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Developing the gallery

Developing the gallery

Share insights into the development of Landmarks: People and Places across Australia, from its conception in 2008 to its opening in 2011. Go Behind the scenes to learn more about object conservation, installation and the preparation of multimedia material. 

Audio programs

Detail from Chinese princess costume.

Talks by curators on their research into key objects on show in Landmarks.

Download Landmarks curator's talks

Landmarks blog

Detail from Brisbane Stock Exchange boards.

Reflections on gallery development, content and objects, in 2010 and 2011.

Read the Landmarks blog

Field work

A boab tree in Sturt Creek country.

A collection of images from curatorial visits to places across Australia.

Landmarks field work images on the Museum's Flickr site 

Exhibition design

Installing the giant Griffin puppets in the Landmarks gallery.

Early gallery graphics from Cunningham Martyn Design.

See the concept design visualisations

2009-10 gallery development updates

A summary of earlier work across the Museum on the Landmarks gallery. 

May 2010

This month, staff across the Museum continued to work with Cunningham Martyn Design to refine the documentation drawings for the gallery and the Exhibitions and Facilities teams assessed submissions from companies tendering to 'fit out' the new gallery according to these drawings. This work, scheduled to commence in July, includes modifications to the existing building and the fabrication and installation of display furniture.

Registration, Curatorial and Conservation staff continued to work with Thylacine to assess the mount or display furniture required for each object. This process involves a careful examination of each object and the production of design drawings for each mount. These drawings are approved by the Museum departments before Thylacine starts to fabricate them. Most of the objects will be fitted to their mounts as they are installed in the gallery.

The Multimedia and Curatorial teams finalised the selection of companies to work with the Museum to produce audio-visual and digital interactive elements of the gallery.

No. 3 Lanham Street, a Queenslander house built in Brisbane in the 1880s.
No. 3 Lanham Street, a Queenslander house built in Brisbane in the 1880s. Photo: Daniel Oakman.

Canberra firms Bearcage and Eye Candy will work on, respectively, audio-visual installations and a short animated film telling the story of No 3. Lanham Street in Bowen Hills in Brisbane.

Lightwell, based in Sydney, will create aerial footage of Brisbane for a large-scale projection and develop and design a multi-touch interactive 'table' exploring the history of pastoralism in Australia.

Other producers include Icelab, working on interactives for the Flemington and Port Macquarie exhibits, and Tasmanian based company Roar who will produce an interactive for the Sunshine exhibit.

The locksmith inserts a blank key in order to gain an impression of the cut of the lock.
The locksmith inserts a blank key in order to gain an impression of the cut of the lock. Photo: Melanie Forward.

Registration, Conservation and Curatorial staff continued to investigate the objects which will be displayed in Landmarks.

Curator Anne-Marie Conde and Conservator Melanie Forward worked on a particularly intriguing problem this month, trying to open a nineteenth century strong box.

The box, used to transport bullion from the New South Wales gold fields was locked when it came to the Museum. Anne-Marie and Melanie have been working with a number of expert locksmiths to try to discover what is inside.

Read more about the bullion box mystery

A close-up of the face of the Blaxland clock.
A close-up of the face of the Blaxland clock. Photo: Lannon Harley.

Other conservators completed treatments. Peter Bucke returned to working order an elaborate early nineteenth century mantle clock brought to Australia by the wealthy Blaxland family; and Melanie Forward completed her work on Ben Chifley's chair.

Read more about the Blaxland clock

Watch Peter Bucke as he reassembles the clock

See the transformation of Ben Chifley's chair

The Curatorial team spent much of the month glued to their computers, editing and refining exhibition text. Text and images are drafted and identified for each module, and then passed on to the Publishing section for further editing and to the Copyright and Reproductions department who sources and secures permission to use images from institutional archives and private photographers.

April 2010

With gallery documentation complete, the Museum's Exhibitions staff spent much of this month preparing and issuing the invitation for companies to tender for 'primary works' in Landmarks and the 'secondary fitout' of the gallery. This work involves modifications to the gallery's existing built structures, and fabrication of the display elements such as graphic consoles and internal walls.

The Museum also appointed Thylacine to assess, design and fabricate mounts, or supports, for the gallery's objects. A series of meetings started during April and continuing in the coming months brought together Thylacine staff and the Museum's Conservation, Registration and Curatorial staff to consider the best way to display each object. These discussions balance interpretive and aesthetic aims with the need to adequately secure objects and protect their safety. This can be very challenging when objects are particularly heavy, fragile or composed of many parts.

The Museum also appointed ADS Solutions/Click Systems to supply the showcases for Landmarks, and work began on assessing the design documentation drawings to enable showcase fabrication.

