation, to be harvested cumulatively as the project advances. This unique documentation releases information for in-depth, multi-disciplinary research, often radiating beyond regular students or curators of dress collections. Detailed descriptions of garments, study of their construction and insides, along with comprehensive measurements, provide important information about the manufacture of items and the size of their intended wearers in the past. Meanwhile museum workers and volunteers from the host community can provide valuable social and contextual information illuminating particular garments held in their local collections. In supporting volunteer-run organisations to

benefit optimally from the resources of the Australian Dress Register, there is also a well-recognised need to provide them with specialised information and training. This is often required to achieve better storage solutions; to enable an improved understanding of what is significant in particular collections; or to advance general collection management knowledge and practices. Accordingly, a comprehensive array of online resources has been developed as back-up support for contributors to the Dress Register portal, including more than 30 information sheets, and five online videos explaining how to photograph, display and safely store clothing and textiles. The information sheets are also available as a publication via the Powerhouse Museum website: Through the material and tools indicated, the support and training resources provided on the ADR website empower local custodians in diverse locations, to help them step through the progressive processes of object documentation and interpretation. The support tools detail processes such as establishing an object file; writing object descriptions; undertaking research on items; recording stories (often oral histories) and associated primary-source records; and collecting images and other primary evidence pertinent to a garment’s history. The Register sets out logical steps, presenting a simple standardised process for all stages of an object’s documentation and progressively refined interpretation. All these processes have a place prior to the integrative and more complex operation of assembling a ‘statement of significance,’ which draws all such information together and sets it within a larger framework of meaning. The Dress Register then provides training and resources to assist the more demanding process of significance assessment of particular objects, or even a range of items, or related constellation of objects, within collections. The local custodians are usually best placed to do vital provenance work in the cause of building a layered understanding of the heritage value of individual objects, since they usually have access to the greatest knowledge of a garment’s early history and acquisition, as well as understanding of its importance in the local context[1]. The level of detail in the Register’s documentation process goes well beyond that which is usual for collection database projects. However it has proved to be a resource-effective model for stimulating the skills and knowledge necessary for dress collections to be well studied, enabling volunteers to research, document and care for their holdings according to current best practices. The skills and knowledge gained can meanwhile be transferred and shared for the benefit of many other collections, their custodians and interpreters. In the case of building pictorial records of objects, there is no limit on the size of images for uploading to the Register’s database, and contributors are

Museums Australia Magazine – Vol. 21 (3) – Autumn 2013  25


Detail of carved designs, Possum Skin cloak, 1839-1840. Collection: Smithsonian National Museum of National History.

encouraged to take large digital photos to enable visitors to the web-platform to zoom in and view intricate details of the construction and condition of particular garments. Through the many features outlined here, the Australian Dress Register project is unique in its incorporation of a training program and outreach support, with accompanying provision of a sophisticated web facility and growing repository of multi-purposed resources. The Web and Social Technologies team at the Powerhouse Museum was responsible for building the innovative online database. However the Register extends the standard metadata collection scheme for documentation currently in use, augmenting it with a large range of specific data-fields for such details as garment measurements or quality of preservation at item-levels of notation. Several filters narrow searches to a particular time, period or place; or as required, highlighting particular themes such as work-wear, uniforms, or garments for special occasions. The website also includes a filtering timeline, sorting all entries on the site by garment type and period, which is adjustable on a sliding scale from one- to 100-year time-spans. This facility allows electronic researchers and visitors to view items by garment type, century, decade or year of making. Thematic collection projects such as the Australian Dress Register require a high level of consultation to achieve success, and from its beginnings this project has been underpinned by a broad engagement with stakeholders. The process of designing the ADR database and developing the website has involved steady feedback

and participation by those working with a variety of textile collections, including colleagues in community and regional museums and larger state institutions, together with specialist stakeholders from the education sector and industry. The project began with a public program of seminars and roundtable meetings conducted progressively over a period of three years. These events generated extensive feedback to the main website, and garnered buy-in from the various contributors and stakeholder groups, culminating in the formal convening of a Register Advisory Committee in June 2010. The Advisory Committee continues, overseeing the operation and management of the web-platform and ensuring lively engagement with the project’s ongoing development. The committee is convened for a two-year period, mostly working electronically but with a face-toface meeting occurring at least once each year. There is also a dedicated working group (the team) at the Powerhouse Museum, dealing with day-to-day issues. Since the public launch in 2011, the Dress Register platform and project have received wonderful feedback, both nationally and internationally. Reactions have included a response from a member of the UK-based Jane Austen Society, who wrote: ‘Wow! I practically had to fan myself. Absolutely amazing the level of information.’ The ADR site and its extensive resources are providing an increasingly valuable forum for wider study and discussion, both within the museum community and for students and researchers of many disciplines such as fashion, film and history.

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A collections access platform attracting national and international visitors

The Register’s web traffic statistics show that visitors to the site have formed a constant stream over time, with notable spikes following references made on blogs and other locations. There is an 18% return of visitors more than once, and 25% of traffic originates from abroad. The timeline is particularly popular, attracting the highest number of page-views for the site. At a recent count, there are more than 120 entries uploaded, with another 40 in progress, incorporating contributions from more than 46 contributing organisations and individuals. There is, however, potential to increase this number of uploaded data-pages dramatically over the next few years. Originally the project focused on New South Wales, and the major portion of the content still originates from this state. However our focus now is on forming partnerships with institutions in the other seven states and territories of Australia, to gain more interstate content on the site, and accomplish the comprehensively national transformation now desired. There are a number of categories that are underrepresented on the platform – for example, Indigenous garments, menswear, and everyday clothing – and these are areas that will be targeted in the ongoing strategies to enhance the content of the site. As this occurs, its value as a cumulative resource will also increase, and contributions from other states will not only support the growth in the number of Australian garments showcased, but also expand their representation and augment the types of dress included. There has been an emphasis on developing skills for the volunteers and regional or community-based museum staff caring for dress items; and on supporting improvements in the quality of documentation of ‘under-resourced’ collections. Harvesting existing documentation, as available from the databases of the larger state collections, was not a priority; rather the focus was on supporting work on largely unrecognised but significant material in the smaller collections. Mindful of the enormity of the project’s scope meanwhile, and the ever-constrained reach of the NSW-based Powerhouse Regional Services training programs, there were initial restrictions to what could be entered in the Dress Register. For example, garments were at first required to have a New South Wales provenance and a pre-1945 date. Such criteria were extended in 2012, to include garments with a more recent Australian provenance threshold – currently set at pre-1975. In line with the recently widened, national focus of the ADR website, representation on the Advisory Committee is similarly to be extended to include all states. Expressions of interest from those organisations and individuals who are interested in joining the Advisory Committee are currently sought for endorsement at the next Committee meeting, which will be held to coincide with the 2013 Museums Australia National Conference in Canberra (in May). Meanwhile outreach agencies that would like to use the ADR website as a platform for training and sharing use of collections are most welcome to come on board

lrft top:

Students Alison Hope Murray, Rebecca Clark, Christine Milton and Robyn Murphy with their garments at the ADR workshop during History Week, Powerhouse Museum, 2012. Photo: Marinco Kojdanovski. Reproduced courtesy of the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney.

as partners. When presenting the Powerhouse Museum and the Australian Dress Register with the recognition of a national MAGNA award in 2012, the judges commented: Thematic collection projects like this are vital in building awareness of the importance of the Distributed National Collection, and bringing together communities to engage collaboratively, share information and develop a national context for clothing collections. This project demonstrates sustainable practices through increased recognition, documentation and significance assessment, training in collections care, and access. The strength of the Australian Dress Register website will depend ultimately on a broad uptake of this exciting opportunity by a wide variety of organisations and individuals owning textile collections, as well as its effective engagement of the range of organisations and collectors that care for and interpret them. Its value will also be strengthened by the ever-expanding audience of students, researchers, historians and international visitors accessing Australia’s heritage interconnected through this knowledge-rich resource and portal. [] The Australian Dress Register Team comprises a group of colleagues based at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney: Rebecca Pinchin, manager, and Einar Docker, assistant curator, Regional Services; Lindie Ward, curator, Design and Society; Kate Chidlow, conservator, and Sarah Pointon, registrar, Collection Management. For further information, email:; Website address: <>.


