Collection and Conservation Guide

An exercise book containing handwritten recipes, kept by a detainee at Tatura Internment Camp in 1942
An exercise book containing handwritten recipes, kept by a detainee at Tatura Internment Camp in 1942.
Image: Museum Victoria
Source: Museum Victoria collections, HT 18078

You are going to learn how to be a curator in a museum by researching an object, photograph, document or film/video in your family or community that has a story to tell. You will also learn how to be a conservator and how best to look after your object.

A curator collects objects for a museum's collections and displays. Curators also research and record stories and facts connected to the objects.

A conservator looks after the objects, preserving our cultural heritage. Conservators check and restore objects, and organise their storage and transfer, keeping careful records.

Objects can tell us about our past and present lives.

Australia's history is evident in many places – not least of which is the family home. The more common the object, the more light it often sheds on us as people.

By looking at an object's physical features, construction, function, design and value, we can deduce many things. See Working with objects (PDF, 38KB) – Interpretation: One object, many stories. 

An oral history or story that connects the object with the people who used it enriches the research and demonstrates a good evidence-based approach to history.

See Marie Owen’s story from Little Lonsdale Street in Oral Histories (PDF, 25KB) for examples of the oral history tradition.

Finding an Object

Ask your family and people you know about any objects they may have, which might be connected to their family or community history. Perhaps you even have an object yourself that connects to a particular history.

It may be connected to migration from another country, or a place where you once lived. The object may be connected to a significant family or community event. An object might also be something that someone you know owned or used in Australia, and that is connected to the story of the community they belong to.

Search Museum Victoria’s Collections Online and The Biggest Family Album in Australia database to look for items that may be of interest for your project.

These questions may assist you in your hunt for information:

  • Has anyone in our family researched our family tree?
  • When did our family come to the place where we live today?
  • Where did they come from?
  • Does anyone else in our family have anything I could look at?
  • Are there places in the community where objects are exhibited? e.g. the local football club, the local library, shire council?

The types of object that might be found include: luggage, clothes, photographs, mementos, keepsakes, letters, diaries, books, newspaper and magazine cuttings, tools, recipes, sketches, handcrafts, postcards, personal papers and passports.

Ask permission to borrow the object for use in the Small Object Big Story project. Note: objects should be small enough to be brought to share as part of the project, and not too valuable. A Loan form (PDF, 30KB) is provided for your use.

Fill out a Conservation report (PDF, 22KB) for your object.

Work out how you can store your object safely during the project. You might need to make a secure box for it. Alternatively, take close-up photos of the object from a number of angles and use the photographs rather than the object.

Find out what Museum staff say in Caring for your object – includes advice about caring for toys, metal objects, photographs and documents.

Image Gallery

'Target for Tonight' board game with a cardboard aeroplane and dart-like 'bomb' made in 1942. An iron key used in a mental health hospital in Victoria Australia circa 1900. A backyard haircut after the barber raised prices, Ivanhoe1968 Toy metal ice cream truck, used and owned by Bill Boyd in Victorian town of Maryborough during the 1950s. Silver pocket watch presented to Glenmaggie school teacher Joseph Sleeman in 1893. 1938 photograph of children playing with an extensive train set which had been a Christmas present from their English grandmother.