Skip to content
  • Open today 9am–5pm
  • Free general admission

Joanne Bach and Jonathan Lineen, National Museum of Australia, 7 May 2015

JOANNE BACH: I am Jo Bach and I am one of the curators that worked on The Home Front exhibition. This is Jono Lineen who assisted me ably in the development of said exhibition. We’re going to chat to you today about the exhibition and how it came to be.

Exhibitions have quite a long gestation period. The ideas surface at various points prompted by a variety of things. The idea for this exhibition was obviously the looming centenary of the First World War and the centenary of the landing at Gallipoli. The idea, I think, first started circulating probably in 2011-2012. Neither Jono nor I were working on the project at that time. It is interesting that, quite often because of the length of time it takes for an exhibition to get from idea to opening, there will be a change of personnel on the project. But I think Jono and I both came onto the project when the fun started, which we’ll talk about as we go through.

The project starts with research, with thinking about what the National Museum has to offer, and with this project we were always very mindful that what we had to offer necessarily had to be very different from what the War Memorial would offer, because they would be the venue that everyone would go to for all the information about the First World War conflict and the fighting specifically. The National Museum decided that we would focus on the home front, taking a biographical approach to personalise the experiences of Australians during the First World War. I am going to hand over to Jono now, who’s going to have a chat to you about how we got to the point of having our 23 people featured in the exhibition.

JONATHAN LINEEN: Story selection: the first thing to keep in mind is that we are the National Museum of Australia. So we have to look at the big themes, the national themes. We are not Museum Victoria. If you were to see their World War I show right now, of course it is only with Victorians. We are not the Migration Museum or the Jewish Museum or the Maritime Museum, we are the National Museum so we have to look at the big picture.

The research showed us there were particular times during the four- to five-year period that really resonate with people. One would be that imperial energy at the start of the war with the focus on nationalism and British Empire imperialism. Then was the time when casualties started to come back from the Middle East and Europe and the slow changes in people’s buoyant energy. The conscription referendum in 1916 and 1917 were key moments in Australian history, as was labour unrest which increased during the First World War. The Catholic/Protestant divide is a key area. Male/female roles - what were they during the war? And, of course, politics, because that four-year period was a particularly tumultuous time in Australian politics. These are areas that we have to cover through these biographical sketches that we are trying to dig up.

Then through the research we got around 70 stories that dealt with those topics. Those stories, those events, are the typical dots along the timeline for Australian history for that period of time. But what we found also is that Australians have a fairly one-dimensional view of the First World War. A lot of people believe that what happened in Europe and the Middle East directly affected Australia, and that’s the way the history developed. But it’s much more complex and nuanced than that, because over 95 per cent of the population were here in Australia. Politics was still occurring in Australia. Entertainment and education was still happening here in Australia. So we had to be able to tell the stories of not just famous people - Billy Hughes and Bob Menzies - but not so famous everyday people like Alice Yoxon and the Ngarrindjeri Anzacs. We also wanted to be able to tell stories of innovation and science, sport and the arts, because these are areas that everybody was involved in.

With those historical points and those themes in mind, we were able to generate about 70 different stories - and that’s a lot of stories. We knew right away from just the physical space of the Studio Gallery where the exhibition is right now that there is really only room in such a space for 20 to 25 stories, so we had to cut a lot of those stories back. That’s very typical. You always have way more stories than you actually need in relation to an exhibition because of the culling process. The culling process takes quite a while - it takes between six months and a year for an exhibition this size. The first line of inquiry and questioning around each story is: How do we display that story in a museum environment? As a museum we are telling stories in a three-dimensional environment. We are not writing a book or making a film; we need objects to tell those stories. The first rule is: if there is no object, there is no story for us.

A good example of that would be Ben Chifley, one of Australia’s most famous prime ministers, who was very active during the First World War. He was a train driver up in Bathurst and was involved in the great strike of 1917, and decisions that were made during that time for him affected his political career for the next 40 years. We looked high and low for an object relating to Ben Chifley during that time and couldn’t find any so we had to drop a really fantastic story because we don’t really have a way to tell it in the Museum.