Citation for this text: Powerhouse Museum, ‘The Australian Dress Register: Garments and costume animating social history’, Museums Australia Magazine, Vol. 21(3), Museums Australia, Canberra, Autumn 2013, p.23–26. 

Museums Australia Magazine – Vol. 21 (3) – Autumn 2013  27

An exhibition built around oral histories, artefacts and first-person witness

Dressing Sydney: The Jewish Fashion Story


Roslyn Sugarman


Dressing Sydney: The Jewish Fashion Story exhibition (Sydney Jewish Museum, October 2012­—December 2013). Photo: Henry Benjamin, J-Wire.

Roslyn Sugarman To this day I get accosted by people saying, ‘Oh, I wish you had a shop, because it was so easy.’ They’d come to us. I’d put them in the change room. I’d throw things at them. They’d put them on and I’d say, ‘No you can’t have that’; or ‘That looks fantastic’; and everyone went away happy. I couldn’t dress myself, but I could dress half of Sydney. Anne Melkman, Fashion Bargain Centre. We had many famous clients including Sir Robert Helpmann, Margaret Whitlam, Lady Fairfax, Don Lane, Bert Newton, Paul Hogan and then Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, Sophia Loren and Dame Edna Everage. We made wonderful designs for them in stranded mink and sable. But we also served many young girls who could just afford a rabbit collar. Sometimes their budget only permitted a silk cord with two fur pompoms at the end, worn as a necklace. Stella Cornelius, Cornelius Furs. Dressing Sydney: The Jewish Fashion Story presents a snapshot of the impact of Jewish people on the post1945 Australian garment and fashion industry, or schmatte business, as it is known in Yiddish. Approximately nine thousand Jewish immigrants fleeing Nazi persecution arrived in Australia from 1933 to 1940, and a further seventeen thousand survivors of the Holocaust arrived in the period from 1945 to 1954. Many used their previously acquired sewing and tailoring skills to earn a living in their adoptive

country, and Australia’s garment industry bloomed. The long-running exhibition in Sydney developed around this collective contribution to Australian social life in the post-War period presents the diverse and colourful experiences of this remarkable group of immigrants. The contribution in fact continues through those who have inherited and also expanded these traditions today. The formula for success has always been hard work, often seven days a week and fifteen hours a day. Fashion work is not always glamorous. Jews have hawked clothes from the boots of their cars and set up stalls in local markets; they have collected discarded clothing for recycling. Many Jewish retailers started off working in small shops set up as outlets for their manufactured goods. From modest beginnings, many businesses have grown into leading fashion chain stores today. It is a testament to Australia’s open and accepting attitudes to new products and ideas that these enterprises flourished. As the businesses were built, meanwhile, they steadily employed Australians and other immigrants, and provided the commercial catalyst for new styles to emerge. What can we learn today from the ‘DIY’ ethos, improvised technologies and innovative manufacturing methods and distribution networks employed by the large number of Jewish émigrés who shaped this part of the Australian economy? How did individual designers or groups of manufacturers gain their reputations in a period when competition was fierce? In developing the Dressing Sydney exhibition, I

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assembled a core team of advisers and consultants who not only guided me as mentors for themes and content development, but also provided crucial historical reference-points and hands-on help throughout: notably Bob Biederman, who shared his expertise in editing and writing via email from Los Angeles; and Margaret Gutman, Barbara Linz, Eva Scheinberg and Barbara Solomon. Their collective knowledge of the Sydney Jewish community over a long period provided the perfect scaffold for a South African-born curator to build an exhibition project from inception to full realisation. We relied on oral history as the driver for the exhibition. One hundred people from diverse aspects of the clothing and fashion industry – hawkers, tailors, seamstresses, manufacturers, retailers, designers – were interviewed; and a multitude of voices was gathered and interconnected, many for the first time. There was a ground-swell of community interest and enthusiasm for the ‘Dressing Sydney’ project, and many people volunteered to be part of the process of

developing the exhibition for the Museum. Interviews began in May 2010, with the help of a dozen volunteers (some had years of experience as voluntary oral historians; others were given a crash course). The process took around eighteen months. Among many results of the project development process, we now have a significant social history archive related to the Sydney Jewish clothing industry. These stories would otherwise have been ‘lost’ with the passage of time. Despite our best efforts, however, we are aware that countless further stories of Jews in the garment industry in Sydney still remain untold. Each interview took roughly one-and-a-half hours, resulting in 150 hours’ collective recording of oral histories. This amounts to nine thousand minutes of listening accomplished in thirty-minute bursts in my motor car during three hundred trips to and from work. Every interview was transcribed, yielding some 5,000–10,000 words for each on average. From a research viewpoint, and the power of firstperson accounts for audience engagement: this

below left:

Maria Finlay in her Double Bay, Sydney, workshop in the late 1970s.

Museums Australia Magazine – Vol. 21 (3) – Autumn 2013  29

Another theme that emerged is that Jewish migrants demonstrated an affirmative commitment to assimilation within the broader Australian society. accumulated resource provided more than 600,000 potential words as textual support, ensuring the rich ‘voicing’ of the exhibition in its final form. Meanwhile through these recordings of personal experiences and anecdotes, we learned important primary-source information about the Jewish rag-traders: their work ethic, entrepreneurship, ingenuity and creativity. A collaboration with the University of Technology (UTS), Sydney, provided the historical context for the exhibition. Why UTS? Among other factors, UTS was pivotally located within a rich network of physical and social connections. The academic and administrative buildings of the UTS Broadway campus abut a former light-industrial district that was historically the principal garment-making district for NSW. Surry Hills and Camperdown meanwhile housed sites of production and distribution ranging from sweatshops to the modern operations of Anthony Hordern’s and David Jones’ Marlborough Street factory. In all major centres of clothing production, immigration has provided essential human capital. In the 1930s and 1940s, Jewish émigrés to Australia established both small- and large-scale production, some bringing through their diverse backgrounds the innovative textile and luxury fabrication possibilities that met the rising demand for new, lighter clothes, such as finely knitted garments that were a part of modern fashion-aesthetics. The area continues to be a ‘ragtrading’ area with new immigrant ‘actors’ from China, Turkey and Vietnam. Fashion historian, Professor Peter McNeil – Associate Dean in the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building, and Professor of Design History, UTS – became a crucial expert collaborator. He researched the historical background of Sydney’s garment industry and wrote the exhibition text panels. His expertise lent authority and integrity to the exhibition. At the same time, the historical backdrop he compiled formed a framing context for the narratives – contextualising the voices of the business people who provided first-person detailing of the overarching story shaped throughout the exhibition. We meanwhile attempted to retain the distinctiveness of individual recollections and therefore produced snapshot summaries of every transcript, ultimately

capturing in no more than 300 words the ‘essence’ of each fashion story. In the process of gathering these oral histories, we also began to build an archive of Jewish work and community, eliciting memorabilia that provided important contents for the exhibition – such as patterns, sketches, tools, business documents, photographs and clothing or textiles. It has been a challenge to recover physical aspects of what is by definition an often fugitive or ephemeral material culture. Clothes wear out, become unfashionable, are discarded, and are even turned back into rags. The materials that have been collected move through processes of design (often via informal interactions), production (by entrepreneurs, workers, and managers) to image-making (in advertisements, labels, and branding) and final clothing products (represented by surviving artefacts). Oral histories also function as an important means of gathering provenance around the history of particular objects held in private collections, elucidating their meaning for the person who owns them and enriching the broader narrative of the work experience. Recording such memories and first-hand testimony has provided valuable windows into people’s unique experiences, their motives, relationships and working lives. This lends a strongly human perspective on processes and events, providing the texture of remembered emotions and details that would otherwise not find their way into written accounts – for example, how hard most of these Jewish refugees worked to set up small businesses (often in their homes), before moving to larger factory premises; the nature of family and social networks in the clothing trade; and the often personal inspirations for designing and making clothes, according to prototypes derived from Europe. From the outset, a designer was engaged to help conceptualise the exhibition. Jisuk Han, of X-Squared Design, in fact redesigned and reconceptualised the exhibition repeatedly throughout the project, in order to create an innovative solution for the richly packed wardrobe that has become ‘Dressing Sydney’. Ideally, the designer would have preferred to work with much less text, and we had many heated discussions about

