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Managing the collection

Accessioning objects

Accessioning is the process that formally registers an object into the Museum's permanent collection. During the year the Museum's Registration team accessioned 10,259 objects. Among the notable objects and collections accessioned this year were: the writing box of Colonel William Light, surveyor and founder of the City of Adelaide; a stream anchor from Matthew Flinders' ship the Investigator; geological specimens collected by CM Chidley, Clement Victor Latz, Percival Douglas Boerner and AG Smith; 25 bark paintings by prominent western Arnhem Land artist Bobby Bardjarai Nganjimirra; and a 17th-century hand-stitched convict shirt.

The Museum's Archive Collection contains collections of paper and photographic material that support the interpretation of the National Historical Collection. Over the past year, more than 2400 records for items in 190 collections were prepared and uploaded to the Museum's collection management database. Thirteen new collections containing 165 photographic items and 130 paper items were also accessioned.

Highlights from these collections include:

  • photographs and documents relating to Joan Stanbury, winner of the Miss Australia Quest in 1959
  • documentation associated with the provenance of early Papunya artworks.

No objects were de-accessioned from the National Historical Collection during 2009–10.

A colour photograph of two museum staff members preparing to unpack an exhibit. One, closest to the camera is closely inspecting the packing crate that contains the exhibit. The large wooden frame of the packing crate is visible at the right side of the photograph.
Conservator Melanie Forward and Registration staff member, Paul Peisley unpack an exhibit for the forthcoming Landmarks gallery.

Documenting the collection

A key business activity for 2009–10, supporting the strategic priority 'Develop the National Historical Collection, enhance collections management and improve collections storage', was to build upon the success of the previous Accessions Backlog Project by further addressing the documentation of the collection.

In October 2009, the Legacy Collections Project was established to better manage undocumented collection material. Over the course of the year, project staff processed 13,085 objects, largely through accessioning or disposal. Greater object location management was also achieved through employment of the Museum's barcoding system. As part of the project, consultancies identified inventory objects from two major collections: the Horse Era Museum and Bureau of Mineral Resources collections.

Documentation by photography

Images are an important component of object documentation and are included in collection database records, and also feature in publications, the website, marketing activities and media information. This year the Photographic team produced over 2800 images of collection and loan objects, undertook 54 field trips and attended corporate and public events.

Some significant projects this year were:

  • development of a photographic essay documenting the Australian Government's Apology to the Forgotten Australians
  • the production of over 1500 object images for the development of the Landmarks: People and Places across Australia gallery
  • location photography of a number of sites and subjects, including Adaminaby, New South Wales, and Mataranka and Elsey stations in the Northern Territory, for use in the Landmarks gallery.

Other activities included photography of launches and events, education programs, and Indigenous community visits.

Online access to the collection

Online access to the Museum's collection database is provided by the Museum's online public access catalogue, 'Search our collections'. In 2009–10, 15,877 records were made available online, increasing the total number available to the public to 45,472 records. Two major improvements were made during 2010 to improve online access to the collection. Firstly, all records published on 'Search our collections' were made available to Picture Australia, the Collections Australia Network (CAN) search, and the Libraries Australia federated search. Secondly, a thumbnail image of a collection object, if available, was added to all published records.

A colour photograph showing an early model Holden car being loaded into a van for transport to a storage facility. The van is at the right side of the photograph, with its rear end closest to the camera. The rear door is open, and inside can be seen the rear of the Holden car. The van is parked in what appears to be a loading bay; large shelves at the left of the photograph hold a variety of objects, some of which are in boxes. On the concrete floor of the loading bay can be seen yellow stripes that appear to mark out safety zones.
After several years on display in the Nation gallery, the 1955 FJ Holden Special sedan is moved to the Museum's repository.

Storing and moving the collection

Storage of objects is a continuing challenge for the Museum. Fewer than 4 per cent of collection objects are on display at any one time. The remainder are stored at repositories in the northern Canberra suburb of Mitchell. Work to make better use of current storage space and improve storage for important collections, and planning for short- to long-term storage developments, continued this year.

Activities included:

  • consolidating and improving archival storage at 9–13 Vicars Street, Mitchell
  • continuing the rehousing of the Museum's collection of bark paintings into new custom-made cabinets
  • the installation of an electronic compactus art rack system for large paintings from the Canning Stock Route collection
  • improving packing and pallets for collection storage located at 90 Vicars Street, Mitchell
  • improving storage and access to exhibition componentry
  • attending to 454 movement requests, with 5020 objects moved between Museum sites for a variety of purposes, including access for research, documentation, conservation assessment, treatment, display or permanent storage.
A colour photograph of a museum technician using specialist equipment to test the light sensitivity of an object. The technician sits at the left of the photograph, facing toward the right. On a table in front of him is the equipment, which appears to consist of a horizontal arm that is positioned over the object which is held in place on a special jig. Several wires are connected to the equipment. The photograph has dramatic lighting that has thrown some areas of it into deep shadow.
Using micro-fading equipment, conservator Bruce Ford tests the light sensitivity of an object.

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.

