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Output group 1.1: Collection development and management

The Museum was responsible for delivering a number of outputs relating to collection development and management. The following table indicates how the Museum delivered on Output 1.1 in 2005–06:

Quality

100% of National Historical Collection acquisitions are consistent with acquisitions policy

Actual: 100%

75% of National Historical Collection stored at or above appropriate museum standards

Actual: 75%

Quantity

 

1000 conservation treatments

Actual: 1770

Price

$9.053m ($45.26 per collection item)

Actual: $7.329m ($36.65 per item)

The National Museum of Australia seeks to build a broad-based collection that provides a material record of Australian history. The National Historical Collection is the core collection of the Museum and consists of the most historically and culturally significant objects acquired by the Museum. Objects in the collection total more than 190,000 items. Other collections include the Education Collection, comprising materials to support Museum programs and activities, and the Archival Collection, comprising documents, photographs, and sound and vision recordings associated with material in the National Historical Collection. The Museum acquires objects for the collections through purchase and donation.

Developing the collection

The National Historical Collection originally comprised objects transferred to the Museum by the Australian Government following the Museum's establishment in 1980. These were mostly from the former Australian Institute of Anatomy, the former Institute of Aboriginal Studies and the University of Sydney, as well as a number of government departments and agencies. Since 1980 the Museum has acquired objects through donations and purchase.

Cost of acquisitions 2001–2006

Financial year

Cost of acquisitions

2001–02

$190,000

2002–03

$381,000

2003–04

$566,000

2004–05

$1,930,000

2005–06

$2,002,000

(left to right) Photos of a punishment shoe, about 1830; Convict jacket, late 1850s; Water bottle carried by Robert O'Hara Burke, 1861.
(left to right) Photos of a punishment shoe cut down at the ankles to allow leg-irons to cut into the flesh, about 1830; Convict jacket, late 1850s; Water bottle carried by Robert O'Hara Burke on his ill-fated exploring expedition with William John Wills, 1861. Photos: Dean McNicoll

This year was extremely productive for the Collections Development program. A total of $2,002,000 was spent on acquisitions for the National Historical Collection in 2005–06. With this investment, the Museum was able to secure compelling artefacts for the National Historical Collection.

Council approved 118 significant collections during the year for inclusion in the National Historical Collection, the details of which are in Appendix 3. Important objects acquired through purchase or gift this year included:

  • Robert O'Hara Burke's water bottle, used during his fateful expedition to the Gulf of Carpentaria
  • a rare convict shirt, punishment shoe and related materials
  • a Grubb six-inch refractor telescope used from the 1890s by early Australian astronomers
  • a cricket stump from the 'Bodyline' series of 1932–1933 and a bat used by Sir Donald Bradman on the 1934 Australian tour of England
  • watercolours by Elizabeth Durack pertaining to station life in north-west Australia
  • a triple hammerhead shark headdress by Ken Thaiday from the Torres Strait Islands
  • a 1920s Wagilag Sisters Dreaming bark painting from Central Arnhem Land.

Managing the collection

The Museum's Registration section manages the receipting, accessioning, documentation, storage, tracking and accessibility of objects in the National Historical Collection.

Accessioning is the process that formally registers an object into the Museum's permanent collection. The allocation of a unique number and recording of source and identification details establish its identity and legal ownership as well as the Museum's accountability for the object. During the year, the Museum accessioned 85 collections, comprising a total of 3384 objects. This was an increase of nearly 3000 objects compared to the previous year. Collections of interest include the Ian Metherall collection containing the Holden Prototype no. 1, Shirley Strickland's Olympic running uniform, and the plaster death mask of Ned Kelly from the Dale White collection.

Two targeted accessioning projects made significant contributions to the overall figures for the 2005–06 financial year: the Springfield and Backlog-Accessions projects. In October 2005, the Springfield gift to the National Museum of Australia was endorsed by the Cultural Gifts Program of the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. The gift consists of two components: the Faithfull Family and Springfield Merino Stud collections. Work on accessioning and preparing for storage these significant, well-documented collections of approximately 2100 objects was completed in June 2006.

The Backlog-Accessions project, which is part of the larger Collection Information Management (CIM) project, began in January 2006 to undertake a number of backlog documentation activities (see Documenting the collection section below for more details).

No objects were de-accessioned from the Museum's permanent collection in this financial year.

Documenting the collection

In early 2006 the Museum embarked on a long-term Collection Information Management (CIM) project to document the National Historical Collection and make it accessible via the internet. The CIM project will help the Museum meet its legislative requirements regarding care of the collection, and its mandate to make the collection accessible to the public.

The project aims to address a backlog of collection documentation requirements and also to re-engineer key business processes concerning how collections are assessed, accessioned and recorded, and how associated rights, requirements, media and products are managed. The project consolidates and builds upon work carried out during the past two years, including the implementation of the Opal collection information database, which formed part of the strategy developed to address the Australian National Audit Office's report, Safe and Accessible National Collections (2004–05).