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An exhibition built around oral histories, artefacts and first-person witness

how much a visitor will actually read during an exhibition experience. Nevertheless reading is an integral aspect of this social history exhibition that has engaged a hundred people’s contributions in the broader community, and for which the curator – instead of making a selection of the ‘top 20’ or so stories – decided ultimately in favour of the democratic inclusion of everyone! Looking now at the narrative development presented for visitors, the story unfolds in chronological phases, with personal testimonies highlighting each chapter. For example Margaret Gutman, pioneer of the ‘Shopping while you work’ concept, introduces us to the 1950s, putting the fashion scene of the period in sharp perspective:


Hibodress blouses fashion parade in Olga Horak’s home, Dover Heights, 1968.

The country’s population was small, maybe half of current Australia, and still recovering from the shortages of war. Consumer society as we know it today was non-existent. People didn’t wear anything spectacular and home dressmaking was popular.’ Jody Somogy, who studied fashion at East Sydney Technical College in the late 1960s, later explains why so many Jewish immigrants chose to work in the clothing business: People could start doing these kinds of things from home. You get a sewing machine and you start sewing. You don’t need the language for it. European Jews learned to be very resourceful through circumstances. Circumstances are the best teachers. You could start sewing anywhere you were. There were lots of little businesses that were multifunctional: a little dry cleaning; a little alteration; a little this, a little that. You tried to fit as much as you could into a business to make a living. My parents started out with shoe repairing. That became a leather goods and dry cleaning place. Afterwards, they had a tobacco shop and giftware. You do what you’ve got the strength to do because you start with nothing. You have to be adaptable. Csibi and Jidu Koval arrived in 1951, and set up a

business in their living room making artificial flowers as adornments for women’s coats. According to their daughter Anna Berger: Every woman knew how to use a sewing machine because most of them had come from homes where they made their own clothes. When they arrived, they found it fairly easy to get a job working for clothing manufacturers. So they would be outworkers, working from home, or they would work in the factories. It was a skill they all had. And as more people came, more clothing was needed, and more of them found jobs. Sam Moss arrived in Sydney in 1949. At first he worked at a brush factory, later for a handbag and shoes retailer; but wanting to go into business on his own, he eventually bought a bakery and coffee shop. Next he created a business out of buying empty shops, fitting them out, building them into delicatessens and selling them. In 1973 he joined Katies, which had been founded by another Holocaust survivor, Stan Grosman, in 1952. Sam relates: We were the first in Australian retail to operate a vertical business strategy. Not only did we produce all our own fashion garments, we also made our own fabrics in our plant in Wangaratta. Since there was no middle man, we were able to offer competitive prices. Our motto became ‘high quality products at affordable prices’. Oral histories are an enlightening research tool. Many voices with similar experiences and responses enabled us to interleave many recollections and build up a narrative that reflects a larger texture of interconnected individual stories. Another theme that emerged is that Jewish migrants demonstrated an affirmative commitment to assimilation within the broader Australian society. Peter Halas, Director of Seafolly, Australia’s beloved beach-lifestyle brand, meanwhile emphasised how much learning and adaptation were required in a new social setting. He identified the most difficult thing about establishing himself in a new country as a lack of understanding of the differences between the way people did business in Australia and the way people thought. I came from Hungary, so there was a completely different mindset. Having lived in a communist country, and before then under the Nazis, we were always afraid of the police, afraid of what comes around the corner, so suddenly this freedom was incredible. Peter, like many others we interviewed, felt readily

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Advertisement for Osti on tin, undated. Image: SJM collection.

accepted into the Australian community: I don’t think I ever had a problem being a foreigner. I was always conscious of my accent though – still am. Although my children didn’t think I had an accent until someone told them! For many, immersion in the trade began at an early age and often led to later involvement in the industry. The Silverton brothers’ earliest memories are of counting buttons in the Freidelle factory – which they perceived as a ‘completely unnecessary activity, just something to shut us up’. At home, the dinner table conversation was always about what was going on in the business and what had to be done. They went on to follow in their parents’ footsteps. The concept of doing something for a purpose, for charity in particular, is something that Gideon Silverman of Gideon Shoes identifies closely with his Jewishness. The concept of Tzedakah (charity) is important to me. It really starts at a school like Moriah where you just help your friends, and it becomes a very powerful force, even in later life. Gideon started out donating a portion of each shoe

sold to the Ted Noffs Foundation’s Street University, and this ‘giving back to others’ became a continuing social strand in his business development. Susan Bures, daughter of Louis Klein of Anthony Squires fame, revealed that her father believed: ‘From those to whom much is given, much is to be expected.’ Accordingly, ‘As he became more secure financially, he believed that the right thing to do was to look after organisations and communities.’ The years 1972 and 1973 were a turning point for hundreds of businesses in the trade. Gough Whitlam became prime minister and introduced equal pay for women and the gradual reduction of protective tariffs. Local costs skyrocketed. To avoid some of these costs, business owners started using contractors to make garments. Fortunately for Australia’s economic stability, many rag traders were able to continue production in Australia. As Jessika Allen, of Jets swimwear, told us: ‘Ninety-five per cent of our product is [still] made in Australia’. There are many wonderful examples of innovation. Hibodress, a company established in Woolloomooloo by the Horaks in 1949 within a few weeks of arriving in Sydney, wholesaled women’s blouses to all Australian states and for all climates. A textile scientist

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An exhibition built around oral histories, artefacts and first-person witness

Jewish designers. Peter McNeil has particularised the changes as a significant shift in self-consciousness as well as continuity in building on earlier achievement: For the next generation, being a part of the rag trade is now a choice and not an imperative. In the fashion designs of the new Jewish generation we see the continuation of the visual curiosity and business imagination that sustained many of their parents and grandparents in their adopted land.

from cosmopolitan Brno in the Czech Republic, John Horak worked with his untrained but fashionconscious wife Olga to create stylish wash-and-wear garments for their new life in the Australian setting. John J Hilton was one of those astute businessmen who was always thinking about the products Australians didn’t have. His success had its roots in a town near Bratislava, Slovakia, where he helped his parents in their general store, learning how to buy and sell. With his brother Emil, who arrived in Australia in 1948, they started a business manufacturing ladies knitwear under the name John J Hilton. They looked around for what Australians were lacking in fashion and decided to focus on women in their mid-twenties and older who enjoyed dresses that would be durable and not likely to go out of fashion quickly. Jeffrey Hilton expands on his father’s creativity: ‘My father travelled overseas extensively and would stand outside department store windows, sketch the frocks, and use these for new designs. He understood the power of a brand and decided to use his personal name as the brand which, though commonplace now, was unusual at that time.’ Numerous other stories reflect the risk-taking approach and entrepreneurship of Jewish people in the industry. Goldcraft led the fast-growing pleating industry by inventing a mould system and constantly improving on it. The Whitmont company pioneered ‘permanent press’, a process that produced a garment that remained smooth without ironing, and ensured pleats and creases that stayed sharp regardless of washing and wearing. It is a testament to Australia that none of the struggling Jewish immigrants reported incidents of antisemitism standing in the way of their progress. Australians generally had a respect for the hard work and success the European Jews brought to their new home country. Meanwhile as the Jews built their businesses, they employed other immigrants from Greece, Italy, the Balkans, and the broad spectrum of all the ‘New Australians’ of that era. Some generational characteristics can be differentiated. The first generation of ‘designers’ tended to be individuals with an eye for fashion who copied what they knew or noted developing in Europe and America. They gave birth to a second generation of young