Conservation highlights for the year included:

  • treating and installing the major travelling exhibition Papunya Painting: Out of the Australian Desert, in Beijing, China
  • treating 80 paintings in preparation for the forthcoming exhibition of the Canning Stock Route Collection
  • deinstallation of the Nation gallery in preparation for the new Landmarks: People and Places across Australia gallery
  • developing new lighting guidelines for the display of objects on exhibition
  • refurbishment of the Paper and Textiles laboratory at Mitchell
  • major conservation treatment of the Holden posters for the Symbols of Australia exhibition
  • preparation and conservation treatment of the Kenya Station Simplex windmill, Lees and Bradner gear cutter, Holden Prototype, Grubb Benson telescope and Sunshine harvester
  • biennial slipping of the Paddle Steamer Enterprise, in conjunction with the Volunteers team
  • attending the National Museum of Denmark and School of Conservation of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts workshop on passive collection storage design in Copenhagen; and presenting papers in Copenhagen and Berlin
  • presenting four papers at the Australian Institute of Conservation of Cultural Materials (AICCM) annual conference in Perth
  • serving on the selection panel for the Community Heritage Grants program funded by the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts; and delivering two conservation workshops for recipients
  • delivering the first University of Canberra conservation course practicum in technology conservation.

Conservation treatments, 2001–10

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
2008–09 2138
2009–10 1469

Lending 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 internationally for its own exhibitions.

Loans from our collection this year included:

  • 12 home-made domestic items and toys for display in the Skint! Making Do in the Great Depression exhibition at the Museum of Sydney
  • 14 art and craft items produced by the Ernabella Arts movement as well as an associated photograph for display in the Nyukana Baker: A Retrospective exhibition at The Jam Factory, Adelaide
  • A painted hand scroll titled Harvest of Endurance: A History of the Chinese in Australia 1788–1988 for display in the Encounters III: Meetings between Australia and China exhibition at the Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre, Brisbane.

A full list of outward loans is in Appendix 5.

Augmenting the collection

A portrait painting of a man wearing a brown suit and vest, white shirt with a high collar and a dark tie. He has dark neatly combed hair and a moustache. He is visible from the lower chest up. His torso faces toward the right of the painting and he has his head turned toward the viewer. His expression is one of calm and confidence. The background of the portrait is a cloudscape, with clouds in dark tones and a small glimpse of blue sky in the lower right hand corner.
Portrait of Isadore Emanuel, on loan from the Emanuel family, for display in the Landmarks gallery.

The Museum's permanent galleries and temporary and travelling exhibitions displayed 4787 objects of which 776 were loans from 194 lenders, comprising 66 institutions and 128 private individuals.

Interesting private and national objects loaned to the Museum included:

  • three paintings — Canning Stock Route by Rover Thomas, Kulilli by Wimmitji Tjapangarti and Kurtal as Miltijaru by David Downs — from the Holmes à Court Collection, for display in Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route, an exhibition to be held in 2010–11
  • climbing camp gear, including a tent and a fly, a stove, pots, bowls, cutlery, mugs, two sleeping bags, a sleeping mat, a rope, an ice axe, a hammer, a pair of crampons, two ice screws, a pair of boots, four carabiners, four snow stakes, a harness, an oxygen bottle, a mask, a head torch, a pack, a pair of skis and a helmet, from Geoff Bartram, for the Australians in the Himalayas Hall display.

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 48 visits to the repositories, and Museum staff responded to numerous requests for information on the collection.

Visitors to the repositories included researchers, community members and groups, curators from Australian and overseas museums, and donors and their families. Enquiries covered a diverse range of collection items, such as Australian Aboriginal and Pacific Islander material, photographs and documents, and large technology objects.

Some memorable events involving special access to Museum objects included:

  • a tour of the American–Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land (AASEAL) collection for delegates to Barks, Birds & Billabongs: Exploring the Legacy of the 1948 American–Australian Scientific Exhibition to Arnhem Land, a symposium held in November 2009
  • a visit by Eddy Berlage, one of the three original cameramen employed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) at Gore Hill, Sydney, to the ABC van that covered the 1956 Olympic Games
  • a viewing of the Australian Citizenship Quilt by a school group from Harvey Primary School, Western Australia, enabling one of the students to see the panel created by his grandmother.

Managing digital assets at the Museum

The Museum holds over 450,000 digital images, audio, video and interactive works that document objects held in the collection, as well as other Museum activities. These digital works are used by the Museum in exhibitions, on the Museum's website and in print publications. Digital works are also purchased and licensed to other institutions and members of the public. In 2009–10 procurement for an automated digital asset management system (DAMS), to improve administration and access to this material, was completed with a view to implementing the system in 2010–11.

Centre for National Museum of Australia Collections

In accordance with its functions under the National Museum of Australia Act 1980 — to develop and maintain a national collection of historical material — an ongoing strategic priority for the Museum is to develop and plan for collection accommodation, management and preservation needs.

This year, the Museum has continued its forward planning to address collection storage space issues. In the May 2009–10 Budget, the Museum was given approval to progress with a second-stage detailed business case proposal. The proposal investigated three delivery options for a number of design alternatives, including building and owning a new building, or extending existing leased premises.

The Museum is now reviewing how it can best utilise the findings of the proposal in the future.