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Conservation at the National Museum




Royal Daimler

The Royal Daimler

Support the Royal Daimler Project to make this historic car fit for a Queen again. Track the progress and discuss with conservators at the National Museum of Australia.

View the Royal Daimler Project

The Conservation team is primarily concerned with the physical care of objects when they are in storage, on display, or on loan to other museums. This involves treating individual objects, as well as ensuring that collections are stored and used in the safest ways possible.

Conservation at the National Museum is organised into two program areas: Exhibitions and Treatment and Collections and Research.

The Conservation team consists of technical officers and specialist conservators with expert knowledge of organic and inorganic materials including paper, wood, textiles, plastics and metal.

Close-up of two hands extending into the image from the left side. The thumbs are pointing upwards holding onto the side of the canvas of a painting. A small part of the surface is visible and contains white and red dots on a black background.
A conservator adjusts the tension on an Aboriginal painting being mounted for display. Photo: Andrew Sheargold.

The Conservation team also researches the identification and control of deterioration, and authentication studies.

A key area of research and study is the development of sustainable ways of managing large collections into the future.

Museum conservators are involved in community programs such as the National Library of Australia's Community Heritage Grants scheme. They also participate in training conservators for the University of Canberra's Bachelor of Cultural Heritage Conservation and the Canberra Institute of Technology's Certificate in Museum Practice.

The professional association for conservators in Australia is the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials.

Conservation case studies

Go behind the scenes to explore some of the Museum's conservation projects through this rich collection of images showing various objects being prepared for exhibition and storage.

Conservation case studies

A very large painting mounted on a wood frame is at the centre of this image. The painting faces the floor and is being raised from the floor by people on the left of the painting pulling on strings attached to the frame. Four people kneel along the bottom edge of the painting which is on the left side of the image. Three are standing and manipulating the strings. On the right side of the image, five people support the top of the painting. Three others are taking photographs.
Conservators and other museum professionals install Big Yam Dreaming by Emily Kame Kngwarreye for an exhibition in Japan. Photo: Benita Tunks.

Exhibitions and treatment

The National Museum's Exhibitions and Treatment team undertake conservation treatments on objects selected for exhibition and loan.

The team is also actively involved in the preventive conservation program and participates in research projects.

Typical duties include:

  • condition reporting and treating individual objects
  • assessing exhibition needs of individual objects
  • advising on exhibition design
  • installing and deinstalling exhibitions
  • advising on storage of objects and collections
  • conducting research
  • documenting treatments and entering the information into the Museum's collections management database.
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 mount a dress from the Springfield collection on a mannequin. Photo: Lannon Harley.

Collections and research

The National Museum's Collections and Research team run the preventive conservation program, which is concerned with:

  • overall environmental conditions in the storage and exhibitions areas
  • collections emergency preparedness
  • the management of insect pests and rodents.

The team also undertakes cyclical maintenance of objects including the paddle steamer Enterprise, the 2000-plus wet biological specimens in the MacKenzie collection and the AE Smith collection of musical instruments.

Typical duties include:

  • undertaking pest and hazard checks on objects
  • monitoring storage and environmental conditions
  • pest management
  • motor vehicle maintenance and servicing.
One man wearing a white coat and gloves sits side-on in the centre of this image, looking into a telescope. To his left a computer screen displays a section of brass plate, stamped with the letters 'ICHH'. A second man stands behind the first, viewing the computer screen.
National Museum senior conservator David Hallam and senior curator Matthew Higgins view the Leichhardt plate. Photo: Dragi Markovic.

Conservation research at the National Museum is focused on developing more sustainable ways of storing and exhibiting collections. Research also includes non-destructive analysis of materials and authentication studies.

The research program includes:

  • investigation into light-fastness of dyes and pigments
  • development of experimental lighting guidelines for objects on exhibition
  • development of non-toxic corrosion inhibitors for metals conservation
  • investigation into sustainable ways of managing collections, particularly the use of risk assessment and management methodologies.
The Fowler steam engine towers over Peter Bucke and Ian Cramer as they perform maintenance work
Conservators Peter Bucke and Ian Cramer work on the Fowler steam engine. Photo: Dragi Markovic.

Conservation videos and audio

The Conservation team consists of technical officers and specialist conservators with expert knowledge of organic and inorganic materials. In the video below National Museum conservator Peter Bucke talks about conservation.

Video iconPeter Bucke on conservation (MP4 5.3mb) duration 3:04

Caring for your Collection

On Friday 16 November 2012 as part of the Museum Workshop exhibition , the Conservation team held a practical demonstration on how to care for the special medals, trophies and silverware that you have at home. Our experts highlighted the tricks of looking after these objects, including cleaning and storing them in your home.

audio_w15Listen to the audio and read the transcript on caring for medals and trophies

On Friday 11 January 2013 as part of the Museum Workshop exhibition , our Conservation team demonstrated how to care for wedding dresses and photo albums and gave plenty of practical tips on looking after your own precious items.

audio_w15Listen to the audio and read the transcript on caring for paper and textiles

On Thurseay 14 March 2013 as part of the Glorious Days: Australia 1913 exhibition, the Conservation team demonstrate some of the principles of caring for hats and shoes, and in particular objects on display in the Glorious Days: Australia 1913 exhibition, that you can apply to caring for your private collection at home.

audio_w15 Listen to the audio and read the transcription on caring for hats and shoes

Cover of the Metal 04 International Conference proceedings

Conservation conference

Metal 04 was held in Canberra, Australia at the National Museum of Australia, 4–8 October 2004.

Organised by the National Museum of Australia, the conference brought together metals conservators from over 20 countries. The 40 papers presented in these preprints illustrate the development of the conservation and restoration of metals from a variety of perspectives and regions and of 92 authors.

Read the proceedings of the Metal 04 International Conference on Metals Conservation online


Follow these links for more information about the conservation profession, courses and programs.