An exhibition of this scale is best served by the presence of a catalogue, both for historical record and for extending the audience for a project after the physical exhibition comes to a close. Against the historical background of a social contribution that has proved so enduringly significant in the evolution of Sydney – and with a broader impact extending beyond the NSW capital – the Sydney Jewish Museum was committed to producing a permanent record of Dressing Sydney in the form of a book supporting the exhibition, and for long-term sale in the Museum shop. All exhibitions of this kind draw on personal generosity and social collaborations as well as curatorial shaping and historical expertise. I wish to acknowledge the contribution of all the ‘actors’ and participants in this project, who gave their time and shared their memories and memorabilia, often digging deep into their wardrobes to find examples of garments that they had manufactured. Full appreciation and acknowledgment is extended also to the Dressing Sydney exhibition team; to our consultant partner from the University of Technology Sydney, Professor Peter McNeil; to the numerous volunteers for their dedication to the project; and finally to the donors whose generous financial contributions enabled the Sydney Jewish fashion story to be told. [] Roslyn Sugarman is Exhibition Curator at the Sydney Jewish Museum. She grew up in the schmatte business in Johannesburg. Her parents owned a doctors’ and nurses’ uniform manufacturing company called Kildare Sales, where Roslyn worked on a Saturday morning and during school and uni holidays. She was encouraged to join her family in the business but followed her own path and studied fine arts and then museum studies.   Dressing Sydney opened at the Sydney Jewish Museum in October 2012, and will continue to be on view until December 2013. Citation for this text: Roslyn Sugarman, ‘Dressing Sydney: The Jewish Fashion Story’, Museums Australia Magazine, Vol. 21(3), Museums Australia, Canberra, Autumn 2013, pp.27–32.


Worth blouse factory, c1967.

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National Gallery of Australia collection spotlight

Theatre, fashion and costume at the National Gallery of Australia

Robert Bell

The Decorative Arts and Design collection Fashion and costume have been collected by the National Gallery of Australia since its inception, and form a significant part of the Gallery’s Decorative Arts and Design collection.[1] This includes a collection of more than 300 costumes from the productions of the Sergei Diaghilev and the Wassily de Basil periods of the Ballets Russes. The collection forms an important part of the international legacy of dance and stage design from the early twentieth century.

Ballet Russes costumes – a feature of the international collection After Ballets Russes founder Sergei Diaghilev’s death in 1929, his theatre properties—including stage sets, costumes, designs and musical scores—were assembled by his choreographer Léonide Massine and sold in 1930 (to cover the debts of the estate) to New York composer and theatre producer E Ray Goetz. Goetz planned to use the collection to revive the Ballets Russes, with the help of choreographer Léonide Massine, in the United States of America. However, Goetz’s losses in the 1929 Wall Street financial crash forced him to abandon his ambitious project—and Massine along with it—in 1931. Massine was left as the


owner of the Ballets Russes properties. In 1934, Massine was forced to sell the entire collection (then stored in Paris) to a group of Wassily de Basil’s supporters in London through the Educational Ballets Ltd Foundation, established in 1932 by Anthony Diamantidi, a Greek-Russian businessman and enthusiastic supporter of Diaghilev and his enterprises since 1911. The foundation allowed de Basil to use the collection, and joined with him (as the Russian Ballet Development Company) in presenting his 1938 and 1939 seasons at Covent Garden in London, as well as in a number of Australian and New Zealand cities. The tours of the de Basil company were galvanising in Australia just prior to World War 11. Their records and legacy and are now a feature of the post-War history of professional ballet in this country, as well as of set and costume design having a cross-over with ambitious ideas emerging through contemporary art. On de Basil’s death in 1951, the collection, together with de Basil’s company, returned to Diamantidi’s control, becoming part of the assets of his new company, the Diaghilev and de Basil Ballet Foundation. This gave Diamantidi renewed hope that he could interest others in establishing a ballet company to continue the artistic legacy of the Ballets Russes. Although public interest in the Ballets Russes was revived in 1954 with The Diaghilev exhibition at the Edinburgh Festival (organised by the renowned

View of the exhibition Ballets Russes: The art of costume at the National Gallery of Australia (10 Dec. 2010–1 May 2011). Installation view features costumes from The Sleeping Princess and Le Chant du Rossignol.

1. For an overview of fashion’s part in the Gallery’s Decorative Arts and Design collection, see Robert Bell, ‘Decorative arts and design’, in Building the collection, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002, pp. 249-259. For a history of the NGA Ballets Russes collection, see Robert Bell, Ballets Russes: The art of costume, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010.

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In its continual cycles of inventiveness, eclipse, rediscovery and renewal, fashion is one of the most engaging aspects of design and craft.


Vivienne WESTWOOD designer. born United Kingdom 1941. VIVIENNE WESTWOOD fashion house established United Kingdom 1980. Wedding ensemble comprising corset, bodice, crinoline skirt and platform shoes from the Anglomania collection Autumn -Winter 1993-94 Silk taffeta and satin, silk and synthetic tulle, bells Gift of Vivienne Westwood 1994

Diaghilev expert and biographer Richard Buckle), Diamantidi failed to find a buyer. The successful sale of other Diaghilev material at a Sotheby’s auction in London on 18 July 1967 encouraged Diamantidi to consign his own collection to the auction house. A celebrated sale (catalogued under Buckle’s supervision) took place at La Scala Theatre in London on 17 July 1968. Students from the Royal Ballet School modelled the costumes for the catalogue photography under the supervision of the former Ballets Russes dancer Lydia Sokolova (née Hilda Munnings). Subsequent auctions of additional costumes and properties from the collection were held by Sotheby’s on 19 December 1969 and 3 March 1973. The National Gallery of Australia (then the Australian National Gallery) was the major bidder at the last auction in 1973, securing 47 lots comprising more than 400 items for a little over £3,000. The National

Gallery’s establishment in 1968 offered its founding director, James Mollison, the opportunity to shape a collection that would showcase modern art in all its forms. He seized upon the early developmental opportunity offered by the Sotheby’s sales to extend the European modernist collection, and aggressively and successfully bid for the works that now form one of the world’s major collections of Ballets Russes costumes. A further group of Ballets Russes costumes was acquired by the Gallery at auction in 1976, with a number of individual costumes being purchased since that time. The costumes are supplemented by a collection of artists’ design drawings for costumes and sets, including works by Léon Bakst, Alexandre Benois, Natalia Goncharova, André Derain and Juan Gris. The drawings reveal the designers’ original visions of how the costumes would look on the dancers in movement. The Gallery’s Research Library meanwhile has an impressive collection of Ballets Russes programs and other ephemera—a valuable research resource for curators, conservators and dance specialists. The first group of costumes arrived in Canberra in the condition in which they had been consigned to storage 23 years earlier. British ballet historian Philip Dyer was contracted by the Gallery to identify and catalogue the costumes, allocating the dates of their original use and the subsequent revivals for which they were used or modified. Some costumes were relatively pristine; but most showed the effects of accumulated sweat, dried make-up, fugitive dyes, dirt, insect damage, mould or moisture. The evidence of modifications and

Museums Australia Magazine – Vol. 21 (3) – Autumn 2013  35

alterations, both skilled and hastily done, remains— clues to the costumes’ use on stage and their long use by many performers of varying sizes and body types. Other modifications to the costumes were made to extend their use in later productions and to align them to changes in dress and stage fashions. Weakened or torn areas were also evidence of particular repetitive movements and of the ‘performance’ of the fabrics in heavy use. The Ballet Russes costumes presented a stimulating challenge to the nascent Gallery’s newly recruited team of conservators as they began to prepare them progressively for display. The conservators’ patient research on the fabrics and the costumes’ histories of use, and their development of advanced textile conservation skills over the past 25 years, have contributed to the fine reputation and condition of the Gallery’s collection. Selections from the Ballets Russes costume collection have been exhibited regularly since the National Gallery of Australia opened in 1982, initially in a small dedicated space for theatre arts and fashion costume, and then later as an integral part of collection displays in the International galleries.

