David was a visionary, but one with a practical twist … a staunch advocate for the scientific conservation of cultural materials … a valued collaborator … and a steadfast friend.
I met David through my wife, Helen. Helen was an archivist at the Australian War Memorial, located at its Mitchell Annex where David and Robin were both conservators. In about 1985 David had been having trouble getting accurate analyses done by a commercial firm and grumbled about this to Helen, commenting that ‘it cost too much’. Helen replied, ‘Dudley could do those analyses’. I had just moved into my newly equipped analytical laboratories, which had ‘all the bells and whistles’, as they say in the classics. So … I undertook the analysis of his specimens.
David then invited me to join a project he was running to restore (in conjunction with the RAAF Apprentice School in Wagga Wagga) a WWII Japanese Zero fighter that was in the custody of the Australian War Memorial (AWM).
By making this invitation, David introduced me to the fascinating world of the scientific conservation of museum objects. For this, I will remain forever grateful. In addition to my other areas of research and teaching as a physicist, the field of cultural heritage conservation has been a source of joy and excitement to me for more than 30 years.
During his working lifetime, David collaborated with many conservators and scientists. It is a long list, which includes the names of people from many backgrounds, nations and cultures. Some may write tributes for this AICCM E-News. And they will reveal different perspectives of David’s life and work.
My own collaboration with David was, quite coincidentally, book-ended by studies of Japanese objects, a nice symmetry, beginning with the restoration of the Japanese Zero in 1985, and, recently, a study of the metallurgy and strain distributions in seven Japanese katana (sword blades) from the collection of Tasmania’s QVMAG in 2019.
In the intervening years we collaborated on many projects using a wide variety of experimental techniques: neutron and X-ray diffraction, X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, transmission and scanning electron microscopy, electrochemical impedance spectroscopy (EIS), and infrared microscopy. These laboratory-based techniques were supplemented by techniques available only at major national research facilities such as the Photon Factory KEK Tsukuba, Japan, where we used the reflectivity and grazing incidence diffraction capabilities of the BIGDIFF instrument at the Australian National Beamline Facility; the Australian Synchrotron using the X-ray fluorescence microprobe beamline and the infrared/Thz beamlines; and the KOWARI and DINGO beamlines at Ansto’s OPAL reactor for our most recent experiment.
We studied many problems: how corrosion inhibitors work; how to test in situ the integrity of waxy protective coatings on memorials; how to use the EIS method for assessing thin oil films used for protecting museum objects, and much more. We studied the metallurgy of Joe Byrne’s armour, made a comprehensive examination of the Rijksmuseum’s Dirk Hartogh Plate, and studied the Japanese katana—which remains a work in progress.
David changed his place of employment a number of times during his working life. But we always kept in touch and he discussed some of his problems with me. Two which come to mind are: the advice he was to give to the PNG government on their WWII collection, and the projected restoration of the WWI Vickers Vimy bomber at Adelaide airport.
He worked first as a volunteer conservator at the Western Australian Maritime Museum, commencing his career formally in 1979 as a conservator at the Australian War Memorial. During his time there he was deeply involved in the solution of problems related to the conservation and display of objects in the aircraft collection.
In 1996 he moved to the Queensland Museum where he was involved, amongst other projects, in the reclamation of artefacts from the wreck of HMS Pandora. In 1999, David moved back to Canberra to the National Museum of Australia (NMA), where his principal enthusiasm was for the restoration of vehicles in the museum’s automobile collection. He resumed his research on corrosion and corrosion protection during this period.
David retired from the NMA in 2012 to be a director for RM Tait and Associates Pty Ltd. He undertook consulting work for a wide range of conservation problems, writing briefs for Australian museums and galleries, universities, and statutory authorities.
David enjoyed a significant international reputation, not only as a corrosion scientist but also as an expert on the conservation of historic aircraft. Throughout his career he acted as an adviser on the care of objects in their collections to such important museums as the Smithsonian Institution, the Los Angeles Museum of Modern History, the Getty Conservation Institute, and the Powerhouse Museum.
He made a major contribution to materials conservation internationally through the coordination of the ICOM-CC Metals group for the period 2008 to 2014. This was at a time when interest in the group was flagging but David revitalised it, infusing it with his own belief and enthusiasm. His interests ranged broadly: from the very small (petroleum sulphonate waxes, which were essentially long-chain hydrocarbon molecules that can organise at the molecular level) to the preservation of large buildings like steel works. He was involved in the organising of BIGSTUFF conferences focused on the preservation of industrial-scale edifices.
David was both teacher and mentor to intern students for the University of Canberra during his employment at the AWM and the NMA. His energy, passion and knowledge, coupled with his quiet demeanour and insistence on the maintenance of professional standards, made him an exemplar in such roles. He encouraged students to give of their best as conservators. And he maintained excellent relations with those he supervised. To give but one example: over the past decade he collaborated extensively with David Thurrowgood—the Japanese swords project referred to earlier is one of David Thurrowgood’s projects.
When the study of cultural heritage conservation at the University of Canberra was being rebuilt after its regrettable closure in 2005, David contributed substantially to the construction of new courses. The structure and content continue to adapt to changes in the demands of the profession, but the principles on which the courses are based continue to follow those charted by David in collaboration with Alison Wain.
Many will attest to the fact that they owe much of their success to his enthusiasm, advice, practical assistance, and attention to detail.
I learned a lot from David. And he had plans about what we could do in the future.
But it was not to be …
David is survived by his wife, Robin, and their children, Andrew and Francis. To them we offer our heartfelt condolences.
Vale David Hallam … we will all miss your calm presence and enthusiasm for life.
BSc (1 Hons) Qld MSc UNE MSc Brist CPhys CEng FInstP FAIP
University of Canberra