Tag Archives: Student Placements

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.)

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.

Archaeologists, Biologists and the Pied Piper

By Julie Mushynsky (MMA Student)

From May 16 to May 27, 2011 the South Australia Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) embarked on a Commonwealth funded project in the Investigator Strait off the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia.  Maritime Heritage Officer, Amer Khan and everyone’s favourite handyman, Ross “Mouse Whisperer” Cole of the Coastal Management Branch of DENR headed the project.  Two volunteer researchers on board included Shea Cameron, a Flinders University Marine Biology student and me, a Flinders University Maritime Archaeology student.  Kevin Jones, director of the South Australian Maritime Museum joined the group for a few days during the first week.  Lastly, Assistant Director for Maritime Heritage for the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPAC), Andy Viduka also joined the group during the second week.

Perimeter fixing. Photo by: Amer Khan

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