Then we have to look at the availability of objects. If we have an object in relation to a particular story in our collection, the National Historical Collection, then that makes it much easier for us to tell that story. It moves the story up the hierarchy. If we have to go outside and try to loan an object from an external institution like Museum Victoria or the Powerhouse or the Ballarat Historical Society, then that creates difficulties for us and the story might move down the hierarchy.

We also have to look at the quality of the object in relation to the quality of the story. An example would be Adela Pankhurst who was very active during the First World War in the pacifist movement, in the suffragette movement, in the unionist movement. It was a great story for us, but the only object we could find in relation to her was a petition that was circulating in relation to her imprisonment during that time. That is what we call in the Museum a flat object. We don’t really like flat objects in the Museum. Across the lake in the archives, that’s their specialty. We want three-dimensional objects. But Adela Pankhurst’s story was so strong that we decided to go with that object to tell the story. And actually it did work out because her husband was Tom Walsh, who was a unionist, and fortunately we got a fantastic object in relation to Tom Walsh, which is the huge trade union banner. So the two of these objects together telling the story really worked well.

Also there is the availability of objects. Because so many institutions across Australia were planning exhibitions and events in relation to the centenary, a lot of these objects we might have wanted were unavailable because they had already been asked for by other institutions. A lot of an exhibition curator’s job is marrying up good objects with good stories. Once you have that in place, then things really start to move along.

But the other thing you really need to help people get to the core theme of the exhibition is a good structure. That was another big part of our decision-making process - about a year ago now. We had to decide how were we going to tell this overall story. There are different narrative structures that you can use in a museum environment, such as chronological structure, and that is very common. If you go up to the War Memorial and go to their new World War I galleries, which are very well done, you will see a great example of a chronological structure. At the National Museum here, we have used place-based structures quite well. If you went to the Landmarks gallery you would see a fantastic example of place-based structure to tell Australian history and culture from post-contact times.

However, because this was a biographically based exhibition, we wanted to get to the core of those individuals’ stories. The way that people really connect with the story is through emotion. So we decided to go for an emotionally based structure. What does that mean and what kind of emotions are we going to use? We used a psychological tool that was developed by an American psychologist called Robert Plutchik, which is an emotional wheel that kind of looks like a colour wheel. On it are eight primary emotions and then secondary emotions moving out from that, and they are contrasting emotions.

One of our big jobs about 12 months ago was to take the stories that we had selected, 24 stories at that point, and give them a primary emotion. That’s a completely arbitrary process, because all of these stories include many, many emotions. For example, the Ngarrindjeri Anzac story is a story we have classified as one based on pride, but of course there is joy and sorrow involved in that too. What we wanted to do with this structure was help people break out of that one-dimensional historical view of World War I and we think that that helped people to do that.

Once you have a story selection and a narrative structure, the next phase is to create a three-dimensional design to tell those stories. Jo is going to talk about that now.

JO BACH: For me I find the design phase of a project the most exciting. This is when all the thinking that you have been doing and the ideas that you have had start to become real and you can start to see how the exhibition might appear in the space.

This was also the time that I started on the project not long after Jono had started. The designers had already been contracted, and I think they were a little nervous a new curator coming onto the project would basically throw all the cards up in the air and make them start again. I was very mindful about what we could change and the direction I thought the exhibition should head in. The exhibition was really in good shape, and it was just at that fine-tuning point. That is a point that you have in any project, whether you are on that project long term or not.

The first phase of the design project is what we call concept design. It’s really about the curators and the designers agreeing on a vision for the exhibition. This is one of the first drawings that we got [image shown]. It’s really what we refer to as a mud map of the exhibition, plonking things in space and seeing how they might relate to each other. What is interesting about this is in a way this tracks our thinking through the process.

