Author Archives: phil0263

Another Step on the Road to Signifcance

This is the second post from Graduate Student Bronwyn Phillips about her experiences volunteering at the Unley Museum. See her other posts here

The Unley Museum is inside the first South Australian Fire Station and revolves around the local history of Unley. The Unley Museum has over 10,000 items.  Its collection pertains to the history of Unley and its people including documents, textiles, maps and objects of all descriptions and over 5,000 photographs.

Unley Fire Station (photograph from the Unley Museum Collection)

Unley Fire Station (photograph from the Unley Museum Collection)

One of the first tasks in developing a ‘statement of significance’  is to conduct a comparative study of other museums in South Australia and to look for similarities and differences to the Unley Museum (see my earlier post about my project here). This gives an understanding of where the Unley Museum sits in the relation to the other museums.  What do they have that we do not have and what do we have that they do not have? We wanted no more than six comparitive museums and selecting them initially involved looking at the www.community.history.sa.gov.au/museums, the Government History Site where many of the regional and local museums are listed with information about them and their collections. This is a very useful site. I made a list the most likely candidates and their similarities and differences and initially had a list of eight.

Exhibition Unley Town Hall 1900 (photograph from the Unley Museum Collection)

Exhibition Unley Town Hall 1900 (photograph from the Unley Museum Collection)

The Unley Museum funds are from the  Unley Council and much of the work conducted there is done out by the volunteers, some of whom have been there since its inception 26 years ago.  Therefore the search involved looking for museums or research/heritage programs that fulfil some of the following criteria; funded by Councils, housed in old historic buildings, museum collections revolving around local history and culture and museums with photographic collections.

Duchess of York, Queen Mother 1927 (photograph from the Unley Museum Collection)

Duchess of York, Queen Mother 1927 (photograph from the Unley Museum Collection)

I made telephone calls to the various Museums, Research and Heritage Centres on the list to find out if they had a ‘statement of significance’. I asked them a number of other questions about their collections, collecting policy, funding and to see if they would be willing to share information with us. I talked to people ‘in the know’, sometimes the Curator and at other times I talked to whomever could answer my questions. This was  a lengthy process as some people were away, not available, on holidays etc. Most were very helpful and several sent me extensive information about their policy statements and collections. Finally Dr Elizabeth Hartnell (Unley Museum Curator) and I settled on the five institutions below.

27th Battalion Football Team 1922 (photograph from the Unley Museum Collection)

27th Battalion Football Team 1922 (photograph from the Unley Museum Collection)

The  five museums chosen are:

  • Bay Discovery Centre and Holdfast Bay History Centre,
  • Mitcham Village Research Centre,
  • Strathalbyn Branch of the National Trust,
  • The Norwood, Payneham
  • St Peters Cultural Heritage Program and the Hindmarsh Fire and Folk Museum.

Finally I set up an excel spreadsheet with all the similarities and differences and then compiled the answers that I had been given to my questions. If you wish to know more about the collections or the similarities and differences check the website address above or contact me for more information.

Assessing the significance of the Unley Museum collections

By Bronwyn Phillips

During this last semester, my Practicum placement has involved working at the Unley Museum which is housed in the historic old Fire Station in Edmund Street Unley. The task I am researching and will eventually complete is to design a ‘statement of significance’, with the assistance and direction of Dr Elizabeth Hartnell.

Part of the current exhibition “Land of Cakes”

A ‘statement of significance’ can be for one object or a whole collection. It can be just a few sentences or half a page long. The Unley Museum needs two statements of significance, one for the collection as a whole and the other one is specifically for the extensive photographic collection. In order to develop two ‘statements of significance’ for the Unley Museum, a number of tasks need to be completed.

The ‘significance’ of an object or a collection is very important since if a Museum does not know why and what they are collecting it could lose direction. A collection’s ‘significance’ involves a process of scanning the whole collection and assessing its history, doing some analysis and conducting an overview of the collection. This is particularly important when the collection policy needs to be revised or re-written.

Old shopkeepers till

The process can be very useful for a number of reasons:

  • understand the significance of the collection as a whole
  • revise collection policy
  • identify significant objects for disaster preparedness
  • prioritise objects for conservation
  • review strengths and weaknesses for the collection
  • develop collecting strategies to redress imbalances and omissions in the collecting record

This enables the museum to accept or reject donations and to accession or de-accession objects.

Previous activity display at Unley Museum

There are eight key steps to conduct when working towards a ‘statement of significance’.

  • Collate the collection’s records and the museum’s archives.
  • Research the history of the collection and the museum.
  • Consult the community and record its ideas and comments about the collection.
  • Asses the relationship between the museum building and the collection.
  • Analyse the condition of the collection.
  • Compare the collection with others of similar scope or purpose.
  • Asses the collection’s significance by referring to the main assessment criteria and comparative criteria.
  • Write a statement of significance that summarises the history, themes, importance and meaning of the collection.

Hands on fun for children of all ages (This jigsaw of a cow shows children where the various meat cuts come from).

There are four main assessment criteria used in assessing significance: historic, aesthetic, and scientific/research and social/spiritual. Comparative criteria are provenance, rarity, representativeness, condition and interpretive potential. One of my first tasks was to do some extensive reading of various museum publications to get my head around just what ‘significance’ means.  This blog is heavily influenced by these readings.

Background reading and references:

Significance: A Guide to Assessing the Significance of Cultural Heritage Objects & Collections by the Collections Council, 2001.

Significance 2.0: a guide to assessing the Significance of Collections by the Heritage Collections Council, 2009.

Using Significance Assessment to make Acquisition Decisions by Linda Black, 2002.

Photographs from the Unley Museum site can be viewed here.