A view of a large mining excavator bucket being prepared for lifting off a semi-trailer. At the left-hand side of the image is a large yellow crane, facing the semi-trailer. The bucket faces the rear of the semi-trailer, which is at the left-hand side of the image. A man has climbed up a ladder positioned at the front of the bucket and is attaching chains from the crane. A second man is at the base of the ladder, steadying it for the other man.
Unloading the Rio Tinto bucket.
Photo: Daniel Oakman.

This month, the Curatorial and Multimedia teams worked to assess quote and tender documents relating to the development and production of the gallery's digital interactives and audiovisual elements. The Media Services team finalised specifications for multimedia hardware in the gallery. A key task this month was to decide on the best way to deliver sound associated with audiovisual elements. Speakers broadcasting sound ensure a group of visitors can engage simultaneously with an audiovisual piece, but also tend to create 'sound spill' in to a larger area. Sound wands or headphones contain sound within a defined space, but also limit the numbers of visitors who can share an audiovisual experience. They also take a lot of maintenance!

The Curatorial, Photography and Exhibitions staff worked on developing a program of location photography which will proceed over the coming months to generate images of all the places featured in Landmarks. These images will be used in exhibition graphics, in digital interactives and in the gallery's Introductory Area audiovisual presentation.

Landmarks objects continued to arrive at the Museum's Mitchell repository. The most notable arrival this month was a 15.2 tonne 'bucket' from a backhoe rock shovel excavator used at an iron ore mine in the Pilbara of Western Australia. The bucket was donated to the Museum by mining company Rio Tinto and will feature in the Mt Tom Price exhibit, together with iron ore from the Pilbara, material relating to mining magnate Lang Hancock and artwork reflecting Indigenous perspectives on mining in the region.

View the arrival of the Rio Tinto bucket

March 2010

Cunningham Martyn Design completed documentation of Landmarks this month, and various sections of the Museum carefully checked all the detailed drawings of the gallery. For the Curatorial, Registration and Conservation teams, this meant analysing each proposed display, ensuring that every object was correctly positioned, oriented and allied with an appropriate 'mount' or support structure. Other sections of the Museum, such as Facilities, Multimedia and Media Services carefully assessed drawings of lighting and electrical services and provision for multimedia elements.

With documentation complete, the Exhibitions section prepared detailed information calling for companies to tender for contracts to build new architectural elements in the gallery, to supply showcases and complete the carpentry and finishing work involved in fabricating graphic consoles and other furniture elements.

Multimedia staff worked with the curators to finalise the first set of documentation calling for tenders and quotations for production of multimedia pieces for the gallery.

Melanie Forward unwrapping the calico cover from the chair.
Conservator Melanie Forward unwraps the calico cover from Ben Chifley's chair. Photo: Lannon Harley.

Collections held in private and other museum collections which have been borrowed for Landmarks continue to arrive at the Museum. Upon arrival, Registration and Conservation staff assess each object to determine its condition and identify any required treatment before preparation for display. Objects arriving this month included personal items relating to Jeannie Gunn, author of We of the Never Never, bricks from the Sunshine Harvester Works in Victoria, and a school bell from Robe Primary School in South Australia.

In consultation with the curators, Conservation staff also continued work on the Museum's National Historical Collection. This month saw extensive treatment of an armchair used by Prime Minister Ben Chifley in his rooms at the Hotel Kurrajong in Canberra. The chair was kept by the Australian Labor Party because it was reputed to be one of Chifley's favourites and was donated to the National Museum during the 1980s.

Explore the treatment of Ben Chifley's armchair

February 2010

The Nation gallery closed at the beginning of February to make way for Landmarks. Objects were carefully removed, checked and transported to the Museum's collection store. The larger installations, graphics and showcases were then de-installed. Careful work ensured the successful dismantling of the Museum's replica Federation Arch. It will be kept for future displays and as a record of the interpretive style used in Nation.

See some moments from the Nation gallery de-installation

Curatorial staff concentrated this month on editing text for the exhibition graphics and worked extensively with Multimedia staff to finalise the detailed content for Landmarks' digital interactives. Through these elements, visitors will be able to explore the people and places of Flemington on Melbourne Cup day, follow a nineteenth century astronomer during a night observing the stars and have a go at persuading a herd of shorthorn cattle to climb on board a transport ship at Derby, Western Australia.
Conservator Carmela Mollica removes the adhesive residue from the double-sided tape used to adhere the jockey silks to a backing board before placing them into a frame.
Conservator Carmela Mollica working on Makybe Diva jockey silks worn by Glen Boss. Photo: George Serras.

The Museum appointed Thylacine to develop Landmarks' mechanical interactives and the Curatorial and Exhibitions staff began discussions with the company's designers to develop these elements.