Once the designers are on board, it’s not a clear production line in an exhibition. Things work to and fro. We feed off what the designers say; they feed off what we have - we are currently still looking for new objects or interesting objects. So all of this is happening at the same time. [image shown] What you can see on this slide here are the five emotions we had when the designers came on board. For those of you that have been into the exhibition, you will see that we have - what I like to say - refined them somewhat, because in the way that you try to come up with this stuff, your first ideas are not always necessarily the best.

Two emotions for me were particularly problematic. One in its titling which was just suffering, and we felt that sorrow was a much broader term and it touched on a breadth of experience. The other one was anger. I felt that that actually did quite a disservice to these people who were grouped under there because I think while they may have been seen to be angry, what they were was passionate in their views. They would perhaps have described themselves more as passionate than angry. That was where we were at when the designers came on board.

One thing that this does show, which did translate throughout the exhibition, is that pride is sitting in the centre of the other emotions. That was a response to the briefing from the curators. We felt it was a central emotion and it was something that pretty much ran through the exhibition and ran through the home front experience. The designers respond to our conceptual ideas in that pride is central so they make it physically central in the exhibition space.

[image shown] This is the next stage which we talk about - developed design. You can see that we now have wall structures; we have designated showcases; we have the emotions as we have decided on them. It’s a further refinement and clarifying of our vision.

One of the things we do talk about in the exhibition is: what order do we put the themes in? We talk about them as themes when we are developing the content, but when we get to this point, we start to talk about them as modules because they exist physically. So if I use ‘theme’ and ‘module’ during this discussion they are interchangeable because they go from a concept to a physical structure.

We did talk about the order. There was an idea that perhaps sorrow should be the last theme encountered. For those of you who have been into the exhibition, you can really go either way, and personally I don’t think it matters which order you engage with the stories. You can meander through; you can double back. What actually decided the positioning for sorrow was partly the space - it’s got quite a low ceiling height in there - so we needed to have showcase structures and objects that would fit under there. But also conceptually it works quite nicely that it’s a little bit out of the way and tucked towards the back so it does give you a little bit of space from the other stories and emotions.

[image shown] You will see in the wonder module there is a curved structure. It’s up in the top middle of this picture. This is where designers and budgets don’t meet. Designers love curves; builders hate them. Budgets don’t go very well with curved walls either. This was really driven by our designer. She was desperate to have a curved wall in there. We let her have her head for a while but eventually money spoke and we said, ‘We can’t afford a curved wall.’

The other thing we also had to lose because of budget was one of our stories. Jono mentioned briefly before that we whittled it down to 24 stories. We had a great story, which will hopefully be coming to a Journeys showcase in the next 12 months. That’s another thing of how we sometimes whittle down and refine an exhibition - the decisions are not always our decisions and they are not always made with glad hearts; they are made with practical hats and bean counters behind us.

The other element to design is graphic design. The graphic designer and the exhibition designer work very closely and also work very closely with us as the curatorial team. Our graphic designer always seemed to go above and beyond what we had asked her for. She loved the images we had selected; she liked the idea; she was engaged; and you can see that through the work that she delivered. [image shown] This was a very early idea of hers of what the colour pallette might be in the exhibition. She drew the colour pallette from the flag based on that idea of pride being the central emotion. We also had a couple of flags nominated to be displayed in that area. So she took that notion and developed her colour pallette from that. Sometimes working with a graphic designer you might just get a couple of boxes on a page but with our graphic designer we got this - a big wall that she mocked up.

When we were installing the exhibition one of the people who works for the company that prints all these graphics muttered to me, ‘She used ten different shades of red. Why couldn’t she just use one.’ We agree with our graphic designer that the ten shades of red are pretty spectacular in that space. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered if we had just used one, but I think she has done quite a good job with that.

The other thing that the graphic designer does is develop a typography, which adds to the look and the feel of the exhibition. What she drew her inspiration from were the newspaper articles of the day as well as newspaper fonts and newspaper styles. What you can see here is the text on the left which was our original working title for the exhibition: what did you do in the war? That’s why those words are there. That’s what she was basing her work on. She was messing around seeing how those words would fit with the fonts that she had chosen.