Documentation produced through the CIM project will include inventory-level records for National Historical Collection objects as well as richer contextual information and multimedia for key collections. Information will be available internally through the Opal database, while records written for public access will be made available on the Museum's website.

The CIM project was launched with a two-day workshop in early February 2006, at which senior managers and key staff identified the project's components and priorities. A portfolio of sub-projects was scoped and teams were established, comprising staff from the Collections Development, Registration, Conservation, Collection Information and Digitisation, and Information Technology and Services sections.

The main sub-projects commenced this year include:

  • collections assessments backlog, which aims to reduce a backlog of 183 collections requiring assessment and submission for Council approval for inclusion in the National Historical Collection

    By 30 June the Museum's Acquisitions and Collections Group had considered 71 of the 183 collections within the assessments backlog. Of those 71, 27 were recommended for further assessment, 26 were recommended for disposal or transfer to another party, and the remainder were recommended for inclusion in collections other than the National Historical Collection.

  • collections accessioning backlog, which aims to create inventory-level documentation for approximately 53,000 objects currently not recorded in the Opal database

    Approximately 800 items in 29 unaccessioned or partially accessioned collections were accessioned; 4880 hard copy object records were transferred into the Opal database and 5000 existing Opal records were revised to conform to new data standards.

  • business process reviews for acquisition, assessment and accessioning, digital imaging, copyright clearance and licensing

    A review of existing acquisition and assessment procedures and a trial of new procedures aimed at improving efficiency were concluded by 30 June. New procedures are expected to be in place during 2006–07.

  • standards and data integrity, a quality assurance project to ensure consistency and discoverability of information from the Opal database

    Approximately 110 data standards for recording collection information related to assessments and accessioning were drafted.

  • digitisation and digital asset management, which includes ongoing digital photography, capture of the Museum's existing digital images into a centralised repository, and converting existing analogue documents and media to digital form

    A workshop and consultancy to develop a needs analysis for digital asset management were held in May 2006. This will inform future planning and digital content management strategies.

Critical to the CIM project is the Opal collection database, which is a version of the Australian product EMu (Electronic Museum) developed by KE Software. The system's implementation during 2004–05 and 2005–06 enabled the consolidation of various collection information sources and, subsequently, analysis of strengths and weaknesses in the level of collection documentation.

During 2005–06, the Museum's investment in the system, along with new functionality developed for the website, resulted in the first phase of online collection searching. Through the integration of Opal and web functionality, more than 4500 public-release object records were published on the Museum's website in March 2006. As at 30 June 2006, a further 3000 records were being prepared for release. It is anticipated that during 2006–07 public-release records will regularly be added to the collection search, in line with the delivery of the CIM project.

Storing the collection

Storage facilities at the National Museum of Australia
Storing objects is a continuing challenge for the Museum. Photo: George Serras

Storage of objects is a continuing challenge for the Museum. Fewer than four per cent of collection objects are on display at any one time. The rest of the objects are stored at repositories in the northern Canberra suburb of Mitchell. Work to make better use of current storage space, to improve storage for important collections, and to plan for short- to long-term storage developments, continued this year.

Activities included:

  • reconfiguring racking storage at the storage repositories in Mitchell to maximise storage capability and provide greater access to collection material
  • purchasing new racks to store banners in the collection and redesigning stands for the collection of Tiwi pukamani poles
  • continuing ongoing targeted stocktaking and barcoding of collection objects
  • developing a dedicated armoury for storage of firearms and other weapons.

In addition, short- to medium-term planning for Museum storage was undertaken with Museum storage consultants.

Moving and tracking the collection

After arrival at the Museum, objects are moved for a variety of purposes including access for research, conservation assessment or treatment, mount assessment, display, or documentation or permanent storage. Each year approximately 3600 objects are moved between the Mitchell repositories and Acton. To assist in the movement of collection materials, a barcode system is used that allows for an object's location to be tracked and recorded as it moves through various processes before being placed on display or into permanent storage. A scoping project was undertaken by International Conservation Services on the potential for using radio frequency identification for future object tracking requirements. Recommendations from this study will be used to guide future object tracking requirements at the Museum.

Conserving the collection

Conservator Cathy Collins preparing a 1930s doll's house for the Captivating and Curious exhibition.
Conservator Cathy Collins prepares a 1930s doll's house for the Captivating and Curious exhibition. Photo: Dean McNicoll

Preserving the National Historical Collection for future generations is one of the Museum's key strategic priorities. The Museum's Conservation section manages the preservation and maintenance of the collection, including the preparation and treatment of objects for exhibition. During the year, 1770 objects were treated and 1250 objects were condition-reported.

