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Managing the collection

Accessioning objects

Accessioning is the process that formally registers an object into the Museum's permanent collection, known as the National Historical Collection. During the year, the Museum accessioned 4175 objects. Among the notable objects and collections accessioned this year were a tennis outfit worn by Evonne Goolagong Cawley; the Neil, Lynette and Barry Ross collection of nearly 400 tools from the Maribyrnong Ordnance factory; and cameras used by prominent Australian photographers, including Frank Hurley, from the Robert and Irene Goard collection.

The Museum's Archive Collection contains paper and photographic material that supports the interpretation of the National Historical Collection. Over the past year, 23 collections containing seven audiovisual items, 426 photographic items and 390 paper items were accessioned. Highlights from these collections include:

  • correspondence relating to the Leichhardt nameplate and the search for the fate of the Leichhardt expedition from the Bristow-Smith collection
  • Ron Westwood's collection relating to his father, Neville Westwood, and his 1923 5CV Citroën, the first car to travel around Australia.

One object — Dava Singh's hawker's wagon — was deaccessioned from the Museum's collection this financial year and transferred to the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame and Outback Heritage Centre in Longreach, Queensland.

Documenting the collection

One of the Museum's key business activities for 2007–08 was the strengthening of collection information and access to it. Throughout the year the accessions backlog team, which was established in 2006, continued to make significant advances in documenting long-outstanding material. This involved activities aimed at creating inventory-level information. The team accessioned approximately 2100 objects in 17 previously unaccessioned collections. Some 4175 object accession records were added to Opal, the centralised collection information management system, and a further 800 existing Opal records were verified and updated. Approximately 9115 object records were uploaded to the 'Search our collections' section of the Museum's website.

Examples of accession backlog objects and collections that were either accessioned or transferred into Opal include:

  • equipment from the Orroral Valley Tracking Station collection
  • photographs and other material relating to the campaign to save the Franklin River from the Dr Robert J Brown collection
  • photograph albums relating to women's cricket from the Ruby Lee collection.

Documenting the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Art collection

During October 2007 the Museum took receipt of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs art collection from the Department of Family and Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. This collection comprises a diverse range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander objects and artworks, including paintings, prints, drawings, photographs, ceramics, textiles, ceremonial objects and ephemera.

In a purpose-built storage environment, Museum staff conducted an initial inventory of this significant collection. Through the course of the remaining financial year, a dedicated team of Registration staff undertook further, more detailed documentation to aid in the collection assessment process. Working in conjunction with curators and conservators, registration staff documented the collection of approximately 2225 items and added the information to Opal.

Storing and moving the collection

Storage of the National Historical Collection is a continuing challenge for the Museum. Fewer than 4 per cent of the objects in the collection are on display at any one time. The remainder are stored at repositories in Mitchell (a northern suburb of Canberra). This year, the Museum continued to work on making better use of its current storage space, improving storage for important collections, and planning for short- to long-term storage developments. These activities included:

  • reconfiguring racking storage in the exhibition precinct area at 9–13 Vicars Street, Mitchell, to maximise the work spaces and storage capability for exhibition development, and to provide greater access to collections material and loans for gallery redevelopment
  • purchasing new custom-made cabinets for storing the Museum's bark painting collection, and continuing the bark painting rehousing program
  • continuing ongoing targeted stocktaking and barcoding of collection objects
  • implementing plans for reconfiguring the Museum's former receipt and dispatch area to include an airlock for the loading bay, a new object quarantine and receipting area, and a new photographic studio
  • attending to 376 movement requests, with 2527 objects moved between Museum sites for a variety of purposes including access for research, conservation assessment or treatment, display documentation or permanent storage.

Conserving the collection

Preserving the National Historical Collection for future generations is one of the Museum's key strategic priorities, supported by a conservation work plan. The Conservation section manages the preservation and maintenance of the collection, including the preparation and treatment of objects for exhibition. During the year, 2289 objects were treated and 1570 objects were condition-reported.

