Tag Archives: Museum Collections

Tugging at the Heartstrings: ST Yelta, Port Adelaide

By Cassandra Morris

Yelta was built in 1949 by Cockatoo Docks and Engineering Co., Sydney for Ritch and Smith, Port Adelaide. Yelta spent its active life guiding vessels in and out of Port Adelaide, making local headlines on more than one occasion. Originally coal fired, the tug was converted to oil in 1957. After a busy life on the Port River, the tug was retired in 1976, purchased by the Port Adelaide branch of the National Trust of South Australia. Left moored outside the CSR Refinery at the ‘Sugar Wharf’, the vessel was left unattended with little maintenance performed for nearly a decade. Put up for sale again, the South Australian Maritime Museum made a bid for the historic vessel and, in 1985, added the tug to their collection as a floating museum. Volunteers were asked for to help restore Yelta to its former glory. After extensive restoration and refitting, including preparing the vessel to modern safety standards for staff and passengers, Yelta was relaunched. Currently Yelta sails the Port River several times a year, allowing passengers to experience a piece of Port Adelaide’s history, the Port River itself, and life onboard the vessel.

Yelta, thought to be in Cockatoo Docks while being constructed. (Pre 1964)

After 27 years in the SA Maritime Museum’s collection, Yelta still holds many secrets. In an attempt to broaden current knowledge of the vessel, research was recently undertaken to investigate questions often asked and facts confused by newspaper articles and photographs. Aspects of concern were the colour scheme, historical presentation of the vessel, and general life of the tug and its crew. To uncover the truth of these concerns, slipping reports, requisition reports, monthly maintenance reports, museum documentation and log books were consulted, in addition to newspaper articles and photographs. Two interviews held with former crew members were also undertaken, providing a personalised view of the tug and its working life.

Yelta steaming, before deck changes (Pre 1964)

Through this research, a timeline was successfully compiled. From 1948 to 1953 Yelta featured in newspapers across Australia, linked with the movement of many vessels in and around Port Adelaide. Slipping and requisition reports follow, from 1956, providing details on maintenance and changes made to the vessel. These reports also allowed for the correct colour scheme to be implemented with confidence; red below the waterline, black hull above the waterline, green or red decks, and white deck structures. Two major changes to deck construction occurred in the mid-to-late 1960s. Yelta’s wheelhouse was overhauled in 1964, downsizing the cabin and adding starboard and portside entrances. Furthermore, in 1967, the Crew’s Accommodation entrance was changed from a hatch to a deckhouse. These two major changes assisted in the approximate dating of photographs held by the museum. Information about Yelta’s movements are commonly known from 1976 onward. Retiring from service in 1976, the vessel was purchased by the National Trust of South Australia and later the South Australian Maritime Museum in 1985.

Yelta after deck changes. Note changes to the wheelhouse and the addition of a deck house aft. (Post 1967)

This is the results of my internship with the South Australian Maritime Museum. When first entering the position, I was assigned to work on the HMAS Protector research focusing on creating a Flickr group and contacting the public to gather further information. However, this was where my first lesson was learnt: you do what your boss thinks is important. So I was moved to work on confirming information on Yelta; discovering whether the colours it was currently painted were the correct ones, what the general history of the vessel was and conducting interviews with members of its previous crew. While I was not immediately excited about the task at hand, I launched myself head first into all the records kept by SAMM—and Yelta grew on me. Discovering that all the images of Yelta were undated (I later discovered a handful that had dates associated with them) led me to look for something that had changed at some point and that could be seen in the images. This led to many hours of reading and making notes on the tug’s slipping reports. From these reports I was also able to trace the changes in paint colour across the entire vessel for almost its entire working life. However, answering all the questions left me with one last task: interviewing some of the previous crew.

Yelta outside the CSR Refinery. The tug can be seen here painted many colours, occurring after its retirement. (Post 1977)

Conducting interviews was not something I had any experience in beforehand, and with only a vague idea of what I wanted to achieve I set off with a camera in hand. Two previous crew members were available to be interviewed at the time. Both of these I conducted slightly differently. With a short list of prepared questions, I took both interviewees, on different days,  for a tour of Yelta to refresh their memories. The first interviewee I filmed on the vessel, allowing for their memories to be caught with the corresponding background. While this produced a wonderful choice of memories for use in a 5 min clip (the desired end result) the film was fraught with bad lighting and minor sound problems. Conversely, for the second interview, after the tour of Yelta I filmed the clips within the SAMM offices. While this fixed the sound and light issues, there was less material to record without the visual stimuli. Between the two interviewees there was also a difference in personality and their comfort levels while being filmed. This would have been the biggest learning experience I undertook while with the museum, and has made me a fraction more comfortable with directing and filming questions, asking someone “can you repeat that?” endlessly, and realising that not everything planned is going to work.

Yelta as it can be seen today.