The most challenging of these projects involves the construction of a working scale model of the Kenya station windmill featuring in the gallery; and the creation of a 'puzzle' in which visitors figure out the steps in the construction of the Museum's 1911 Sunshine Harvester.

Read more about the Sunshine harvester

Conservation staff continued to prepare objects for display in the gallery. This work involved treatment of two historic jockeys silks: a twentieth century set in the Croatian/Australian colours of Tony Santic, owner of three-time Melbourne Cup winner Makybe Diva; and a nineteenth century set in the colours of William Forrester, owner of Gaulus and The Grafter who won the Melbourne Cup in 1897 and 1898 respectively.

See conservators Carmella Mollica and Deb Spoehr working on the Santic and Forrester jockey silks

December 2009–January 2010

The Christmas and New Year period was busy for the gallery team. Museum Marketing, Curatorial and Executive staff held workshops in December to develop a new name for Creating a Country. After much discussion it was decided that the gallery will open as Landmarks: People and Places across Australia.

The final developed design drawings were signed off and the gallery project passed into the documentation phase. For the design team, documentation involves producing very precise drawings of each aspect of the gallery. These will be used to produce the construction drawings for new stairs, showcases and plinths to support objects.

Exhibitions staff coordinated the de-install of the Nation gallery and concentrated on developing tender documents for different aspects of gallery construction. The Museum will soon begin to work with different companies involved in the construction of various aspects of the new gallery, including mechanical interactives, exhibition furniture and new flooring and electrical services.

Lanscape image of two parallel sets of railway tracks extending to the horizon. Overhead lines run either side of the tracks. The horizon ends in clear blue sky. Several green trees are visible beside the tracks on the the left of the image.
Part of the longest straight stretch of railway in the world. Photo: Isa Menzies.

Curatorial and Multimedia staff continued work on developing content for the gallery's audiovisual and digital interactive pieces.

Staff also worked on writing and editing text for the exhibition graphics, and on further research. Curator Isa Menzies took a train ride across the continent to understand the experience of rail travel for the module she is developing on the Trans-Australian Railway.

See all Isa's Trans-Australian Railway images on Flickr

Conservation and Photography staff also continued work on the Museum's collections identified for the new gallery. Objects treated in preparation for display in the new gallery included a panorama of Melbourne painted in the mid-nineteenth century and the racing silks worn by jockey Glen Boss in 2004 during the second of Makybe Diva's record-breaking three Melbourne Cup wins.

November 2009

The final developed design drawings for the gallery were reviewed by Curatorial, Registration, Conservation, Facilities and exhibition project management staff. These drawings include detailed layout specifications for all open plinths and showcases, as well as plans identifying changes to the building, lighting grids and features such as carpet and wall colours. This involved a meticulous assessment of the position of each of the objects identified for the gallery. Other important considerations were also taken into account, such as whether the 'knuckle boom' — machinery used to maintain the lights in the gallery — could actually fit between the proposed showcases.

Multimedia and Curatorial staff also took on one of the hardest jobs in developing the exhibition; bringing the list of audiovisual and multimedia experiences proposed for the gallery into line with the available budget. There are always more good ideas than funds, so considerable time was spent investigating costs and how each proposal might contribute to the visitors' experience in the gallery. A short list was decided after long discussions. Work will now continue on detailing the content and developing documents for design and development.

An ornate sterling silver cup with a central engraving and coat of arms.
The cup presented to police magistrate James Simpson. Photo: Jason McCarthy.

Registration began discussions with people and institutions across Australia who are lending the Museum objects for the exhibition. A number of objects have been requested from museums in the United States and in Great Britain and these complex loans require the negotiation of many details such as transportation, security, insurance and plans for display.

The Museum's photographers started documenting collections identified for the gallery and worked closely with conservators to ensure the objects were looking their best before pictures were taken.

Several collections recently acquired by the Museum and planned for display in Landmarks: People and Places across Australia arrived at the Museum's collections store. This included an 1833 silver cup presented to police magistrate James Simpson Esq, and a letter and specks of gold sent by JD, 'a digger', to a Mrs Thornycroft in 1867 with his 'fervent' good wishes.

October 2009

The first batch of showcase layout drawings arrived early this month from Cunningham Martyn Design. Museum staff have been poring over the drawings with the design team in meetings in Melbourne and Canberra, by phone and on email. So many objects, so many questions! Should the stuffed kangaroo in the Hobart exhibit be keeping a cautious eye on visitors coming down the mezzanine, or peek out from behind a land grant in the centre of the case? How can the exercise books in the Robe display be positioned so they're not in the shadow of a school bell? What kind of mannequin should we use for the Recherche Archipelago wetsuit?

