Installing Many Nations

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by Kate C
Publish date
11 July 2013
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The mammoth task of installing over 480 beautiful, rich and significant objects into the Many Nations section of First Peoples has begun. Early this week the very first item – a substantial wooden carving of Bunjil by Mick Harding – went in to its final position as the crowning object of the Animal Creations showcase.

Man installing a sculpture Anthony Abell with the carving of Bunjil by Mick Harding.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Deb Frost is leading the team of exhibition collection managers carefully placing the objects into the Many Nations display. Explains Deb, "the complexity of these cases is that nearly every object requires a custom support, or mount, designed specifically for that object." Mount-makers from Pod Museum and Art Services have spent recent months making fine, precise metal frames that will show each object at its best, while holding them securely in place. Deb points out that the mount holding Bunjil up high is much beefier than most of the others since "that object alone is 16.5 kilograms and so that mount is specifically designed to take that weight."

John and Ant installing Many Nations display John Duggan and Anthony Abell placing the Bunjil sculpture into its showcase.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

When filled, the showcases will house a stunning array of historical and contemporary objects made by Aboriginal people from all over Australia. Senior Curator Rosemary Wrench looked at over 16,000 historical objects from the museum's collection, selecting ones that have never been on display, while new acquisitions and commissions show continuing and new expressions of culture. Senior Designer Corinne Balaam created a beautiful light filled display to highlight each piece within six cases: Animal Creations, Celebrating Culture, Marking Identity, Keeping Places, Toy Stories and Working Country.

Deb has been working with these objects for many months and has come to know them very well. And which is her favourite? "How do you pick one? They're all amazing," she says. "Bunjil was a treat because that was a commissioned work, but my favourite is in Toy Stories, and that's the doll with the feeding breasts. That's my number one object because I think it's got a wonderful story." This doll will be held in a special mount cast from the hands of Myee Patten. "The childhood stories, that's my soft spot," continues Deb. "All the Elders coming in and speaking about those times - it's wonderful to hear those stores from their childhood some sixty or more years ago, and hearing their memories of learning from their grandparents and Elders."

Deb Frost with drill Deb with the drill rig her team used to drill hundred of precise holes for the custom object mounts in Many Nations.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

As for a favourite showcase, Deb explains, "many of our team love Celebrating Culture because it's all about body adornment, the bracelets and necklaces, which are magnificent, however I love the Marking Identity case with shields that show the colouration and different patterns from state to state. This case packs a punch. It says to me, look how diverse our Indigenous communities are around Australia. The baskets in Keeping Places are gorgeous too; I love the different weaves, the different colours and different types, from the honeypot through to the ceremonial bowl made by Will Patten. It's great to see the new with the old."

Empty showcase The Marking Identity showcase awaiting installation of the shields from around Australia.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

As the crew finalises the installation, their concerns are protecting the precious objects and managing the logistics. "The tricky bits are the technical aspects like accessing the cases, ensuring the stability of mounts, keeping everything clean and free of dust."

"You address all the conservation and collection management needs for those objects and in the end, once they're finally locked away safely in their showcase and on display for the world to see, then everyone's tickled! That's the highlight of our work."

First Peoples opens at Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Melbourne Museum on 7 September 2013.

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angie morgan 12 July, 2013 22:09
This will be a fascinating exhibition and a part of Australia's history. A must see!
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