In the way that I just mentioned before about exhibitions not being production lines, in concert with the design work that’s going on are discussions about exhibition titles. This is a discussion we have with every exhibition. We don’t ever seem to make it easier on ourselves. Everyone has an opinion. But we did feel that ‘What did you do in the war’ was a bit long and clunky and probably a little bit obscure. What we hope to do with our exhibition titles is communicate to people that see a poster in a café in Canberra and go, ‘I know what I will get when I go to see that exhibition.’ We did have a couple of options that we tested on various visitors who were bailed up by our visitor hosts. We ended up with a very simple title which really does tell you what it’s about - The Home Front.

Back to the graphic designer’s typography and selection of fonts, for those of you who have spent any time on Trove, hopefully you can see some of those newspaper elements in here - the double lines, the dividing up of text into blocks, different types of fonts. I think at that point they had discovered all the fonts and newspaper editors did like to use as many fonts as they possibly could, so that translated through into our exhibition text.

One of the things for me with this process is that the design didn’t change all that much from that very first concept design through to what we have in the space. I wasn’t really surprised by anything much. Sometimes when you walk into a space when it’s being built you’re a bit shocked and think, ‘I didn’t think it was going to look like that,’ and it pretty much did. I have been wondering why that is. There’s a couple of things because sometimes exhibition designs can change drastically as you go through the process. The size of the space and the restrictions that we had limited what we could do in the space and limited how many variations the designer could come up with. The other thing was that, by the time Jono and I came on board, I think we knuckled down and focused the exhibition content. It was always very clear. We had a very clear idea of where we were going and the designers were on the same path with us. So that meant for us a very simple design process.

One other element in the exhibition is multimedia. You will see up on the walls there [image shown] and for those of you who have been into the galleries, these large - we call them - guinea pig shaped blobs on the wall and we are screening a series of photographs from the front on them. This was actually an idea from the designer who thought that it would be good to introduce the war, because this really is what is overshadowing life on the home front. The exhibition is daily life but in the background of that daily life is this war. It is hanging over everyone. It is casting a shadow on Australia. I think it’s a testament to the designer that we had that she connected and she had such a great idea. I am really pleased that we were able to incorporate it into the exhibition because I think it adds something that we probably wouldn’t have come up with ourselves.

Finally, I have had a couple of questions from people who have asked: Why is there no music in the exhibition? Did you think about incorporating music from the era? I have to confess that I didn’t think of it at the time. I was actually quite excited about working with silent film. Sound in exhibitions is always problematic. We have trouble getting the levels right. The levels might be great when you are in there. If you are in there with a lot of people, the sound level might be right. But if that empties out and it’s just you in the exhibition, the audio levels are way too high. Or the other thing is you get a group of schoolkids come in and you can’t hear what’s going on because of all the other surrounding sound. So silent film for me made my job a bit easier.

But the other thing Jono and I were talking about was that, in a way, if you are in that space at the moment with only a few visitors, it’s very, very quiet. The downside to that is that it might feel a bit uncomfortable. There is not a lot of ambience. The upside is that you could argue that that silence creates a contemplative space and a space for the visitor to engage with the stories and to absorb the stories. I am going to leave that to you to be the judge. If you haven’t already seen the exhibition or you will be going back to see the exhibition, please have a think about that notion of audio and think about what you perhaps would have done had you been the curator. Would you have preferred music, some sound, or do you appreciate the silence?

Before we go to questions, Jono and I are going to briefly chat about our favourite stories. Through the course of an exhibition you get to like some of the people that you meet through your research while some you don’t care for much by the end. So we thought we would share with you our favourite people from the exhibition.