Exhibitions of the Ballet Russes costumes and associated material Three major exhibitions were mounted at the Gallery: From studio to stage: painters of the Russian Ballet 1909–1929 in 1990; From Russia with love: costumes for the Ballets Russes in 1999; and Ballets Russes: The art of costume in 2010. Meanwhile in 2004, fifteen of the Gallery’s Ballets Russes costumes were lent to the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands for its exhibition Working for Diaghilev; and a group will be lent for the exhibition, Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes 1909—1929: When Art Danced with Music, to be held at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC in 2013. These various exhibition projects accelerated conservation work on the costumes, resulting in more than fifty newly restored costumes being exhibited for the first time during the 2010 exhibition in Canberra. Among the costumiers commissioned by Diaghilev to bring his designers’ ideas to reality were the Paris couturiers Jeanne Paquin, who made the costumes for Parade and Jeux; Germaine Bongard (the couturier Paul Poiret’s sister), whose firm Jove made the costumes for Chout and Cuadro flamenco; and Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel, who designed and made the costumes for Le Train Bleu. Meanwhile regularly commissioned professional theatre costumiers included Marie Muelle (of Muelle & Rossignol), Vera Sudeikina, Helen Pons, A Youkine, Pierre Pitoeff, M Landoff, Caffi and Vorobier, Morris Angel & Son, Grace Lovat Fraser and Barbara Karinska.

Conservation research and archival sources on the Ballet Russes Inevitably, the Ballet Russes dance costumes became worn. They were constantly repaired or even remade for use in extended tours, long-running productions or later revivals. Original, repaired, remodelled and new costumes, made by various costumiers, might be used in the one performance. Replicas were also made to be worn by guest dancers at private and fundraising events. The costumes worn in staged publicity photographs advertising the Ballets Russes may not always have been those worn on stage, and there are few contemporary colour photographs that would allow us to verify whether a designer’s intentions for fabric, colour and texture were fully and accurately carried out. Many of the costumes are associated directly with known performers, identified through names or initials written inside the linings of some of the garments or through contemporary performance and publicity photographs that indicate how many dancers might have worn a particular costume. These factors make the exact attribution of costumes to actual productions, performances or performers often difficult to confirm. However, as the first-hand recollections and experiences of those who wore the costumes fade over time, forensic investigation by conservators and ongoing research by curators, writers and dance historians is a continuing process that progressively reveals more of their histories. The Gallery’s collection elicits commentary and new information about these costumes from experts worldwide via research projects, exhibitions, blogs and online discussion. This process reveals the Ballets Russes phenomenon as a continuing stimulus to research and creativity, while offering insights into the work and passion of Sergei Diaghilev and his collaborators and successors as they reinvented ballet though the language of modernism.

Theatre arts strengths more generally in the NGA collection Within the Australian Decorative Arts and Design collection, theatre arts focus on costume and set design for theatre and ballet by some of the key figures in Australian theatre design of the midtwentieth century. These include works by Kenneth Rowell, Loudon Sainthill, William Constable, Kristian Fredrikson, Amie Kingston, Edgar Ritchard, Elaine Haxton and Ann Church. Designs for the 1940 Australian season of the Original Ballet Russes Ltd’s Col W de Basil’s Ballet Company, by Kathleen and Florence Martin and

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National Gallery of Australia collection spotlight

Sidney Nolan, link Australian artists with the Ballets Russes phenomenon. Drawings of Ballets Russes and other dancers are also held within the Australian Prints and Drawings collection, and include works by artists such as Adrian Feint and Daryl Lindsay.

The NGA’s fashion collection

2. See Roger Leong, Dressed to Kill: 100 years of fashion, Canberra, National Gallery of Australia, 1999.

The development of the fashion collection began in 1976, with the acquisition of a large group of garments and accessories by some of the leading couturiers of the early twentieth century. This strong representation was enhanced in earlier years by Robyn Healy, Curatorial Assistant responsible for the fashion collection from 1979 to 1989; and continued to be stregnthened from 1991 to 2001 by Roger Leong, Senior Assistant Curator, International Decorative Arts. Leong’s enthusiasm for this collection during the 1990s developed its European couturier focus, while expanding its breadth to include the contemporary work of significant Japanese, American and Australian designers.[2] The NGA’s collection includes the work of some of the most influential European designers of the first half of the twentieth century, among them Madeleine Vionnet, Jeanne Lanvin, Gabrielle Chanel, Mariano Fortuny, Edward Molyneux, Cristobal Balenciaga, Christian Dior, Jacques Fath, Pierre Cardin and Paco Rabanne. Outstanding examples of the work of influential contemporary designers such as Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Azzedine Alaia, Giorgio Armani, Yves Saint Laurent and Vivienne Westwood are included in the collection, and were shown in the Gallery’s 1993 exhibition, Dressed to Kill: 100 Years of Fashion. The Gallery’s extensive collection of twentieth century costume and fashion (and related material such as journals, sample books and fashion illustration) is a major Australian resource for the study of these fields of design, and is regularly made available to researchers and students. It owes its good condition to the work of the National Gallery’s highly experienced team of textile conservators. In its continual cycles of inventiveness, eclipse, rediscovery and renewal, fashion is one of the most engaging aspects of design and craft, reaching out across cultural barriers and engaging all classes in its interpretation of the mood and aspirations of the time. Its articulation of the image of the human body has encapsulated desire and acted as a mediator of sexual relations, making it a subject of continual fascination. Women’s fashion challenges us and pulls us forward as it interprets the possibilities of new ideologies, materials and manufacturing technologies, while it alternates with retrospectivism and the knowing, and sometimes perverse, mining and reinterpretation of

its own histories. While its most successful designers manipulate these oppositional forces with panache and audacity, it is the woman inside the clothes that turns such propositions from fantasy to reality, closing the gap between the male gaze and the wearer’s projection of herself. This alchemy that turns dressmaking into theatre, and necessity into desire; it is the currency of the fashion world and the lifeblood that sustains an industry of global proportions and implications, while allowing the local, the regional and an idiosyncratic underground to continually breathe new life into this most egalitarian of arts. The Gallery’s collection, while not an encylopaedic history of fashion, is being developed to allow these ideas to be explored by linking the points where fashion’s innovations intersect with other art and design movements of the twentieth century. The fashion designers’ work changed not only the visual image of the modern woman through inventive tailoring and use of new materials in outer clothing as well as undergarments, but also her physical shape as she gradually adapted it to be able to wear such fashions. Flesh and fabric became partners in the imaging of the twentieth century woman through fashion photography, elevating the designer to ‘star’ status that has grown to today’s global proportions.

Changing displays in the NGA’s International Art Galleries Selections of Ballets Russes costumes, and historic and contemporary fashion from the Gallery’s collection, are regularly displayed in dedicated showcases in the International Art Galleries, changing every three months in order to protect the costumes’ fabrics from light damage. Groups of costumes are also selected to focus on influential periods of the twentieth century, and as presenting aspects of the development of applied art, craft and design in Britain, Europe and the United States from the 1880s to 2000. [] Dr Robert Bell AM is Senior Curator, Decorative Arts and Design, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. This article is drawn from articles written by the author for the National Gallery of Australia’s journal Artonview from 2004 to 2010. Citation for this text: Robert Bell, ‘Theatre, fashion and costume at the National Gallery of Australia’, Museums Australia Magazine, Vol. 21 (3), Museums Australia, Canberra, Autumn 2013, pp. 33–36.

