To coincide with Anzac Day next week, our next cultural heritage seminar will explore contemporary approaches to the interpretation of Australian military history. We are delighted that Ian Jackson (Shrine of Remembrance), Bart Ziino (Deakin University) and Deborah Tout-Smith (Museums Victoria ) will join us to speak about their recent work. From new approaches to partnering with veterans to share the stories of recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the pleasures and pains of collaborations between academics and museum professionals, this is going to be a timely and provocative discussion.
When: Thursday 26th April, from 5pm – 6pm (please note change of regular day).
Dr Phil Jones from the University of Birmingham in the UK, will be giving our next cultural heritage seminar on Wednesday 28th March, where he will be speaking on ‘Engaging with landscape and heritage through playful methods’.
Phil’s work on cities ‘is particularly concerned with how…urban creativity can be used to improve social, environmental and economic wellbeing. A key part of this is changing our understanding of what we mean by an expert’.
In his Deakin seminar, Phil will speak about some recent work which explores the ways that visiting a heritage landscape is very different to learning about the same site second-hand through text and images. He argues that ‘an embodied, multisensory, engagement enhances emotional and affectual connections to the histories that such sites bear witness to’. In this paper he discusses a series of methods that can be used to examine the embodied connection between people and place, uncovering both tangible and intangible histories. Three approaches in particular are reflected upon: the use of smartphones to crowdsource materials gathered in-place; arts-based urban transects; and biosensing as a tool for examining the emotional unconscious. The potentials and limitations of each are discussed, combining novel and more conventional techniques to gain rounded insights into how people understand landscape and heritage.
Phil Jones is Senior Lecturer in Cultural Geography at the University of Birmingham. His first degrees were in History, studying at St Andrews and Leicester before moving to Birmingham to undertake a PhD in 2000. His work focusses on developing novel methodological approaches to understanding urban problems including the use of walking interviews, video methods, crowdsourcing, biosensing, participatory interventions and collaborations with artists. This paper emerges from a series of research projects undertaken within his Playful Methods Lab.
Jess Curtain writes about her internship on the tall ship Alma Doepel
The Alma Doepel was an unlikely Army vessel. A 1903 tall ship, she had spent most of her first forty years carrying trading goods between Tasmania and what is now the Jam Factory in South Yarra. Still, she was no stranger to a rough crossing of Bass Strait or a tricky shallow river entrance – and in 1943, this was exactly the kind of ship the Australian Army needed to deliver supplies and ammunition to troops stationed across New Guinea and the south-west Pacific. Stripped back, refitted, and rechristened Army Ketch 82, Alma was drafted into military service.
Between 1943 and 1946, the Alma Doepel served as a vessel of the Army’s Australian Water Transport Group. Most of the men weren’t experienced sailors (those had all been snapped up by the Navy), and many of them had never been to sea before. They had to learn to sail fast, and often under great pressure. It wasn’t a glamorous job but, though few of us remember it today, it was vital to the success of the New Guinea campaign.
Alma leads a more peaceful life these days. For several years now, she’s been berthed in Melbourne’s Docklands, where a dedicated group of shipwrights and volunteers are hard at work restoring the 115-year-old schooner. However, a recent State Government grant through the Victoria Remembers program has provided the opportunity to share the stories of Alma’s war service and the Water Transport men through the commemorative exhibition ‘Soldiers at Sea’.
For the past few months I’ve been volunteering with the team at the Alma to help research, plan and put together the exhibition. Over the course of the project I’ve had the opportunity to undertake a varied range of tasks, from historical research, to the writing exhibition text and labels, to the hands-on work of installation. It’s been a fascinating and truly rewarding experience, giving me the chance to put into practice the skills I’ve been learning throughout my Graduate Diploma of Museum Studies.
On one of my first days of the project, I was given a tour of the ship. Climbing down the ladder into the below-deck crew quarters, you get an immediate sense of what the conditions must have been like for that wartime crew. It’s dark, cramped and unventilated; a ceiling beam tells you the space is “certified to accommodate 18 seamen”. With so many soldiers packed in there, it must have been stifling.
Visitors can’t be taken onto the ship, which is an active work site, so the team has created the next best thing – an onshore installation that reproduces the tight space of the crew quarters, with a series of posters and displays walking visitors through the stories and experiences of the crew.
No known crew members of AK82 are still living, but in researching their war service I was excited to find diaries, letters, newspaper articles and books that brought their shipboard experience alive. In writing the text for the posters, I’ve tried to keep their words and their colourful stories at the fore.
Through my research, I was able to confirm the identities of twenty-four Army crewmen, whose names are now displayed on an honour board. Created by Tom Mangan, a traditional shipwright working on the restoration, the board is a feature piece in itself. It’s made from original 1903 timber from the ship itself, still containing WWII-era brass nails. On the reverse side of the board, you can see the ‘scalloping’ on the planks, wear caused by years of scraping and moving of heavy cargo.
The project was also a wonderful exercise in collaboration. The Immigration Museum kindly donated period-appropriate set pieces, including two bunk beds, from a recently deinstalled exhibition. The Library at the Dock provided advice and support in organising weekly ‘Meet the Maker’ walking tours, during which visitors can explore the exhibition and learn about the work being done to restore the ship.
Huge thanks to Bill Reid, Ken Gayler, Peter Harris and the rest of the Alma team for their much-valued support, feedback and encouragement throughout this project.