Tag Archives: Museum Collections

Archaeology and local memory in Bendigo

By Helen Cronin, Master of Archaeology student

As part of the research for my directed study working on an exhibition of local archaeology, I visited the ceramics consultant who had been at the excavation. The visit revealed the intimate connections between what comes out of the ground and what people remember.

Dennis O’Hoy has long been a champion of local heritage in Bendigo winning the inaugural Ray Tonkin award from Heritage Victoria for volunteer contributions to heritage earlier this year. Now retired, the former Principal Lecturer in ceramics and Head of the Department of Visual Arts at La Trobe University in Bendigo has an encyclopedic knowledge of Chinese, Bendigo Pottery and general ceramics.

It was like asking a child to show you his prized Transformers collection. He showed me photos of the Forest Street excavation (that hadn’t made it into the final report) and DVDs about various digs he’s worked on. Dennis plays a major part in the DVD about the Chinese kiln dig in 2005/6 talking about the Chinese ceramics found on the site. His back shed is crammed with shelves lined with samples of bottles, jars, Chinese and European ceramics – all stored in chronological order, all provenanced, all recorded on a database. It used to be his teaching collection. I thought back to the lab at Port Arthur in January where we were looking at shards of this sort of thing and trying to identify what they were from texts and the lab manager’s extensive knowledge. Dennis has complete samples.

I asked where the ceramics from the Forest Street site were likely to have come from. “Oh, they would have bought them here,” he said, and pulled out a copy of An American on the Goldfields. The book reproduces photos taken by American photographer Benjamin Batchelder during the early 1860s, which are now held by the State Library of Victoria.

Pall Mall Bendigo looking north from fountain sometime 1890-1901

Pall Mall Bendigo sometime between 1890 and 1901. The fountain is about a two minute walk from the Forest Street site. The photo is taken around the time of the richest artefact desposits on the site. Source: State Library of Victoria

Dennis took me for a “walk” through Bendigo’s shops. It’s something you can do when you’re both familiar with all the streets and some of the buildings still exist. He showed me where I could buy everything from dinner sets to clothes, fabric and horse gear. We also strolled into the Chinese district where he pointed out the room in building where he was born. It’s no longer there; the buildings were all knocked down in the 1970s and eventually the area become the Chinese (tourist) precinct where the Golden Dragon museum now stands.

“Remember the DVD about the Chinese kiln where I’m talking about the bowl?” he asked. Yes – he’s showing the base of a green glazed bowl excavated from the site and explaining about the trade in Chinese ceramics in the 19th century. On the base of the inside you can see a pink and green flower. On what remains of the outside of the bowl, you can see enough of the design to guess that it decorated the outside as well.

Dennis knelt down and opened a door in an old cabinet in his living room and pulled out a whole sample of the same bowl, complete with small chips on the rim apparently from everyday use. “It came from my grandfather’s shop.”

Inside the British Museum…

This is guest post by Oliver Spiers, Trainee Curator- British Museum who graduated from our program early in 2011. You can read Olly’s thesis here [pdf].

Having recently completed a Masters in Cultural Heritage Management at Flinders there comes a point where you finally submit, take a sigh of relief and then think ‘what the hell am I going to do now?’ I was lucky enough to come across a traineeship at the British Museum called the Future Curators project.

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The end is not the end! Working at the Unley Museum

This is Bronwyn Phillip’s last blog post about her practicum with the Unley Museum. We’d like to thank Dr Elizabeth Hartnell and the Unley Museum for supporting Bronwyn’s placement. You can read Brownyn’s other posts about her placement here!

The Colony’s first Fire Brigade 1919 (photograph from the Unley Museum Collection)

The Colony’s first Fire Brigade 1919 (photograph from the Unley Museum Collection)

My Practicum placement has come to an end but not really. It is continuing into a Directed Study placement which is great because I am really enjoying it and learning a great deal in the process. Fortunately I started volunteering at the Unley Museum at the beginning of the year, I had already been working there for four months by the time my placement started in May. This gave me the opportunity to become familiar with the workings of the Museum and some of the other volunteers. My Directed Study placement finishes in November and I will then create two ‘statements of significance’, with guidance from Dr Elizabeth Hartnell (Museum Curator). By then I will have been there for nearly a year and the time has flown by. This week I am tying up loose ends and completing any tasks I should.  The next steps for the Directed Study will be to:

  • August: Review collections and significant items. Relate that to the building and historical context.
  • September: Consult volunteers and curators about the collection.
  • October: Analyse collection’s condition and preservation priorities.
  • November: Create primary and comparative criteria and write statements of significance.
74th Infantry Band (photograph from the Unley Museum Collection)

74th Infantry Band (photograph from the Unley Museum Collection)

I will start by collating the answers to my survey to deduce what are the most important things in the collection. At least I will know what the volunteers and others connected to the Unley Museum think are the most important parts of the collection. Whilst going through people’s answers I have noticed that each person thinks the most important part of the collection is the area which they work in personally. I guess this makes sense. I know the two Mayor’s robes that I accessioned earlier in the year seem important to me (see picture, below). They were just gorgeous, made from the finest red wool cloth, with black velvet silk bands on the hem and sleeves and a mink collar of course. The oldest robe,  by Ede and Ravenscroft Ltd (founded 1689), London, the tailor for the Queen’s and Parliamentarian’s ceremonial robes.

The second Mayor’s Robe (photograph from the Unley Museum Collection)

The second Mayor’s Robe (photograph from the Unley Museum Collection)

Overall this has been a most pleasurable experience and I would recommend to any other student considering a Practicum placement to go right ahead.  It is so good to work in a real working environment. You cannot help but to learn many new skills including research, people skills, team work, individual work, computer skills and other expertise related to the particular placement. You meet new people and have a laugh in the process.