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National Gallery of Victoria collection spotlight

The Australian Fashion and Textiles Collection at the National Gallery of Victoria top: middle: bottom: left: right:


Akira Isogawa: Printemps-Été exhibition at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, 2004-05. Photo: Helen Oliver-Skuse.

Katie Somerville & Danielle Whitfield 


he Australian Fashion and Textiles Collection at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) comprises approximately 3,000 works that document the emergence of fashion and textile design in Australia from colonial times to present day.

Growth and strengths of the collection The collection has a strong focus on Melbourne, which has been an important centre for fashion design and manufacture in Australia since the nineteenth century. Works such as the elegant and completely hand-stitched, Dress (c.1855), and the first labelled garment in the collection made by an Australian dressmaker, Afternoon dress (c.1878), indicate the speed at which home-grown businesses arose to satisfy the needs of a prospering colony. In the early to mid-twentieth century, the collection represents the work of influential high-end boutiques such as GHV Thomas, Le Louvre, La Petite and Hall Ludlow; and milliners such as Thomas Harrison, who emulated French haute couture practices to bring glamour and bespoke luxury to Australian dress. Another key focus is the area of independent fashion, which first exploded in the 1970s and 1980s to introduce a defiant new aesthetic to Australian fashion. The collection contains major archives of many innovative designers from this period, including Jenny Bannister, Katie Pye, Linda Jackson, Martin Grant and Sara Thorn. Today, the Australian Fashion and Textiles department maintains an active program of contemporary acquisitions that has seen works by Akira Isogawa, Toni Maticevski, Romance Was Born and Perks and Mini (PAM) recently added to the collection. The textile collection is meanwhile represented by

important holdings of printed and painted works alongside embroidered, pieced and woven items, ranging from rare nineteenth-century examples to innovative contemporary installations. Significant items include an embroidered Tasmanian lambrequin (c.1880), featuring three-dimensional wildflowers in silk and wool on black satin; the mid-century modern screen-printed designs of Frances Burke, Bee Taplin and Ailsa Graham, inspired by local motifs and the colours of the Australian landscape; and the more recently donated large-frame quilt, Quilt (c.1840s), executed in the broderie perse technique. The NGV has a long history of collecting fashion and textiles. The first textiles were acquired in the late nineteenth century, with items of Western dress entering the collection in 1948. The collection was developed under the department of Decorative Arts until 1981, when a separate department of Costume and Textiles was formed. Throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, the collection was greatly expanded, with major acquisitions including the Schofield collection of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century fashion; large archives of key Australian designers; and key acquisitions of contemporary fashion and textile artists.

Exhibitions Since the 1980s, the NGV has presented a number of significant exhibitions in the area of fashion and textiles. First of these was Fabulous Fashion 19071967, in 1981, which was drawn from the collection of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Featured were fashions by some of the twentieth century’s most influential designers, including Charles Frederick Worth, Paul Poiret, Coco Chanel, Cristobel Balenciaga and Christian Dior. The 1987, largely collection-based exhibition, Hatches, Matches and Dispatches: Christening, Bridal and Mourning Fashions, explored the role of dress in marking Western rituals around birth, marriage and death. Worth to Dior in 1993, followed by Couture to Chaos: Fashions from the 1960s to now in 1996, examined fashion as a vibrant art form, which developed with the emergence of the couturier in the nineteenth century to become an important site for the expression of creativity and identity in the late-twentieth century.

NGV as an institution across two sites since 2002 With the refurbishment of NGV International and the construction of the new site at Federation Square dedicated to Australian art (The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia), the Fashion and Textiles collection was correspondingly expanded in 2002 into two departments – Australian and International – each with dedicated exhibition galleries in their correspondingly distinctive buildings. Over the past ten years, the two areas have supported a

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rich program of exhibitions and publications that have ranged from theme-based shows that draw together works from across the collection to those focusing on the work of a particular designer or period. Initial Australian Fashion and Textiles exhibitions included Pins and Needles, which explored the various techniques used in textile construction and embellishment; and Swish: Fashionable Melbourne of the 1950s, which investigated Melbourne’s role in mid-century Australian fashion design. Since these two, exhibitions focusing on a single artist’s work have included: Akira Isogawa Printempsété, which followed the creative path from inspiration, through design to the final realisation of Isogawa’s spring-summer collection of 2005; Martin Grant, Paris, which considered that designer’s multidisciplinary approach to his practice; and more recently, Linda Jackson, Bush Couture, exploring the first twenty years of Jackson’s career. In addition, there have been two larger exhibitions produced in association with the International Fashion and Textiles department, which have followed thematic trajectories: Black in Fashion: Mourning to Night, which explored the symbolism of the colour in relation to dress, and ManStyle, which looked at the history of menswear through the competing positions of restraint and ostentation. A new display at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia now revisits those key artists who helped to

cultivate Melbourne’s era of style and glamour during the 1950s. Captivating style, 1950s Melbourne pairs the work of fashion designer Hall Ludlow and milliner Thomas Harrison – both acclaimed for their ingenious designs and technical prowess – with the fashion photography of Athol Shmith, the celebrated studio and street photographer who was a leading figure in the relay of Melbourne fashion of the 1950s to a wider audience. The richness of the Gallery’s Australian fashion and textile collection continues to grow through acquisitions and generous donations. The NGV’s ongoing commitment to ensuring the regular display of this material via stand-alone exhibitions, and in-focus installations within the permanent hang, meanwhile reflect an understanding of the importance of ongoing research and interpretation in nurturing the appreciation of costume and textiles in Australia. [] Katie Somerville is Australian Fashion and Textiles Curator, and Danielle Whitfield is Australian Fashion and Textiles Assistant Curator, National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), Melbourne.   Citation for this text: Katie Somerville and Danielle Whitfield, ‘The Australian Fashion and Textiles Collection at the National Gallery of Victoria’, Museums Australia Magazine, Vol. 21 (3), Museums Australia, Canberra, Autumn 2013, pp. 37–38.

above right:

FALKINER FABRICS, Melbourne (manufacturer), Australian 1955–c.1969, Bee TAPLIN (designer), Australian 1911–2010, worked in England 1928–c.1950. Koala c.1955 screenprinted cotton 65.0 x 59.0 cm, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Gift of Bee Taplin, 1987. above left:

UNKNOWN, Australia (maker), Dress c.1855, cotton, silk, metal, mother-of-pearl, baleen. 152.0 cm (centre back) 34.5 cm (waist, flat), National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Gift of Mrs Michael Parker, 1983.

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A collaborative approach to art and memorabilia collections in local government

Flotsam and jetsam transformed: Contemporary artists animate Perth City Council’s role as patron of living heritage Jo Darbyshire


L-R: Isobel Wise, Art Curator, and Jo Darbyshire, Memorabilia/Social History Curator, City of Perth.

right: Andrew Nicholls, Obelisk 2012, Edition 1/2. Decal transfer and 22ct gold lustre on porcelain, 33 x 33 x 2.5 cm. Image: Robert Frith/Acorn Photo. below: Maggie Baxter, An art of balance 1, 2012. Silk, pigment fabric printing ink and rayon thread 197 x 50.1 cm, City of Perth Art Collection. Image: Robert Frith/Acorn Photo.


