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Conservation achievements

Conservators gather for international masterclasses organised by the Museum and the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material
Conservators gather for international masterclasses organised by the Museum and the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material
Photo: George Serras

This has been a challenging and rewarding year for conservation-related activities at the Museum, heightened by major national and international events. In particular:

  • Eric Archer, manager of conservation at the Museum, was appointed to the Australian Government's Cultural Heritage Reference Group for Iraq which was established to identify ways in which Australia could assist Iraq with restoring its cultural heritage. The reference group consulted widely, including with international bodies such as Interpol, the British Library and British Museum and with US officials. The report of the reference group was presented to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage for the Government's consideration

  • the Museum responded to Canberra's disastrous January bushfires by providing conservation advice to the local ACT community through forums, radio talkback and open days

  • the Museum's protective strategies and mechanisms for its collections were reviewed in the case of natural disasters.

The Museum continued to have successful research partnerships on projects relevant to its collections. Highlights were:

  • the development and testing of a method of assessing thin film oil-based coating quickly by electrochemical means through a partnership with the University of Canberra and the private sector. This vehicle oils additive project is expected to prolong the useful life of vehicles in museums through correct selection of products based on actual tested performance

  • the purchase of specialised equipment for testing of corroding systems in a laboratory in collaboration with Australian War Memorial, the University of Canberra, the Australian National University and James Cook University. The results of this research will be used for large technology object preservation

  • the analysis of items from the Museum's wet specimen collection to investigate methods of DNA fingerprinting animal tissue preserved in formalin specimens. This project is being conducted with the Centre for Forensic Science at the Canberra Institute of Technology.

Results of other successful partnerships included:

  • the first of a series of masterclasses to train photographic conservators in Australia, a highly significant development for the training of photographic conservators within Australia and the preservation of photographic documentation in Australia's cultural institutions. The training program was organised by the Museum in collaboration with ScreenSound Australia and the National Gallery of Victoria, and was assisted by a major grant from the American J Paul Getty grant program to the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material Inc. Doug Nishimura, an internationally-recognised research scientist from the Image Performance Institute at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, presented the first series at the Museum for 90 participants from Australia and south-east Asia

  • hosting a National Training Summit to discuss the future training of conservators, in collaboration with the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material Inc.

Treasures Day at the National Museum
Treasures Day at the National Museum
Photo: Dragi Markovic

Public interest in the Museum's conservation activities also increased markedly during the year. In response to public demand, Museum activities included:

  • tours for special interest groups, such as the participants in the 14th annual Cycle History conference sponsored by the National Steam Centre and the Friends of the National Museum of Australia

  • advice to the public on preserving family treasures through the Museum's inaugural Treasures Day and to the local Arrawang Primary School on its historic collection of Aboriginal culture

  • consultations with community groups such as the Eden Aboriginal Land Council on conservation and collection management, and the Townsville Indigenous community and the Museum of Tropical Queensland on the preservation and maintenance of significant rock art sites

  • training placements for university students from the Bachelor of Applied Science in Conservation of Cultural Materials program at the University of Canberra

  • collaboration with the National Archives of Australia in presenting a seminar on hazardous materials management in museum collections.
Conservator Carmela Mollica examines the riding habit of an 1880s bush missionary
Conservator Carmela Mollica examines the riding habit of an 1880s bush missionary
Photo: George Serras

Due to an increase in object changeovers in the exhibition galleries and in travelling exhibitions, there was a greater level of activity in preparing objects for display. More than 1200 objects received conservation treatments in 2002-2003, compared to 1100 in the previous year. Highlights of conservation treatment included:

  • the preparation of objects for the Museum's first international exhibition, Stories from Australia: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, which opened in China in December 2002

  • treatment of the newly-acquired Saw Doctor's Wagon for the Rare Trades exhibition

  • treatment of an 1880s silk riding habit
Conservator Patrya Kay surveying the stringed instruments
Conservator Patrya Kay surveying the stringed instruments
Photo: Dragi Markovic
  • rehousing of the 1835 Batman Land Deed in a purpose-built, low-oxygen display case to limit the oxidation of the parchment, allowing the deed to remain on permanent display with minimal degradation

  • surveying the condition of a quartet of stringed instruments made by AE Smith, an Australia violin maker in the 1930s, to enable preservation of this important collection and to allow the instruments to be played in public performances at the Museum.