Conservation highlights for the year included:

  • treating, installing and deinstalling 900 objects for the Museum's temporary and focus gallery program
  • installing and deinstalling 627 objects for the Museum's travelling exhibitions program
  • preparation for exhibition, installation and deinstallation of the major travelling exhibition Utopia: The Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye in Osaka and Tokyo, Japan
  • acquisition and installation of the Oriel Fade Testing System for object analysis and lighting research
  • construction of a new objects conservation laboratory and mezzanine office accommodation for conservation staff.
A close up of two glove-encased hands emerging from the right side of the image holding ruby red fabric with a satiny finish. In the background and out of focus, the legs of another person are visible.
Conservators prepare a dress from the Springfield collection to include in the new version of Circa.

Conservation treatments, 2001–08

Financial year Number of conservation treatments
2001–02 1100
2002–03 1200
2003–04 1500
2004–05 1600
2005–06 1770
2006–07 2175
2007–08 2289

Lending the collection

The Museum lends objects from the National Historical Collection to other cultural institutions, and borrows objects from around Australia and internationally for its own exhibitions. Loans from the Museum's collection this year included:

  • a dashboard clock and tachometer dial from the Southern Cloud aircraft wreck for the opening of the Southern Cloud Memorial Scenic Lookout at Tumbarumba, New South Wales
  • nine Indigenous objects, a patrol box and an Edison cylinder recording machine for the People, Power and Politics exhibition at the Macleay Museum, Sydney
  • Edgar Mayne's 1912 Australian Test cricket cap for the exhibition The Baggy Green: The Pride, Passion and History of Australia's Sporting Icon at the Bradman Museum, Bowral, New South Wales.

For a full list of outward loans, see Appendix 5.

During 2007–08, the Museum's permanent galleries and travelling exhibitions displayed 4942 objects, of which 1038 were loans from 241 lenders (comprising 67 institutions and 174 private individuals). Some of the most interesting and thought-provoking objects from private and public collections lent to the Museum this year included:

  • the 1936 Courtney Goodwill Trophy and other rugby-related material from the New South Wales Rugby League archives for the League of Legends: 100 Years of Rugby League in Australia exhibition
  • Herbert Basedow's 1928 diary and photo album from the State Library of New South Wales for the exhibition A Different Time: The Expedition Photographs of Herbert Basedow 1903–1928
  • from Simon Quayle, a memorial container of debris from the Sari Club, site of the 2002 Bali bombings, for the Eternity gallery.

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

Providing public access

As well as exhibiting and lending objects from the National Historical Collection, the Museum provides special access to its collection repositories and responds to public enquiries. During the year there were 153 visitors to the repositories, and Museum staff responded to numerous requests for information. Visitors to the repositories included researchers, filmmakers, community members, and donors and their families. Enquiries covered a diverse range of collection items, including Aboriginal artefacts, large technology objects, textiles and wet specimens.

Some memorable events involving special access to Museum objects included:

  • the family of Mr Basil Galettis OAM viewing collections donated by family members relating to Greek migration from the island of Castellorizo
  • Ms Trang Le viewing the refugee boat captained by her grandfather, Truong-van Soi, on which her family came to Australia in 1978
  • members of the Canberra East Rotary Club viewing the Crossley Landaulette used during Prince Albert's 1927 royal visit to Australia — the club had donated $5000 to the Museum in 1987 to help restore the vintage vehicle for display during the 1988 bicentennial celebrations.

Development of collection management procedures

The publication of Door to Store 1, a manual that details procedures for documenting the Museum's collections, was written this financial year. It incorporates major changes to the Museum's acquisition and documentation procedures. The Museum also completed reviews of related procedures in registration, with assistance from consultants International Conservation Services, resulting in the publication of Door to Store 2. These documented procedures form part of a broader Registration Procedures Manual that will guide Registration section staff undertaking a wide range of collection management tasks. The manuals will be further developed and expanded for inclusion on the Museum's intranet in 2008–09.