A Golden Sponge: Internship life in South Australia

National News Categories: 
Publish date: 
13 Mar 2017
Author: 
Ms Shuai Jia (Jenna), Museum Teacher, Shandong Museum

Shandong Province and South Australia have been sister provinces since 3 April 1986. With the ever-growing friendship between the two provinces, institutional cooperative relationships in a wide range of fields have been established. In 2015, the three cultural institutions of Shandong Museum, History South Australia and Artlab Australia signed an Agreement to enhance the exchange of personnel between them. It was in this context that I was fortunate to be selected as an intern from Shandong Museum to study and work in Adelaide, South Australia.

Founded in 1954, Shandong Museum was the first integrated topographic museum at the provincial level established after the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The Museum’s collections comprise approximately 200,000 objects ranging from natural to historical. I work in the Department of Publicity and Education, where I am responsible for foreign visitors’ receptions and the management of a guide team.

Given my background it was planned that my internship program in Adelaide would involve both publicity and education experience three days per week in the Migration Museum, and exposure to conservation experience two days per week in Artlab Australia.

I knew very little about conservation work before I started my internship in the Preventive and Objects sections in Artlab. With the help of my lovely colleagues who showed great expertise and friendliness, I learnt first-hand about the role of integrated pest management (IPM) as we conducted several IPM checks in different collection stores and museums.

Under the supervision of an Objects Conservator I also had hands-on experience in conserving several museum artefacts such as a porcelain plate, a couple of Chinese puppets and a large iron school bell.

Eleven weeks of study enabled me to experience and learn a great deal. Working with the Preventive Conservators, I began to understand the basic risk management principles of IPM and the guidelines for conducting IPM checks. For example, I learnt that IPM checks are conducted every three months for different collection stores in Adelaide, according to risk, and the schedule is planned at the beginning of each year, which is organized to minimize the risk of damage to various collections. A combination of random and regular checking, based on risk, is a way to maximize the effectiveness of IPM. For example, while we were working in the Migration Museum store at Netley we specifically paid attention to protein-containing artefacts, which would attract carpet beetles, one of the primary pests of collections in South Australia. This inspired me to do some research to find out what were the primary pests in Shandong, with the result that I will be able to apply what I have learnt to the Shandong Museum collections on my return.

Once I had a chance to surface clean taxidermies after low temperature (freezing) treatment. Because sometimes there may be toxic chemicals applied to taxidermies, we were dressed up in protective Tyvek suits and wore masks and gloves. It is truly not easy to be a good conservator, which requires not only experience and knowledge, but also commitment and passion for work. Continuing on with additional IPM checks, I experienced a less demanding exercise and most enjoyable day conducting an IPM check in Carrick Hill historic house. Here I got to know the elegant life details of the wealthy house owners in the 20th century and to appreciate the gorgeous scenery in their fabulous garden.

In the Objects Lab, I witnessed how ‘sick’ artefacts gain their second life under conservators’ magical hands, enabling them to extend their cultural value to more people for a longer period of time. Under the supervision of a conservator I also carried out remedial conservation treatment on several objects in the Objects Lab, one of them being a large iron school bell with a history of more than 100 years. My task was to remove the numerous layers of paint applied during its century long life and I was impressed by how Australian people are environmentally conscious during the work. Because lead was a common ingredient of paintings in early times, lead testing was required to determine the waste disposal method and an online report to the government is compulsory. The whole process was scientifically conducted under the instruction of my experienced colleagues. No wonder the environment of Australia is so marvelous!

In the Migration Museum, my project was to complete an audio tour app in Mandarin. I carefully learnt the migration history of South Australia by reading books, papers and searching information online. Through hard work, I mastered the basic historic events and finished the app; this will now help the ever increasing number of Chinese visitors to better understand South Australian history, thus enhancing the communication and understanding between peoples of our two nations.

I would like to express my sincere appreciations to Artlab Australia, the Migration Museum and Shandong Museum, who gave me this valuable study opportunity. I also want to thank the sincere colleagues in SA who showed great hospitality – they lent me a jacket when I was stuck with the unusual cold weather here, drove me a trip on weekends to amuse me and invited me to fancy restaurants or back home to dinner… So many sweet memories are left here and they will be the treasures of my life. During the past eleven weeks, I was just like a golden sponge immersing myself in the life here, taking back Australian colleagues’ professionalism and friendship. I hope that in the future, further exchanges will provide more opportunities between the three institutions to develop our mutual understanding and offer more chances for the staff to know each other better.