My time with SAMM showed me a different side to museums. While I began with an interest in collections management and producing exhibitions, I was given the opportunity to work on the research aspect of these interests. My research may in future lead to a small exhibition on board Yelta, focusing on it history within Port Adelaide and has already led to the development of a poster for the upcoming ASHA/AIMA Conference in September/October of this year. In future I hope I can work further with SAMM and with other museums and collections in Australia.

Photos are courtesy of the SA Maritime Museum.

Present and be Pleasant

by Bronwyn Phillips, blog 7

As my Directed Study was drawing to a close I did present for the volunteers, Unley Council and  Flinders University. This was a last 10% for my Practicum and I needed to explain how I went about writing two statements of significance for the Unley Museum. This occurred in the Unley Council Chambers in a room upstairs with a projector etc. I did this as a way to tie together the work I did over the last 12 months. I was planning to use Michael Morrison’s fancy new presentation program Prezi.com (well, not his personally) but in the end decided to stick with Powerpoint. Elizabeth Hartnell (Museum Curator) and I thought Powerpoint more suitable to the type of talk I was planning.

It was a bit nerve-wracking leading up to it but I practised on a couple of volunteers the day before. They interrupted with questions and advice which was both good and bad. It is a bit difficult to keep your train of thought when people interrupt you and I planned to tell people the next day to wait until I had finished to ask questions but somehow forgot. One woman corrected me three times during the talk. Well, that threw me for a moment but I quickly recovered. I will never interrupt a lecturer again, promise.

Bronwyn Phillips auditing the Unley Museum collection

A lively discussion ensued. It was well received, with the volunteers congratulating me and telling me they now know what I have done over the past twelve months. The Council staff was very interested too and have invited me to give the same talk to a wider audience. Other good things came out of it too. When I said I thought the museum need more art works represented in their collection it turns out the Council own a few and they are hanging in the council buildings. Now we need to accession them to the museum.  When we said we were a bit short on space it seems we can have access to more. All in all it has been a most rewarding experience.

What’s next? I distributed the statements of significance to the volunteers and then to the Friends of the Unley Museum. After everyone has their say they will go into the Policy and Procedures for the Unley Museum then to the Unley Council and then to History SA and then back to the volunteers. A round trip.

The latest exhibition in the Access Gallery, “The Goody Screamers” 100 years of football at the Goodwood Football Club.

Information sources

Photographs from the Unley Museum site accessed at: http://www.unley.sa.gov.au/site/page.cfm?u=912&c=16929 on 16-6-2011.

Unley Museum’s Donation and Accessioning, published by City of Unley.

Unley Museum’s Emergency Collection Management, published by City of Unley.

Unley Museum’s Mission and Objectives Policy, published by City of Unley.

Unley Museum’s Visitor and Inquiries Procedures published by City of Unley.

Onward and Upward

by Bronwyn Phillips, Blog 6

As part of my Directed Study, I continued with the audit of the collection and moved into the storeroom, which houses most of the items in the collection. The storeroom is kept at a constant temperature of 19 degrees Celsius, which is the ideal temperature for the collection’s preservation. Mostly I have discovered that when you work in a museum everything you do takes longer than you think. Everything is a long slow process and museums in general need to have a lot more resources to conduct their work properly and professionally.  For a volunteer to do the equivalent of two full time weeks it would take four months of real-time.

City of Unley Rechabite Brass Band courtesy of the Unley Museum Photographic Collection

I started this audit with document drawer 17. There were a number of important documents in this drawer that did not have accession numbers, even though most were well wrapped in acid proof paper.

However, all the very important hand painted caricatures by John Chinner, produced in ink and watercolour in 1902 of famous military and political figures (including G Barton). They were, however, well covered in museum quality cellophane.

[Historical note:  Exhibited in S.A. Society of Arts. Exhibition priced at six pounds and six shillings, dated September 16, 1902. Unley Art Loan Exhibition, labels on back mounting. Chinner’s cartoons appeared in most Adelaide newspapers as well as the Bulletin and London Punch. He was also Insurance Manager and Unley Councillor for 10 years and Mayor for two terms. Significance: Local/S.A./Government/Arts. (Unley Museum data base search Horizon)]

Bronwyn Phillips holding John Chinner’s cartoons of military and political figures

After checking the document and map drawers, I moved to the textile boxes and randomly checked some of them. Volunteer Barbara has repackaged and conducted a box by box analysis of the textile collection.

Old poster advertising the Ozone Theatre (courtesy of the Unley Museum Collection)

Finally I went through sections of the rest of the collection, including the shelves, document boxes and small object boxes, and finished off with a count of what was on the shelves and whether the items were boxed or wrapped. Whilst doing this audit I have been on particular lookout for items that are;

  • not stored correctly
  • in poor condition
  • in need of restoration
  • not accessioned
  • incorrectly placed

As I audited the collection I wrote down everything I would need to refer to later when I wrote my report.

Photographs from the Unley Museum site accessed at: http://www.unley.sa.gov.au/site/page.cfm?u=912&c=16929 on 16-6-2011.