Conservation treatments 2001-2006

Financial year

Number of conservation treatments

2001–02

1100

2002–03

1200

2003–04

1500

2004–05

1600

2005–06

1770

Conservators Robin Tait, Peter Bucke, David Hallam and Eric Archer with the new exhibition case for the John Batman Land Deed.
Conservators Robin Tait, Peter Bucke, David Hallam and Eric Archer with the new exhibition case for the John Batman Land Deed. Photo: George Serras

Conservation highlights for the year included:

  • treatment of 430 objects for the Captivating and Curious exhibition
  • design and fabrication of a low-oxygen permanent storage and exhibition case for the John Batman Land Deed
  • cleaning and preparation for storage of the Faithfull Family and Springfield Merino Stud collections
  • major treatments of the Benson telescope, the Hill End hearse and the Citroën 5CV 1923 model, the first car to complete a round-Australia trip in 1925
  • major treatment and maintenance of the 'wet specimen' collection.
Photo of a Citroën 5CV 1923 model.
Citroën 5CV 1923 model, driven by 22-year-old missionary Neville Westwood on his trip around Australia in 1925. Photo: Dragi Markovic

Museum conservators also participated in national and international conservation activities including:

  • participating in the Archaeometry conference, The Australian National University, December 2005
  • delivering a workshop in collaboration with The Australian National University and the Institute of Archaeology in Vietnam on the preservation of waterlogged organic material, Hanoi, March 2006
  • attending a workshop on the preservation and maintenance of wet specimen collections at Oxford University's Natural History Museum, March 2006
  • participating in an international consultancy at the Los Angeles County Museum on the preservation of one of the first aircraft to circumnavigate the globe, August 2005
  • attending the International Council of Museums Committee for Conservation conference and a meeting of the Scientific Committee for Metals Conservation, The Hague, September 2005
  • undertaking a study of chronometers at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, for the purpose of developing a major treatment project for the Museum's collection, June 2006.

In addition, the Museum hosted the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials, which oversees the business of the conservation profession in Australia.

In addition, the Museum hosted the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials, which oversees the business of the conservation profession in Australia.

Loaning the collection

The Museum makes objects from the National Historical Collection available for loan to other cultural institutions, and borrows objects from around Australia and overseas for its own exhibitions. Loans from our collection this
year included:

  • a snuff box for display in the Exiles and Emigrants exhibition held at the National Gallery of Victoria and the National Museum of Australia
  • several hats, an evening gown and a purse from the Dame Pattie Menzies collection for display in Mrs Prime Minister at Old Parliament House, Canberra
  • 35 objects for the exhibition Leaks, Scoops and Scandals: The Press Gallery 1927–1988 at Old Parliament House, Canberra.

A full list of outward loans is in Appendix 5.

The Museum's permanent galleries and travelling exhibitions displayed 5539 objects of which 829 were loans from 172 lenders, comprising 64 institutions and 108 private individuals. Significant national loans for the Cook's Pacific Encounters exhibition included:

  • a 1788 marble bust of Captain James Cook created by Augustin Pajou, from a private collection
  • a Grevillea pteridifolia specimen collected by Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander from the Endeavour River in 1770 from the National Herbarium of New South Wales.

Objects currently on loan to the Museum are listed in Appendix 4.

Making the collection accessible

As well as exhibiting and lending objects from the National Historical Collection, the Museum provides special access to its collection repositories and responds to specific enquiries about objects. During the year, visits were arranged for 42 external requestors and responses were provided to numerous requests for information received by letter, email and telephone enquiries. Visitors included national and international researchers; collection donors; members of the Embroiderers' Guild ACT Inc.; academics from Browne University, Rhode Island, USA; students and academics from The Australian National University and the University of Canberra; students from the CIT Museum Studies course; artists; and museum professionals. Enquiries concerned a diverse range of collection items, including Aboriginal art and artefacts, motor vehicles, large technology objects and textiles.

Repatriation of remains and sacred objects

The Museum provides advice and assistance on the repatriation of Indigenous human remains and sacred objects to federal, state and territory cultural heritage institutions, Indigenous communities and their representatives.

The Museum has not actively sought to acquire human remains or sacred objects. However, as the prescribed authority under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984, the Museum is the repository for unprovenanced remains and objects referred to the Federal Minister under the Act. No remains have been deposited with the Museum under this Act.

The Museum's Repatriation section is supported by funding from the Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination and the Return of Indigenous Cultural Property Program — an initiative of the Cultural Ministers' Council, which is administered by the Department of Communications, Information Technology
and the Arts.

During 2005–06 the Museum returned the remains of 63 individuals to Aboriginal communities in New South Wales and South Australia. The remains of a further 14 individuals are held by the Museum at the request of communities. The Museum also returned 54 secret/sacred objects to groups in the Northern Territory.

The Museum received a request from the Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination to assist with the repatriation of two sets of remains from the United Kingdom (UK) and continues to assist organisations with the return of human remains from overseas. Programs included assisting the:

  • Foundation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research Action by providing temporary storage for human remains and objects returned from the Horniman Museum, the Manchester Museum and the Royal College of Surgeons in London
  • Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination in the storage and repatriation of remains and objects from the UK and the USA.

In July 2005 the Museum co-hosted a successful conference, The Meanings and Values of Repatriation, with Griffith University and The Australian National University, and in May 2006 Council approved the revised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Secret/Sacred and Private Material Policy.