There are so many exciting things in the air at the moment it’s hard to know where to start this report. But to kick things off I’d really like to thank everyone for the extraordinary response to our end-of-financial-year fundraising push for AICCM’s 50k for 50 years campaign – and especially Robyn Sloggett and David Thurrowgood for their generous ‘matching’ offers. We raised just over $10,000 during this period, so their offers were well and truly matched! EOIs for the associated 50k grant projects have just closed and I’m looking forward to reading about all the schemes and dreams you have in mind. Many thanks to our Vice President, Grace Barrand, who is the driving force behind this initiative.
Another upcoming exciting thing is of course the 50th Anniversary National Conference in November. The organising committee is putting together a fabulous program for us and we’re nearly ready to open up registrations – hopefully they will be live around the same time you are reading this.
One thing you’ll notice is that registration includes the conference dinner. I know not everyone will be a fan of this approach (for cost and introvert reasons) but we really wanted to give everyone the opportunity to attend, particularly students. It’s usually people like me who go to conference dinners – already established in the profession, with stable employment and a decent salary (though I am an introvert…) – but the social element of events like this can be just as important professionally as the conference program. Thanks in part to an extraordinary level of sponsorship (all credit to sponsorship coordinator extraordinaire Celia Cramer!) we are able to effectively subsidise the overall registration costs for students and concessions, allowing everyone to attend this celebration of 50 years of the conservation profession in Australia.
Because I’m going to have to be all presidential at the National Conference (in speeches and welcomes and so forth) I’ve started looking through old AGM minutes and national newsletters. If you haven’t done this for a while (or ever) I really recommend it – we have collectively achieved an astonishing amount over the last 50 years.
The AICCM’s origins reveal a very different time, though a familiar level of passion, engagement and commitment. AICCM (then ICCM) was born from a national seminar on the conservation of cultural materials, held at the Western Australian Museum in Perth in 1973. The seminar examined the problems facing conservation as a discipline and profession in Australia – essentially, that there wasn’t really an established profession at all, despite around 100 delegates to the conference.
ICCM’s aims were helped in 1975 by the ‘Pigott Report’, tabled in Parliament following an inquiry into (amongst other things) the national state of collection and conservation facilities (hint: poor). One of its recommendations was the establishment of a conservation training course; this opened in 1978 at the Canberra College of Advanced Education (CCAE, later the University of Canberra) with the first cohort graduating in 1979. Also in 1979, ICOMOS Australia launched the Burra Charter, outlining the principles for the conservation of Australian heritage places and the first such charter internationally to include intangible cultural heritage as something to be considered. These two documents, instrumental to the growth of the conservation profession in Australia, remain highly relevant today.
Within this cultural climate (A)ICCM volunteers established new professional networks and standards of practice. An interim Constitution was developed in 1973, revised in 1976 for ICCM’s incorporation; the Bulletin was first published in 1975, with support from the ANU; and our Code of Ethics and Practice was first proposed in 1982 and adopted in 1987.
National newsletters were first published in 1980, and through these we can track the changing landscape of conservation in Australia. For example, in 1983, AICCM’s tenth year, members were advocating against the construction of the Franklin Dam in Tasmania, to prevent the loss of archaeological sites. The National Library was investigating the feasibility of a national computer database for conservation records.
In 1993 members were asked to consider a proposed merger with what is now AMaGA, ‘Unity and Diversity: The Path Towards a United Museums Association for Australia’. You will not be surprised to learn that AICCM members voted to remain independent – 233 votes were returned against, 33 in favour (of 507 eligible members).
Ten years later again, in 2003, President Eric Archer wrote about the damage and loss to Iraq’s cultural heritage during the post 9/11 invasion and war and AICCM’s continued advocacy for the allied forces to observe and enforce UNESCO’s conventions on the protection of cultural heritage. On the local front, AICCM held a National Training Summit at the National Museum of Australia, prompted by the news that the conservation degree at the University of Canberra would close.
(NB: At an associated dinner to celebrate the 100th AICCM National Council meeting, a ‘trio of survivors’ from the very first AICCM meeting – Colin Pearson, Allan Byrne and Wal Ambrose – presented a ‘one-act tableau’ called ‘Vague Recollections of the Past’, which makes me feel bad we didn’t do more to mark our 200th National Council meeting in October 2020, but I think we might have been in lockdown.)
The newsletters of 2013 reveal conservation at the University of Canberra had survived (reopening in 2009), alongside the postgraduate course now offered by the University of Melbourne (first student intake in 2004). AICCM issued its interim Environmental Guidelines, ahead of ICOM–CC’s 17th triennial conference in Melbourne in 2014.
Now, in 2023, we’ve come through a global pandemic, weathered further floods and bushfires, and have a new national Cultural Policy to consider. We have strong and active State and Territory Divisions, Special Interest Groups, and Working Group committees. We’re developing a Reconciliation Action Plan, finding new ways to support AICCM financially through our Development Committee and have finally advertised for our long-wished-for Executive Officer.
This is such a tiny fraction of all that AICCM members have achieved over the last 50 years. What will the next 50 hold? I look forward to finding out.
Before signing off I’d like to thank two excellent people: Amanda Wild, who will be stepping down as National Secretary, and Zora Sanders, who has been AICCM’s Communications Officer for several years. Amanda brought her calm, practical organisation skills to our chaos. Zora has been the reliable and engaging voice of AICCM on our social media channels and really increased AICCM’s reach beyond the membership. I will miss having them both around.
Best wishes to you all and see you IRL in November!