This new award recognises a conservator, or group of conservators who have undertaken a conservation treatment that has significantly contributed to the conservation field, nationally or internationally and promoted the profession of conservation and its activities to the wider community.

Museum Victoria’s Aboriginal Advancement League hearse reactivation team

In mid 2017 Museums Victoria (MV) received a request to use the Victorian Aboriginal hearse in MV’s collection to repatriate ancient Ancestral Remains.

Having been in storage for the last 28 years, the car would require considerable mechanical work to get it roadworthy again. Removed parts were retained and the work was thoroughly documented for the future, though original components were retained and repaired where possible.

In November 2017 the hearse was transported to Canberra, and on the 20th November 2017 the hearse arrived at Lake Mungo driven by community member Daryl Pappin and in front of the community the remains of Mungo Man and 104 Ancestors were returned to their Ancestral Homeland.

This is not a ‘traditional’ conservation treatment but is a wonderful example of consultation, community engagement and giving a cultural object new meaning through conservation. The conservation and restoration work undertaken allowed the hearse to be back in the hands of its community and reincorporated into living culture at an incredibly significant time.

Melanie Raberts (Collection Manager Arts, Museum Victoria); Sarah Babister (Conservator Objects, Museum Victoria); and Neville Quick (Manager Collection Storage and Logistics, Museum Victoria) accepting the award on behalf of Museum Victoria’s Aboriginal Advancement League hearse reactivation team.

Skye Firth—Birdwood Flag Project

Australia’s first national flag, known as the Birdwood Flag, was flown at the headquarters of General William Birdwood at the Western Front. After the war it was ‘laid-up’ at the Christ Church Cathedral in Newcastle since the 1920’s, where it slowly fell from its pole to the ground.  Thousands of tiny pieces were collected and stored in a box in the Cathedral safe.  The box contained one of Australia’s most significant artefacts from World War I.

In June 2015, a two year journey began when ICS was presented with a small box full of tiny silk fragments and a request to piece the flag back together.  The project was a collaboration between the Cathedral, the University of Newcastle, Tashco Display Systems, and a Committee, named the Birdwood Heritage Committee, dedicated to the preservation of the flag.

A Copeland Foundation grant enabled us to a 12 month reconstruction journey to assemble the fragments based on their weave direction, shape, colour and fading pattern before they were encased between two layers of tulle. Each fragment was then surrounded by meticulous hand stitching to secure them in place

The results of this treatment have been described by the community as miraculous.  The thousands of tiny silk pieces contained in a box, have been reconstructed into a 1.4 x 2.7 metre flag which is now clearly recognisable as Australia’s first national flag.  The presentation of the conserved flag has been widely reported in the local media as well as nationally. Both the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Newcastle Broadcasting Network television networks visited the ICS lab to document the story and attended the installation of the flag at the Cathedral before its re-hallowing on 30th July, 2017. The Birdwood flag is now safely displayed in its purpose designed showcase at the Cathedral.  The showcase will enable it to be loaned to other cultural institutions such as the Newcastle Museum or the Australian War Memorial.  Interpretive leaflets and plaques have been designed to enhance visitor understanding of the flag’s history as well as the process of its conservation for a ‘second life’. An Australian red cedar credence (table) is being restored, to make provide brochures for visitors to the Cathedral, which is open every day.

Skye Firth