JONO LINEEN: I have a few favourite stories, but probably the most favourite story is the story of Hans Overbeck. Hans was a German businessman in Singapore at the start of the war and, because that was a British colony, all the Germans were interned in Singapore. They were held in a prison there. Within six months of being interned there, they had actually been involved in a mutiny of the British Indian Army in Singapore. So the British moved all the German internees to Australia to the area where now Holsworthy Barracks is in western Sydney. That’s where Hans was for a couple of years. Then he got moved up to Trial Bay which is near Kempsey. This picture [image shown] of all the internees standing on this log is the men when they are up in Trial Bay. Hans is the one standing right at the top of the log there.

Hans was such an interesting individual because he was someone who was very passionate; he was someone who had interests far beyond business. He was an amateur entomologist so he collected ants. He collected ants in Australia. We think most likely he collected a lot of his ant specimens when he was out on his firewood collecting expeditions up in Trial Bay. Interestingly, he kept the ants and, after the war when he was repatriated back to Germany, he sent those ants off to a university there where they were identified. There was a series of brand new species that were introduced to the world at that point. So there are a couple of ants that are Overbeck ants.

The other interesting thing about Hans was that he was a linguist. While he was incarcerated he actually translated some very famous Malaysian myths into German, and those are still in publication now in Malaysia. So he was a cosmopolitan well-rounded person. After the war he returned to Germany, although he didn’t want to, and he quickly came back to Indonesia. He retired there in the 1930s and, unfortunately, Hans was in Indonesia when Japan was threatening to invade the country after they had taken over Singapore. The Dutch were the colonial power at that point in time so they imprisoned all the Germans again - so poor Hans got imprisoned yet again in Indonesia. When the Japanese did invade, the Dutch transferred all their German prisoners to British India. However, when those ships containing the prisoners were on their way to Bombay they were actually torpedoed by Japanese planes, and poor Hans was killed when the ship sank. So it’s a tragic story about a very interesting man.

One of the other tragedies about this story is that in writing exhibition text you have a very limited amount of words that you can actually use and there is no way I would be able to convey Hans’s story through 150 to 250 words. But we were very fortunate in that the person that put me on to this story was Professor Bob Taylor. Bob had a particular fascination with Hans Overbeck being an entomologist himself. He got us in contact with the CSIRO. He pointed out to me that there was actually a catalogue, an album of every one of the 5000 German-Australian prisoners in internment camps in during the World War I that was held by the National Archives. We were able to get that.

Then through the CSIRO we were able to get the images of some of the ants that Hans collected in Australia. We got those images digitised and then we were able to work with the multimedia team and get those on to a touch screen computer so that people can go into the exhibition, look at a selection of the ants that Hans collected, and then go to the touch screen and actually magnify those 1000 times. Hans is an incredible story but of course there is incredible objects to tell those stories. That’s probably the main reasons why I like him so much.

JO BACH: And strangely my favourite person came to be Bob Menzies. I was a bit resistant to including Bob in the exhibition. There were external interests at play. But again, in the way of the Chifley story, we didn’t actually have an object to tell the story. For those of you that aren’t familiar, when Menzies became Prime Minister and even as his political career was developing, he did not fight during the First World War and bore the label of being a shirker or someone who avoided doing his duty to country in the First World War. It was a tag that sort of followed him around. It was an interesting story to tell.

But then we found through the family this amazing little silver serving dish, and it’s the story behind this dish that made me rethink about Menzies. I always had this picture of Menzies as the dour Prime Minister in charge for all those years as quite a distant person. But the story in the Menzies family is that there were five children, two eldest boys went away and served; Robert was at university; his sister Isobel and his younger brother were at home. Isobel eloped with a soldier. The family did not approve and cut her off. She became isolated from her family. They didn’t really want to have anything to do with her after she ran away with the soldier. And Bob was actually the only person that kept in contact with her during the war years. He was the point of communication between the family and Isobel.

This silver serving dish was presented to Isobel as a wedding gift by Robert. It’s inscribed ‘Peace greenie’ and Green was her married name. It’s dated 11/11/1918. I am just supposing here - and we have to be careful about the connections we make - but I think it’s probably not too difficult to make that connection between Armistice Day and peace from war to peace within the Menzies family.