Another design meeting focused on colours and finishes for the gallery. The team spent most of a day choosing tones and textures to appear under large objects displayed on plinths, and discussing the subtle difference between shades of white for the walls. Deciding on something like the colour of a carpet might seem simple, but that one decision can have a huge impact on how visitors perceive the gallery space. The final effect of all these paints, floor coverings and finishes is going to be striking, but visitors will have to wait until the gallery opens to see the final selection!

And finally, planning for the deinstallation of the existing Nation gallery is in full swing. Just as the team is deciding on where the objects and showcases for Landmarks will go, it's also working out how the current objects and cases can be removed to make way for them. Deinstallation of Nation begins in early 2010.

September 2009

Museum staff continued to work with the exhibition design team on developed design. The designers completed the drawing of all the gallery's objects and then concentrated on producing detailed showcase layouts for discussion with curators and Registration and Conservation staff. To assist with this process, the curatorial team identified some 800 graphic panels for the gallery. These panels will carry words and images to tell the stories associated with the objects on display.

Curatorial and multimedia staff continued work on detailing the audio-visual, digital and interactive experiences proposed for the gallery. Curators also began writing interpretive text, and grappled with the question of how to 'frame' each exhibit in the gallery. Landmarks explores life in particular Australian places, and the Museum plans to introduce each place through a key image of that place. But should these images be contemporary or historical? With a bird's eye view or from the perspective of a person looking across the country? Should they feature the people who live in that place, or show emptier landscapes to be populated in a visitor's imagination?

A man stands behind a metal windmill frame. He holds rubber mallet in one hand, and a steel fan in the other.
Conservator Ainslie Greiner works on the Kenya windmill. Photo: Lannon Harley.

The Museum's Conservation staff focused this month on preparing some of the big objects to go on display in the gallery.

They re-assembled a large windmill from Kenya station, north of Longreach in Queensland, in one of the Museum's conservation laboratories.

The test assembly enables the Museum to explore preservation options for the windmill (clean the Queensland dirt off or keep it on?), how to put the windmill together and how to mount it in the gallery.

See the Kenya windmill conservation slideshow

August 2009

Curators, registrars, conservators and the exhibition designers met to begin the next phase of gallery development work, developed design. Developed design involved planning the positioning of each of the gallery's 1500 objects in a showcase or on a plinth. Talking this through took three weeks! Over the next couple of months, the design team will draw up each object, and place them into an overall exhibit layout alongside labels and graphic panels, multimedia, images and mechanical interactives.

The Museum also ran a series of workshops for some of the large and complex multimedia pieces proposed for the gallery. These drew on the creativity of two external multimedia consultants, the Museum's multimedia staff, curators and members of the Museum's Education, Public Programs, and Visitor Services teams.

July 2009

The Museum received and approved the concept design for the gallery from exhibition designers Cunningham Martyn Design. This 80-page document includes plans showing the layout of the gallery, as well as 3D renderings and proposed colours for the walls and exhibition furniture. It also includes samples of finishes for plinths and carpets, sample drawings showing how the objects will be displayed in the showcases, and designs for the exhibition graphics.

The exhibition designers also visited the Museum's Mitchell stores to view and measure some of the large objects that will appear in the gallery. They met with members of the Conservation, Curatorial and Registration teams to talk through questions including how the Holden Prototype's bonnet might safely be held open to allow visitors to see the engine and the best way to reveal the complex wiring and circuitry of the 1960s SNOCOM, or Snowy Mountains, computer.

June 2009

A woman stands looking at a large green telescope.
A digital visualisation showing the proposed placement of a telescope in the gallery.

The Museum worked with the exhibition designers on pre-concept designs for the gallery. This included high-level mapping of objects, cases, exhibition furniture and interpretative elements to the floor plan. Various layout options, the available real estate and expected visitor flow through the gallery were assessed.

View some of the 3D visualisations from the concept design

Meantime, Curatorial and Registration staff continued to confirm objects for inclusion in the exhibition, and to negotiate loan agreements for objects to be borrowed from institutions and individuals across Australia. The Conservation team began preparing objects for display, starting with those that are really big, such as Nowland's 1880s mail coach and the Holden Prototype Car No. 1.

February 2009

Earlier this year the Curatorial team delivered workbooks for each of the 10 exhibition modules. The workbooks document and organise the exhibition research and content as it is developed. They allow curators to communicate the exhibition's content to the designers, fabricators, multimedia producers and other National Museum team members working to produce the exhibition.

Each workbook includes a description of the exhibit, and detailed information relating to the storylines and interpretive elements including proposed objects, media and interactives. The workbooks also outline related programs and activities planned for the gallery.