Historian at the Prom

by Rebecca Carland
Publish date
27 October 2011
Comments (2)

Bec is working on the history of Museum Victoria's Science Collections and all the people who have been part of them since the museum's origin in 1854.

As a history curator, the dizziest height I usually get to is the top shelf of the archive. So flying over Wilsons Promontory with the Prom Bioscan team last week was a true adventure. 

My job, History of Science Collections Curator, often involves following the archive trail of past scientists to establish the what, where and how behind the specimens in our collections. The history of Wilsons Prom is interwoven with the history of Museum Victoria. Three former directors were instrumental in the establishment and ongoing development of the park. In the 1960s Charlie Brazenor led a museum team survey whose report initiated many of the park's innovations such as a permanent ranger/manager, proper signage and even a small museum at Tidal River.

1950 survey team at Wilsons Prom Charles Brazenor, Curator of Mammals and later Director (second from right) oversaw the museum survey in 1950.
Image: Hope McPherson
Source: Museum Victoria

The Prom Bioscan represents the next phase of the museum's work at the Prom so I just had to be there to document it. We hold some magnificent historic images of the Prom and it was also a great opportunity to re-shoot some of those locations to get a sense of how the park has changed over time.

Jim Whelan, former chief ranger at the Prom and local keeper of Prom history, has been gleefully working with me on a short history of field surveys at the Prom and was the ultimate guide on my travels.

Jim Whelan in a helicopter Jim Whelan, Operations Manager, Wilsons Prom Centre for Excellence sharing his knowledge of the Prom.
Image: Rebecca Carland
Source: Museum Victoria

We flew by helicopter from Tidal River over most of the park, skirting the coastline looking for the rock formations in the historic images I had brought with me. Some locations were simply too difficult to land so we had to hover over the trees and take the photos through the little window of the chopper. Other locations, like Mt Oberon car park, which can't be accessed by road since the floods, were the perfect spot to land the chopper and walk or bushbash to the spots we needed. Jim has every tree; every rock imprinted in his memory and the journey through his memories was as interesting as the chopper ride.

Our longest stop was at Sealers Cove. Having been there many times on foot it was spectacular to see the cove open up before us as we rounded the coastline.

Helicopter on beach Pilot Ed parked the chopper next to iconic Whale Rock on Sealers Cove beach.
Image: Rebecca Carland
Source: Museum Victoria

I wanted to find remnants of the old wooden tramway used by the mill in 1800s but the terrain was impenetrable. I did, however, find a couple of little wooden posts sticking out of the sand where the massive jetty that serviced the mill once stood. The jetty was built by King and McCulloch in 1903 and extended 800 metres into the cove.

Men on a jetty The Sealer's Cove jetty in the 1920s.
Source: Jan Phelan

Bec in the sand taking photo Bec Carland getting down and dirty photographing the remnants of Sealers Cove jetty.
Image: Anna McCallum
Source: Museum Victoria

The last remnants of the Sealers Cove jetty The last remnants of the Sealers Cove jetty.
Image: Rebecca Carland
Source: Museum Victoria

So today, back at my desk staring out at the Royal Exhibition Building I can still hear the sea and the echo of the radio calls from the chopper headphones buzzing in my ears and if I squint a bit, the cream REB against the blue sky looks a little like the sands of Sealers Cove. The recreated photos are looking good and some truly fascinating moments in the Prom's history are coming together as a series of videos for Collections Online.

Comments (2)

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penny-ann clark 27 October, 2011 22:36
Awesome report, I forgot how overwhelmingly huge the Prom is, great to get another perspective
Nicole Kearney 28 October, 2011 15:23
I love the then and now pictures of the jetty (and the pic of you taking the now photo). What a fabulous project to be involved in.
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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.