I think more kindly of Sir Robert, having learnt that story of him, because I think what it tells us is that the decisions people make at any time of life, but certainly in times of war, are not as straightforward or as simple as we might think they might be. It was never as easy as him choosing to go to war or not choosing to go to war. Life is much more complicated and complex. For me, this story makes a political figure a very human figure, and that’s why it’s my favourite story.

Now we have rabbited on for quite some time, we would like to throw it over to you. Does anyone have any questions?

QUESTION: Thank you, we have enjoyed this very much. I would like to know: was there reconciliation?

JO BACH: Yes, there was and I am sorry I didn’t say that. After the war the family was reconciled. It seems that all was forgiven and the family was reunited - a happy ending. During the First World War there weren’t very many of those, so it’s nice there was one.

QUESTION: I was very pleased that you had included that section about Hans because I think that was a big problem in the First World War, as it was for Japanese people born in Canada who were taken away from their fisheries. It’s sad that Hans ended up being a prisoner again. What an unusual story. How did you find the story?

JONO LINEEN: That is incredible that you mentioned about Japanese being taken away from fisheries in Canada in World War II, because when I was 17 years old I worked on a salmon fishing boat in northern Canada and my skipper was a Japanese man who had been incarcerated during the World War II. The way we found that story was that I read a copy of ANU Reporter and in the magazine was a brief outline of this particular character and it was related to the biological science section at ANU [Australian National University]. I thought this is an incredible story.

We had actually been looking for a story in relation to German Australian incarceration in World War I. The problem had been, as we found across so many of these stories, was that it was really difficult to find objects that could tell these stories. There were some very famous Australians who were imprisoned in these camps during World War I. Edmund Resch, the founder of Resch Breweries and one of the richest men in New South Wales at the time, was imprisoned. The Attorney-General of South Australia was imprisoned. So many people, but we couldn’t find any objects.

Fortunately I got in contact with Bob Taylor. He’s the one who told me, ‘I know where to find a series of the specimens of ants that Overbeck collected in Trial Bay. I can also get you the high resolution pictures. And do you know there is this album in the National Archives?’ It’s really credit to Bob Taylor for putting us on to this.

JO BACH: And sometimes just a bit of luck too. Certainly with the Menzies dish we were being pressured - we have quite a good collection of Menzies material at the Museum but nothing that relates to that early period of his life. We contacted the wonderful Heather Henderson, who is a great supporter of all the cultural institutions in Canberra, it would seem. She did a family ring around, and one of the family members had that dish. As soon as we found that, we knew we had a great story. Sometimes it’s diligence; sometimes it’s the people that you speak to; sometimes it’s just dumb luck.

The cash register that is on display in the exhibition related to the Myer story just came about from a chance conversation I had with a staff member at the State Library of Victoria that said they had a cash register from the Coles/Myer archive. Things happen in mysterious ways when you are a curator.

QUESTION: It sounds to me as if you were writing a book. You get the idea; then the research people come in; then the editor comes in and says ‘you cannot have this and you should have this’; the artist comes in to do the cover; and the publisher says the size of the book, how it should be. Congratulations for ending up with such a wonderful exhibition. I really appreciate you going through all of the stages of it, because I think it’s quite revealing. Thank you very much. I rented the books on the First World War that you have in your library here. My 12-year-old granddaughter was with me during her school holidays. She came away absolutely razzle dazzle with the whole thing and how wonderful it was. She can’t stop talking about it and said to me today, ‘Why can’t I go and listen to what you have just been doing?’ I will have to go home and reveal it all to her.

JONO LINEEN: That is great news. I agree there is a lot of similarities between being involved in a large creative project, whether that is a film or a book, and creating a museum exhibition, because so much of it is about pairing down those stories. The big difference, as I tried to point out earlier, is that the way you tell the stories in the museum environment is different. In a book you are telling it through words, through scene and characters. The characters are there in a museum exhibition but the way you tell the story is through the objects because you are given such great restrictions on what you can actually say in the text. The importance of the graphic designer in getting that vision across is very important.