Koonalda Cave and Archaeology at the South Australian Museum.

By Sam Hedditch- Graduate Diploma of Archaeology student.

This is the third of my four blog posts for the Flinders Cultural Heritage Practicum I am completing at the South Australian Museum stores at Hindmarsh. I am currently left with three weeks of my placement before my hours have been completed and I am a little sad because I am sure I will miss the people and the artefacts I have been lucky enough to work with.

The past few weeks have taken another exciting turn in my placement at the Museum. John Hodges very kindly included me on the work on the Koonalda Cave material from the Alexander Gallus/Richard Wright excavations. We were going through one of Gallus’ trenches to find evidence of organic materials for dating purposes within boxes that related to particular site layers. A range of organic materials (e.g. bone and shell) can now return reliable radiocarbon dates whereas previously dating was largely conducted on charcoal.  We were also able to find stone tools that had ‘cementation’ of sand, dirt and limestone, as this information is part of a development in dating between geochemistry and archaeology.

Figure 1- One of the illustrations of a Flint nodule from the Koonalda Cave. (Courtesy of South Australian Museum)

Researchers at the South Australian Museum hope to submit three small specimens from this collection from various layers in the trench to give some good preliminary dates in order to back a research grant for a more wide-scale dating program.  This whole process was unfamiliar to me and the fact that many grant applications are being submitted illustrated that the best possible proposal must be put forward in order to receive the grant.

We ultimately found a range of interesting items that were suitable for C14 dating. Interestingly, we also found some small bones, possibly from a masked owl (now extinct in the Nullarbor region), that are shaped like a bone point. There was also a flint stone flake that had charcoal, bone and a cementation of limestone as its cortex, that would also be a very useful artefact for the dating program.  There were also some fascinating stone flakes and what John and I thought were small picks and axes used by people in the caves to quarry the stone.

Figure 2- A dumpy level survey map of the Koonalda Cave. There are many different maps that help piece together the site and its separate excavation seasons.(Courtesy of South Australian Museum)

However, the primary goal as stated above was to find these three samples and be able to link them to various site layers in the notes and maps associated with the excavation. Dr Walshe had a number of large scale maps laid out on the work floor which had been compiled throughout the many seasons by museum staff and speleologists working in the excavations.  The maps were useful in correlating all of the artefacts and the context in which they were collected.

Another critical piece of evidence were the notebooks of Gallus that described the material and layers within the trench that we were sorting. Gallus’ method of recording was certainly not the easiest to follow in terms of handwriting and following a logical order re: page numbers and nomenclature etc, so we had some difficulties reconciling all of the data and finding three suitable samples.

Figure 3- A page from Gallus' notebook. This is why it is important to write clear notes! (Courtesy of the South Australian Museum)

After much time and toil, our samples were found and we are in the process of having them dated. It is again a terrific experience for me and a great opportunity to be a part of this research. It demonstrated that, due to the difficulties associated with obtaining permission to dig old sites like caves or dig new ones, there are available and complete research designs that can be implemented on old collections held in museums. Even the notes and the story of the Koonalda Cave could produce its own archaeological narrative with the right interest, care and dedication.

Figure 4- A profile drawn by Gallus of one of the excavation sites. This was vital information to link layer numbers on the artefacts in the boxes to the notes and the profile sketches. (Courtesy South Australian Museum)

Needless to say, museums are not at all boring places and the excitement at the Hindmarsh store is palpable.  Better yet, I have three more weeks to further my own archaeological interests and work and to learn from some really humble, dedicated and inspiring professionals

Til next time!

The research potential of the South Australian Museum Collections

By Sam Hedditch, Graduate Student

This is the second of my blog posts for the Cultural Heritage Practicum (read my first post here). In the past few weeks I have completed a variety of recording and labelling tasks with a number of different collections. While some of the materials are from recently excavated and less well known sites, others are from quite old and well known areas and their location at the museum stores is the best place for their storage and for further research.

Of particular interest so far has been the re-sorting of various excavations completed at Koonalda Cave in SA. It is hoped that working through the notebooks of the staff on the digs and the excavated materials that are currently at the museum may produce traces of organic material suitable for radiocarbon dating. This should extend the age of habitation of the cave well past the 20,000 BP that is currently accepted.

Shell artefacts from the Lake George collection. Part of a huge midden with many layers!

My most recent project has been re-bagging and labelling a collection of shells from an apparently enormous midden at Lake George, near Beachport in South East South Australia. A number of different shells occur in many of the units of the excavation and there was also a piece of very interesting glass near the surface of one site.

Some of the articles being rebagged from the Lake George collection.

Needless to say, there is a great potential for research by archaeologists interested at the museum. Going back over the old material donated and collected with a fresh approach or new techniques could be instrumental in revealing new information about the area or the people who lived there.

Until next time, I will continue patiently bagging and labelling! I am having a great time there is a wealth of information and relics on record here, sure to inspire the minds of many archaeologists (including me!).