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The Springfield collection

One family's heritage a part of the National Historical Collection

The National Museum of Australia began discussions about acquiring a rich collection of material from Springfield, a major rural property located about 200 kilometres south of Sydney, in 2004.

Held by descendants of the one family for almost two centuries, the Springfield collection includes more than 2000 objects.

It is one of the largest single collections to come to the National Museum and remains a rich and well-documented record of one family's history and its intersections with the history of the region and the nation.

Jim and Pamela Maple-Brown sitting outside the main Springfield homestead
Jim and Pamela Maple-Brown at the main Springfield homestead. Photo: George Serras.

Door to store: Registration and the Springfield collection video 2013

Patrick Baum, Anne Kelly and Sara Kelly outline work to document, transport, treat, store and display the Springfield collection. Recorded on 18 January 2013, as part of the Door to store: caring for your collection series.

Background

Moving and documenting collections is a core part of the work of the National Museum's Registration team. Working with the Springfield collection brought great challenges and rewards.

The Springfield collection came to the National Museum as one of the largest donations recorded by the Cultural Gifts Program, an Australian Government initiative which encourages gifts to public institutions by offering a tax deduction to donors.

This rich collection traces one family's history over more than 170 years, linked to the development of the Springfield property, near Goulburn in New South Wales.

Springfield is a pioneering merino sheep station, established in the 1820s by William Pitt Faithfull. The property had been held continuously by Faithfull's descendants. However, with merino breeding no longer as economically viable as it once was, the family placed Springfield on the market in late 2004.

William Pitt Faithfull's great grandchildren, Jim Maple-Brown and Diana Boyd, decided to donate the Springfield collection to the National Museum so that the family's history was kept in the one place.

The National Museum has worked closely with the family to accurately document the collection and to ensure that family members continue to have access to their shared heritage.

Issues

The sheer size of the Springfield collection called for careful planning at both the property where the material was held and its new home at the National Museum.

The National Historical Collection is comprised of more than 200,000 objects and Registration is constantly working to ensure this collection is stored safely and in the best possible conditions. The size of the collection means that storage space is constantly being reviewed to make the best use of the available area.

The variety of objects in the Springfield collection was another challenge. The collection includes a custom-built carriage from the 1880s, more than 450 costumes and accessories, sporting memorabilia, wool samples, children's toys, a stuffed pet parrot, letters, books and photographs.

The Springfield collection also needed to be valued. Under the Cultural Gifts Program every object worth more than $100 must be physically assessed by two approved valuers.

The rich potential for display meant that curators were also keen to access Springfield material, so key objects could be seen by visitors to the National Museum in Canberra.

A collection of objects from the Faithfull Family Museum.
Part of the Faithfull Family Museum. Photo: George Serras.

Approach

The Springfield property is located about 80 kilometres from Canberra. Most of the material donated to the National Museum was stored in the Faithfull Family Museum, two rooms dedicated to family history, in the main homestead. Other objects were kept further afield, in the stables and the woolshed.

One of the great advantages of working with a family with such a keen awareness of its history was that Museum staff were able to conduct several site visits and talk with family members about the significance of individual objects. The family museum included custom-built cupboards for costume storage and carefully written labels which recorded key information.

A team of Registration staff meticulously planned the Springfield pick-up over several months. Staff were seconded to a special Springfield project team and a new portable workroom was purchased to provide a dedicated space for the accessioning, or cataloguing, of the Springfield material when it arrived in Canberra.

A mobile coolroom was brought in to freeze objects, including those made of fabric and wood, to treat possible pest invasion before objects entered the main store.

Four women looking at pink and white striped dress and book.
Registration team members Sharon Foster and Anne Kelly work with vintage clothing experts Margot Riley and Lorraine Foster on valuing a dress from the Springfield collection. Photo: Dragi Markovic.

Registration staff coordinated the actual Springfield pick-up over several weeks. Teams worked simultaneously at Springfield and in Canberra, with a truck and van constantly transporting material between the two.

A range of archival quality, customised storage boxes were ordered in advance so that much of the material was transported in the same manner in which it would eventually be stored at its new home.

Staff documented the collection and bar-coded as they went, working alongside curators and conservators to add and record unique identification codes before the material left the property.

The Museum's Photography team played an important part in capturing the workings of the Springfield property, the Faithfull Family Museum and various objects in the collection.

In Canberra the Registration team added hundreds of detailed object descriptions and reference photographs to a central database, eventually triple-checking the data against the main reference list.

Image compile showing five pairs of ladies shoes at the top and various metallic stencils hanging on a board at the bottom.
Shoes from the Springfield collection and stencils from the Springfield shearing shed. Photos: George Serras.

Results

Legal title to the Springfield collection was granted to the National Museum of Australia when the donation was formally approved by the Cultural Gifts Committee in June 2006.

Work on the Springfield collection continues and Registration is now responsible for helping to ensure its long term care. The team also works to provide access for family members, other Museum staff and researchers.

Photographers have digitised hundreds of historic images and documents from the collection.

Registration team members received Australia Day medallions in 2006 for their work on the Springfield project.

The first material from the collection, which included historic costumes and early surveying equipment, went on show in the National Museum less than a year after the pick-up.

Objects from the Springfield collection are currently on show in the Australian Journeys and Landmarks galleries.

More

audio_w15 Door to store - transporting the Springfield collection to the Museum

audio_w15 'Springfield transformed: family collection into national treasure' with registrar Carol Cooper

'Opening the medicine chest: a tale of two brothers' in the Museum's reCollections journal

pdf From fine wool to high fashion: the story of Miss Faithfull's dress (PDF 322kb) - Friends magazine, vol. 21, no. 1, March 2010

pdf 'The Springfield medicine chest' (PDF 366kb) - Friends magazine, vol. 18, no. 2, June 2007

pdf 'Springfield settles in' (PDF 600kb) - Friends magazine, vol. 17, no. 3, Sep 2006

pdf 'The Springfield collection: an exemplary cultural gift' (PDF 450kb) - Friends magazine, vol. 16, no. 1, Mar 2005