hen I began working in the quaintly named position of ‘Memorabilia Curator’ at the City of Perth, my job was to rescue the ‘memorabilia’ from basement boxes and forgotten spaces in the council building, and to begin to use or display them again. In essence, to keep the memory of the objects alive. In my seven years at the City of Perth, the memorabilia collection has evolved from a marginalised and invisible position within the organisation to one of visibility and proud ‘ownership’ in parallel with the social history of the Perth Council itself being re-discovered and displayed. This is a journey that many local council curators have found themselves on as well. In March 2012, the inaugural Capital Cities Working Collections Forum was hosted by Collections Managers at the City of Melbourne. It was attended by a small group of art, memorabilia and public art curators who worked within capital cities’ councils in Australia and New Zealand. The opportunity to discuss the challenges we face, and the strategies to overcome them, highlighted the vital importance of professional exchange. Local Councils are by their nature highly departmentalised, and this structure has not always served cultural history needs well. Archival material and objects, photographs and old maps may be troublesome in that they often exceed rigid demarcation lines and resist the digital recording and archiving solutions currently employed by local councils. Whose responsibility are they? Unlike an art collection, which can be valued and insured, the monetary worth of memorabilia is largely unquantifiable (an aspect I secretly admire). However unless this material is seen to be important – and strategically interpreted – it is in danger of becoming discarded council flotsam and jetsam. One issue that became obvious to those present at the Melbourne forum was that whether or not curators were positioned within the structure of the council was seen to have an influential bearing on the success of projects. In particular, the possibility of direct collaboration between the two areas of art and memorabilia allows both to have a greater visibility within Council. By exhibiting together, utilising creative strategies from the disciplines of art and material cultural history, and by working across all areas of Council while also engaging with individuals and communities outside Council’s structure altogether, the social history of the Council itself becomes more relevant and exciting. When memorabilia objects are highly regarded and treated more like art objects, and when art objects become part of a social history story, both are energised by different vantage-points, enhancing their perceived value and interconnections as living heritage. What was particularly apparent in the City of Melbourne, and echoed within my own experience with the City of Perth, was that being positioned

within the arts and culture team, rather than in the library and local studies area, encouraged much greater visibility, while also allowing the art curator and myself to ‘infiltrate and influence’ other areas of Council activity. Our most innovative collaboration has been in the projects we developed to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Council House in 2013. One project in particular has given us the opportunity to highlight the memorabilia collection and engage with local artists. While we knew the Council was not likely to support funding for an artist-in-residency project, there was a chance it might support a similar project if the outcome provided a practical way to fulfil Council’s needs in the traditionally conservative activity area of ‘corporate gifts’. Like many local councils, the City of Perth receives a largely haphazard group of ‘sister city’ and corporate gifts. While historical items belonging to the Council are generally highly valued, most contemporary diplomatic gifts are more unanticipated in nature and present conundrums as to ongoing care and use. Some sister cities like Kagoshima in Japan have given thoughtful and culturally relevant gifts continuously, over a period of 35 years. Other countries ‘struggle’ in the gift-giving department, and it is hard to know how to interpret or display many of the gifts we receive. In return, the City of Perth also gives formal corporate gifts. Traditionally these have been ‘off the shelf’ craft objects. In the past, attempts have been made to procure hand-made gifts for presentation at international meetings; however this is an area that has always been organised by the Chief Executive Officer’s unit. This is the first time the arts and culture team have become involved. We approached the CEO’s office to collaborate with us to enable commissioning of local artists to create unique and contemporary corporate gifts for the City’s golden anniversary in its historic building. A

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A collaborative approach to art and memorabilia collections in local government

left: Council House Souvenir Tray, c1960s, and Fink & Co Council House Tray 2012, Edition 100. Image: Robert Frith/Acorn Photo.

positive aspect of our proposal was that new funding did not have to be sourced, as the project could draw upon but make better use of the existing corporate gifts budget. Our aim was also to increase the quality of corporate gifts and to encourage specificity in work that was commissioned, both in process and outcome. Another aim was to remind the Perth community that the original architects of Council House, Jeffrey Howlett and Donald Bailey, had historically commissioned the services of local Western Australian artists and manufacturers when furnishing the building. To return to such commitment to local art practice, the City of Perth invited five WA artists each to create five artworks that interpreted aspects of Council House and its history. One of each artist’s works will be retained for the City’s Art Collection, and the remaining four works will become corporate gifts. The selected artists were invited to visit and investigate Council House and the memorabilia collection, and the only requirement stipulated was that the artworks made should be lightweight and easy to transport. Maggie Baxter, a textile artist, took as a starting point the original curtains made for Council House in 1962 by Helen Grey-Smith. Like Grey-Smith, Baxter has an affinity with the fabrics, colours and printing techniques of India, and uses these to enrich her own contemporary practice. Baxter made reference in her works to the texture and tones of the 1962 curtains’ original gold print on silk; to the official Visitors Book from 1963; and to the well-known T shapes on the outside of Council House, which appear to float on

the surface of the building. The use of structured pattern is distinctive in the delicate porcelain work of ceramicist Sandra Black. In her works Architecture Series – Council House, Black highlighted the repetitive pattern found on the exterior facade of the Council building. Black’s works have a simple aesthetic beauty, mirroring the balance that Howlett and Bailey achieved in creating a building that was designed to work discretely within Stirling Gardens, rather than impose itself upon the surrounding landscape. Through the use of blue-and-white china, and the idea of the ‘collector’s plate’ in particular, Andrew Nicholls made connections to the modernist era in Perth, when local pottery firms (such as Wembley Ware) produced ceramics for national and international markets. In his series of works, Nicholls takes us on a journey through various moments in the history of Council House and Stirling Gardens. We see the silhouette (stencilled in 22ct gold lustre) of the ore Obelisk or ‘Shish Kebab’ sculpture, designed by Paul Ritter in 1972 to celebrate the growth of the mineral and energy resource industry in Western Australia. The act of collecting and making reference to history through the objects we gather is fundamental to jeweller Helena Bogucki’s practice. Bogucki was drawn to the 1950s steel printing blocks held in the Council’s Memorabilia Collection – objects that produced Council’s symbolic identifying marks. Bogucki used a lost-wax casting method to take impressions from Council House stamps and the City of Perth’s Coat of Arms, and these formed the basis for

Museums Australia Magazine – Vol. 21 (3) – Autumn 2013  41

Our most innovative collaboration has been in the projects we developed to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Perth’s Council House in 2013.

right: Helena Bogucki Council House: Archive Study artist proof 2012 oxidised sterling silver, oil paint and stainless steel 47 x 5.5 x 0.7 cm Image: Robert Frith/Acorn Photo. far right:

Denise Pepper Luminous Burst 2012 Edition 1/5 glass 10.5 x 30 x 29.5 cm Image: Robert Frith/Acorn Photo.

below: Sandra Black, Architecture Series – Council House 2, 2012. Glazed porcelain, 13.1 x 15 x 9 cm. Image: Robert Frith/Acorn Photo.

a series of contemporary jewellery objects, including brooches and neckpieces. Finally, glass artist Denise Pepper produced works based on the iconically shaped fountains that are a feature at the front of Council House. Her pieces reference the history of the building being illuminated at night, and their reflection of Australia Day fireworks. The project to commission local artists to make corporate gifts for the use of the City Council is one of four projects planned to commemorate the anniversary of one of Perth’s most famous modernist icons. Council House was built in time for the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in 1962. A public exhibition, to be held in the distinctive, transparent foyer of Council House, and a publication exploring the origins and history of the building, will also be produced for this anniversary year. The book, 50 Years: Council House, contains an essay by decorative arts curator, Robert Bell, which looks at the interior art and design incorporated into the original modernist architecture; and an essay by Geoffrey London, describing the controversial decisions around the competition design in 1959, and the push to demolish the building in 1994. The legacy of the latter action resulted in widespread community debate about what was considered ‘heritage’, and a successful campaign to retain and refurbish Council House in 1997.

The Perth community now views the retention of Council House as a major social victory, and in our fourth project we wanted to reinforce and build upon this sharpened sense of community pride. One of the most loved items in the memorabilia collection is a humble souvenir tin tray produced in the 1960s, featuring Council House in Stirling Gardens. We were inspired to make a contemporary version of this object, linking the past to the present. The firm Fink & Co was commissioned to make a limited edition of 100 brushed aluminium trays, which will be available for sale at Council House during the exhibition. [] Exhibition: 50 Years: Council House, Council House Foyer, 27 St Georges Terrace, Perth (25 March to 24 May 2013). Jo Darbyshire is the Memorabilia/ Social History Curator at the City of Perth. She is also a visual artist, and her interest lies in the possibilities that unfold when artists work with museum collections. She would like to acknowledge the professional work of former Art Curator Belinda Cobby, and current colleagues Isobel Wise and Paola Anselmi.   Citation for this text: Jo Darbyshire, ‘Flotsam and jetsam transformed: Contemporary artists transform Perth City Council’s role as patron of living heritage’, Museums Australia Magazine, Vol. 21(3), Museums Australia, Canberra, Autumn 2013, pp.39 –41.