Orchard’s Draper Store (photograph from the Unley Museum Collection)

Orchard’s Draper Store (photograph from the Unley Museum Collection)

Assessing Significance at the Unley Museum

This is the third post from Graduate Student Bronwyn Phillips about her industry placement with the Unley Museum. You can see Bronwyn’s other posts here

Another step in the process of finding the ‘significance’ of the Unley Museum’s collections was to find out what the local community thought about the Unley Museum, its role in the community and its collections. What did they think were important parts of the collection?  Many of the locals would not know what is in the collection and many do not even know there is a museum in Unley. I decided to survey the volunteers, curators, some Councilors and Council staff with knowledge of the Unley Museum and its collection. These were the people with more extended knowledge and a better idea.

First fire engine, 1919 (coutesy of the Unley Museum Collection)

I needed to design a survey and I decided not to make the survey too long, around 20 questions. I had to rack my brain to remember how to devise a survey. Having studied Festival and Event Management some years ago I knew that it was a good idea to have open and closed questions, to ask personal information at the end, and put any tricky questions in the middle. I came up with the questions and showed them to Dr Elizabeth Hartnell (Museum Curator) and she made a couple of minor alterations. The survey was sent out and not conducted face to face.  I wrote a covering letter so that people would know why and what it was all about. We printed up just over 40 copies and Antoinette Hennessy (third year archaeology student and volunteer) and I folded and put some of them into stamped envelopes. Elizabeth printed off sticky labels with people’s names and addresses which saved me time writing them all out by hand. I placed the ones for the current volunteers in their pigeonholes, sent some over to Council and the rest we posted. We have 17 current volunteers, 6 resigned but still interested volunteers, 7  earlier Curators, one current Curator and a number of Councilors and Council staff   involved with the Unley Museum.

Floral Pageant

S.A. Centenary Floral Pageant, Sept 18 1936 (Ladies Committee) (Photo courtesy of the Unley Museum Collection)

Most of the volunteer’s responses highlighted different aspects of Unley Museum services and activities. Most responses were positive in regard to the value of the collection, its purpose and its relationship to the people of Unley.  Most people thought the Unley Museum profile could be raised in the public arena. Every single respondent offered positive ideas, comments, suggestions and changes. When I collate all the answers, I will pass this on to Elizabeth, the Curator and they might be implemented.

Glen Osmond Quarry 1913 (Courtesy of the Unley Museum)

Glen Osmond Quarry 1913 (Courtesy of the Unley Museum Collection)

Chronicle of an exhibition

By Helen Cronin, Master of Archaeology Student
(With apologies to Carmel Schrire )

This semester I’m doing an internship with the Bendigo Art Gallery which is preparing an exhibition of artefacts from an excavation that took place here in Bendigo a couple of years ago. The internship is part of a Directed Study I’m doing as part of the coursework component of my masters.

The excavation
For around five weeks in 2009, every lunchtime I walked past an excavation going on just down the road from where I worked. I stood on one side of the cyclone wire fence watching the archaeologists working diligently on the other side. Forest Street, Bendigo turned out to be of “considerable significance” to both Bendigo and the state according to the DIG International report.

Archaeologist standing in a trench holding a bottle.

All the artefacts were packed up and disappeared into the Heritage Victoria warehouse in Melbourne, and the developer constructed a new commercial building on the site.

The exhibition
I’d met a local archaeologist who had been involved with the project and was passionate that such stories should be told locally. I agreed. When the new building opened earlier this year, the local newspaper published a supplement that included a spread about the “treasures” that had been unearthed. So I wrote to the paper suggesting that it was a shame the story wasn’t being told here in Bendigo.

Bendigo doesn’t have a dedicated European history museum (a subject of some interesting debate here), but we do have the Post Office Gallery – a satellite space of the Bendigo Art Gallery – that hosts temporary social history exhibitions. And they announced shortly after I wrote to the paper that they were planning an exhibition of archaeology from the Forest Street site.

I begged the curator to let me be involved somehow. So this semester I’m undertaking an internship with the Bendigo Art Gallery for my Directed Study. I’ll be doing the research for and writing the labels that will accompany the items.

In addition, I’ll be setting that in a theoretical context of museum archaeology. The challenge with any museum exhibition of archaeology is to somehow provide a context for an object whose main value inheres in the original context from which it has been removed. Add to that postmodern concerns about “curatorial authority” and representation/construction of the past and this should be fun.

The artefacts
Last Friday, I visited the Heritage Victoria warehouse into which the Bendigo “treasures” disappeared. Annie, the very generous Curatorial Officer, showed me boxes and boxes from all sorts of sites around Bendigo and let me go through all the artefacts that have been selected for the exhibition. It’s a strange feeling looking at the names on the boxes and knowing I ride my bike past them regularly.

Hedley Swain in An Introduction to Museum Archaeology observes that people are more excited about a find the closer they are to its source in time and space. “Being shown a relatively unimportant find that was found on their street yesterday becomes as important as a famous ancient treasure found hundreds of years ago in another country.”(p 270) I have to agree. I think I was more excited handling tea cups and figurines that came from the down the road from where I worked than if they’d let me handle Tutankhamun’s crown.

I have another day booked at the lab in early September and a lot of work to do on what I’ve gathered so far.

(Annie also suggested that there was plenty of work to be done on Bendigo assemblages fit for a masters or PhD thesis. And she was happy to help with research topics.)