QUESTION: In terms of deciding what kind of people should be displayed, whether they are famous or not famous, how did you come up with that combination? Is there pressure brought to bear?

JO BACH: It’s always something we think about in our exhibitions and in our permanent galleries. I have worked on the Eternity gallery before. You are always trying to balance famous with ordinary men and women. Where do these people come from? That is an element we didn’t impose on this. I have had a comment made several times that it is very east coast Australia focused, very Sydney/Melbourne. It is in that decision making - when Jono talked earlier about which stories that you choose, you whittle it down and perhaps you have 30 and you still need to get it down. You might say, ‘We have already got a couple of prime ministers, let’s not add another one. We’ve got this many men, we really need to get another woman in it.’ It’s part of that process. It’s not done in isolation. All of this is toing-and-froing the whole time. You are thinking; you’re refining and you’re just going over and over it again. Sometimes you’re really sick of those people or sometimes you get to love them.

QUESTION: Really great way to present the exhibition - well done today. One of the things to perhaps let people know in the theatre is that there is a lot more material on the website. You might want to talk a bit about that. There are some other interesting aspects of this whole project, such as a website that people can actually contribute to, providing their own memories. You may have mentioned that at the end anyway but I thought I would Dorothy Dix you.

JO BACH: No, it’s all about the exhibition today.

JONO LINEEN: Of course we should mention that this is part of a suite of products and exhibitions that the Museum has generated in relation to the centenary. One that we should point out is the Museum has developed a website called Remembering 1914-1918. On that website you can actually upload objects from your own family’s history with their story, and they will appear on the website on a national scale. That website will be up for the next four years. What we are hoping is over that period of time we will create a large database of Australians’ stories and objects in relation to that time 100 years ago. There is also the ability to tag these objects and stories with an emotion. So the other hope is that, over the period of four years, we will create in some ways an emotional archive of how people viewed the First World War. Just google ‘remembering 1914-1918 NMA’.

QUESTION: Well done. I enjoyed that talk. I have only just finished the book this morning. The thing that took me was one of the shortest stories and that was the story on Cocky. I found that very interesting. There’s not much there, I suppose. Can you enlarge on it a bit maybe?

JO BACH: I wish I could on that one because I think that was one of the stories that the previous curator locked in. I suspect she knew the object because she had previously worked at the War Memorial and Cocky does live at the War Memorial. It was a really tricky one because how do you include a person or a biography of a bird? We had to link it with Cocky’s owner Anne Fraser Bon, who is quite an amazing woman in her own right. We were talking before about: how do you decide what you keep? The object was too good to let go and the story was just really nice how that bird is used. Now we are very aware of the whole pets as therapy type approach where animals are brought in to nursing homes and in to hospitals. Anne Fraser Bon was kind of ahead of her time and thought Cocky would be a great therapeutic tool for the soldiers in the No. 1 Rest Home in Melbourne. Again, someone knew of that object in the collection and that’s how the story came out. Once you know of Cocky, how could you cross him off your list of potential stories?

SUSAN GALE: I am sure we all found that interesting, just like I did. It was really fascinating to see how you put the exhibition together. I wanted to take the opportunity to thank you all and to tell you about the next lecture and film screening, which is happening in June, where we have the pleasure of having two very interesting speakers. We have the Anastasios couple who were the authors of the novel The Water Diviner and the co-script writer for the screenplay. We have a really interesting lecture and a film screening that we hope you can join us for. Thank you.

Disclaimer and Copyright notice
This is an edited transcript typed from an audio recording.
The National Museum of Australia cannot guarantee its complete accuracy.
© National Museum of Australia 2007-19. This transcript is copyright and is intended for your general use and information. You may download, display, print and reproduce it in unaltered form only for your personal, non-commercial use or for use within your organisation. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) all other rights are reserved.

Date published: 22 May 2015

Return to Top