42  Museums Australia Magazine – Vol. 21 (3) – Autumn 2013

Book Review: Heritage and Social Media

Amy Wolgamot

Review of Heritage and Social Media: Understanding Heritage in a Participatory Culture, ed. Elisa Giaccardi (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012)


ocial media is easy to use and can make available an unimaginable quantity of information. Today it seems essential for every cultural institution to set up a Facebook page, create a Twitter account, and redesign their website to be accessible and interactive. The increased presence of social media and the pressure on cultural institutions to establish an online presence brings a unique set of considerations beyond the excitement of the new. How well is social media and its facilitation of cultural heritage making, documenting, preserving and defining understood? There are implications for society’s heavy reliance on social media. A recent anthology of essays, Heritage and Social Media: Understanding Heritage in a Participatory Culture, edited by Elisa Giaccardi, provides examples of how social media is used inside and outside cultural institutions to redefine heritage and democratise its

production and preservation. In this light, cultural heritage can be viewed as a process acutely reliant on people’s personal contributions to social media. The contributors to Heritage and Social Media promote the collaborative properties of social media, in particular its ability to devolve responsibility for defining and prioritising aspects of a society’s heritage, a responsibility that traditionally rests in the arena of cultural institutions. The authors in Heritage and Social Media offer their deliberation and analysis about the evolving development of ICTs (information communications technologies) through detailed accounts of how they apply to the lives of ordinary people. Such consideration can assist museum practitioners to understand recurring trends in social media use, and their application to the museum visitor experience. However the discussions in this book extend further into such topics and concepts as digital death, digital information maintenance, and social media and crisis. Society is changing, and with it approaches to interpreting society’s heritage. The content of Heritage and Social Media is situated in the contemporary context, and reaffirms the need for cultural institutions to establish an online presence to build connections through the public’s prevailing interest in social media. Sometimes in this anthology, however, the perspective of a museum practitioner is regrettably absent from the arguments or contexts presented. Within Heritage and Social Media there is minimal analysis to argue against the use, or even to limit the use, of social media in the museum, and little indication of how social media may continue to affect cultural institutions in the future. While Heritage and Social Media does not pretend to address these topics in detail, some readers may miss this counterpoint in discussions about cultural heritage. In Heritage and Social Media there is a preoccupation with the transformative qualities of social media in relation to heritage, which is sometimes manifested as a romanticised view of social media and its applications: [T]he community participating in the conversation can be expanded, but it is a community of active seekers, producers and preservers of cultural heritage information, not an essentialized and anonymous ‘audience’ for predigested heritage.[1] It seems plausible for social media’s framework to support actions like seeking, producing and preserving cultural heritage, as authors Silberman and Purser assert in the above statement. In spite of this, their argument can be unconvincing due to the difficulty in determining whether or not people are really engaging with social media for the purposes of seeking, producing and preserving cultural heritage.


Amy Wolgamot

1. Neil Silberman and Margaret Purser, ‘Collective memory as affirmation: people-centered cultural heritage in a digital age,’ in Heritage and Social Media: Understanding Heritage in a Participatory Culture, ed. Elisa Giaccardi (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012), 26. 2. Christian Heath and Dirk vom Lehn, ‘Misconstruing Interactivity’ (paper presented at the Interactive Learning in Museums of Art and Design at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 17-18 May 2002), 2.

Museums Australia Magazine – Vol. 21 (3) – Autumn 2013  43

Perhaps social media may not just change the process of cultural heritage; it may also alter the content in unforeseeable ways. The discussions around the applications of social media generally avoid a central issue raised by Christian Heath and Dirk vom Lehn at a conference in 2002: ‘We know too little of the effect of these new interactives on how people behave, let alone about their effects on how people understand and learn.’[2] The predicament with ‘interactives’ is now manifested in the use of social media; there is a lack of understanding around what people actually gain from communicating through social networks. In Heritage and Social Media, several of the contributing authors recognise the lack of knowledge about how social media will have an impact upon people’s understanding of the world. The Internet provides a previously unthinkable amount of information for ready access. Information, however, is not synonymous with understanding or knowledge. Which of these does social media provide? Through the heavy use of social media, will the complexity of human experience – in a variety of cognitive modes and records – be increasingly supplanted by superficial, anecdotal accounts of lived experiences, which in turn have the potential to narrow the scope of what is preserved and cared for as cultural heritage, including the subtle forms of intangible heritage? Perhaps, in other words, social media may not just change the process of cultural heritage; it may also alter the content in unforeseeable ways.[3] Even though Heritage and Social Media does not provide extensive debate about the relevance of social media and cultural heritage in relation to museums and galleries, its essays cover a range of significant topical issues, and it is important to reflect on how these considerations extend to the realm of cultural institutions. Museums may well use social media to help facilitate the public’s connection and experiences with cultural heritage without jeopardising their objectives.[4] Museums and galleries should develop affirmative strategies in ways that can overcome what writer Jonathan Franzen highlights in his essay, ’Farther Away‘, about the Internet’s tendency to ‘imprison’ users:

[T]he problem with making a virtual world of oneself is akin to the problem with projecting ourselves onto a cyberworld: there’s no end of virtual spaces in which to seek stimulation, but their very endlessness, the perpetual stimulation without satisfaction, becomes imprisoning.[5] Franzen’s comments support the need to deconstruct and analyse carefully how social media is used in the compilation and maintenance of cultural heritage. Even though social media fosters collaborative traits, and its use has become an important feature of the modern world, Franzen’s warning about borderless virtuality – highlighting the dangers of infinite endlessness, and the need to recapture orientation – should not be ignored. [] Amy Wolgamot is an educator at the National Museum of Australia. She is interested in learning, art, museums, technology, and encouraging young people’s interest in history. Citation for this text: Amy Wolgamot, ‘The impact of social media on heritage: Review of Heritage and Social Media: Understanding Heritage in a Participatory Culture, ed. Elisa Giaccardi (Routledge, 2012), Museums Australia Magazine, Vol. 21(3), Museums Australia, Canberra, Autumn 2013, pp.42 –43.

References Franzen, Jonathan. ‘Farther Away’, in The Best American Essays, ed. David Brooks. The Best American Series, ed. Robert Atwan, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2012) 111-138. Giaccardi, Elisa, ed. Heritage and Social Media: Understanding Heritage in a Participatory Culture (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012). Heath, Christian and Dirk vom Lehn. ‘Misconstruing Interactivity’, paper presented at the Interactive Learning in Museums of Art and Design at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 17–18 May 2002. International Council of Museums (Paris) ‘Museum Definition’, – accessed 22 January2013.  Ronchi, Alfredo M. eCulture: Cultural Content in the Digital Age (Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 2009). Silberman, Neil and Margaret Purser. ‘Collective memory as affirmation: people-centered cultural heritage in a digital age’, in Heritage and Social Media: Understanding Heritage in a Participatory Culture, ed. Elisa Giaccardi (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012), 13–29.

3. See explanation about media theorist Marshall McLuhan and ‘the medium is the message’ concept by Alfredo M. Ronchi, in eCulture: Cultural content in the Digital Age (Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 2009), 49. 4. ‘Museum Definition’, International Council of Museums (Paris): http:// – accessed 22 January 2013. 5. Jonathan Franzen, ‘Farther Away’, in The Best American Essays, ed. David Brooks (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2012), 133.

Museums Australia Magazine Vol 21(3)  

Museums Australia Magazine Vol 21(3), Autumn 2013

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