Today the group had planned tours at the National Museum of Singapore, Battlebox and the Bicentennial Experience at Fort Canning. All three were quite fascinating and had slightly different takes on important national narratives.
The National Museum was incredibly beautiful. The building was completed in 1887 as the Raffles Library and Museum and has been extended and renovated sympathetically multiple times. The building has a combination of British neo-classical styling, with slicker recent renovations. There are some *huge* audio visuals used inside galleries. The interpretation of the collection is fascinating, and shies away from going into grim or gritty details. Instead, it focuses primarily on the successes and future of Singapore as a country.
I was particularly struck by this in the Growing Up gallery. The Growing Up gallery focuses on Singaporean history between the 1950’s-1960’s, a particularly complex time for Singapore, but the exhibition mainly focuses on the introduction of education and industry to the country. This isn’t unreasonable, it’s just a tad jarring for this little museum nerd who finds pulling out the raw and ugly truth invigorating. Lesson for today was that maybe a little bit of lightness and pride can actually go a long way.
As a side note, being deeply in love with children and public programs, I had been deeply disappointed in the lack of interactivity in the galleries. Then I found the activities section and my mind was blown. I was also highly skeptic although about a children's activity book that included 116 pages - but it totally works! Super impressed.
Battlebox was quite different. The Battlebox started it’s life as the Headquarters Malaya Command Operations Bunker. More popularly, many will know of the bunker as the location where Commonwealth forces decided to surrender to the Japanese forces during WW2. It’s not where the surrender was signed. The rooms generally do not include original artefacts, as most were lost either during or just after the conflict. It is certainly quite a somber location.
I felt that the story of Singapore was a little lost in the tour. The history of the bunker is explained in length, and the conflicts crescendo builds as films portray the swift advance of Japan down the coast. But story revolves around the commanders that were placed in power, and only briefly touches on the effect of the conflict on Singapore as a country. Primarily, and unsurprisingly I suppose, the story revolves around the bunker and the people within it.
Which leads me to our last adventure of the day, the Bicentennial Experience. It was certainly an incredible experience. I never thought I would stand in the rain, under an umbrella, in a building with a roof. Or that I would watch actors playing historical figures while balancing on a conveyor belt. The best word I could honestly use is ‘intense’.
I was struck as just how completely earnest the production was. The narrative is really a call to arms, asking Singaporeans to see values in certain traits and to aspire to continue growing in the future. It something that I don’t think would work in Australia. I was pretty impressed through that this Experience at least did peer into some of the unhappier aspects of history.
All three are telling a part of the Singaporean story. I would argue that both the Museum and the Bicentennial Experience are telling stories that they hope will become rallying calls towards shared ideals and goals as a society. I think that the way they are telling those stories could spend a bit more time filling in the gaps in history, and not shying away from the messier parts. It felt a bit sugary at times, but they were fantastic places to visit.
I feel extremely lucky and privileged to be on the road again in Singapore, enrolled in a heritage unit through the University of Canberra. Over the next 14 days we will be exploring the heritage and museum sector in Singapore, with an itinerary that is looking fabulously interesting. I’ll try and keep this blog updated with my adventures as we go along.
To back track slightly, I arrived in Singapore ahead of schedule, to spend some quality time with Mr Geek. We have trekked, trailed, traipsed and occasionally trudged our way around some of the tourism spots. It has been, in a word, terrific.
- My first ride on a roller coaster ever, at Universal Studios (Mr Geek insists I popped his ear drum)
- Tasting local sweets in Little India (a friendly customer helped us to pick out the treats)
- The exhibitions at the ArtScience Museum, which were gloriously beautiful and inspiring
- The light and sound show at the Gardens by the Bay (and then an odyssey around the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest)
I have experienced the wonder of Kopi, a type of coffee that uses evaporated and milk to create awareness that is unrivalled. I have tried Chicken Rice.
And, oh my gosh, the transport system. The subways run on time, in a logical order and the tunnels don’t smell suspiciously of stale urine. I’ve felt really safe the entire time, which is lovely.
Anyhow, it has been marvellous. The only downside is Mr Geek heading back home to Canberra today so that I can join up with my Uni group. Maybe I should have smuggled him into my luggage.
In October I had the pleasant experience of visiting the Goulburn Historic Waterworks to check out their annual Steampunk & Victoriana Fair. It was brilliant fun, and I will certainly be going along again!
The Waterworks is located next to the Wollondilly River, making it a very picturesque location. I can completely understand why so many events choose this location for a wide variety of shindigs. The official website explains that the pumping station was built in the 1880’s and provided Goulburn’s first reticulated water supply. The original Appleby Bro’s Beam engine is still maintained as a working piece of machinery. I was struck by how surprisingly quiet it was - somehow I has imagined that it would be as loud as the steam powered trains that I have seen. Beyond the original machine, there is a variety of other impressive devices that are somewhat meditative to watch in movement.
The museum space has a complicated past, much like many small museums. It has swung between fully privately funded, to council funding multiple times, but has somehow managed to survive quite solidly. There is a neat little education program available and the volunteers that I met onsite were very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. The Steampunk & Victoriana Fair is an initiative by the Waterworks to raise funds and profile. The Steampunk & Victoriana Fair has been running since 2014, with an attendance of approximately 250 people in it’s first year. Attendance for 2018 was approximately 3000, which is a fairly good rate of growth for an annual event (I believe this would have been higher is not for the rain). Revenue is also raised by having themed retail stores and food vendors. Cleverly, the food vendors were hidden slightly around a corner, which meant that the steampunk atmosphere could be maintain a little more easily. Multiple competitions (costume, inventions etc) invite participants to join in the fun from early before the events date, keeping it fresh in the public’s mind.
Steampunk is a genre of fiction that imagines a 19th-century inspired world that is influenced by science fiction style elements. There are very few ‘rules’ on what this means exactly - but imagine, it you will, a Victorian Gentleman in a lovely outfit that also includes a fully steam powered mechanical arm, or a set of suitcases that follows along behind the owner using steam powered tank treads. It is an amalgamation of science fiction with steam powered 19th century ingenuity and fashion. As someone who enjoys textile arts and sewing, I was so inspired by the characterful costumes. Admittedly, I am certainly not looking to get involved in another hobby, but I thought the deliberate anachronistic nature of the costuming looked very enjoyable. There is a storytelling element that is very alluring to the whole business.
With that in mind, I think that as a revenue raising event, the Fair is a wonderful choice for the site. The volunteers onsite helped to explain how the actual technology worked and I did notice that people were stopping to read the historic panels. The atmosphere was fabulous, and the users of the site clearly cared for the space. A quick googling brings up plenty of news articles talking about the event, raising the profile and traffic of the Waterworks. It also promotes the historic buildings as a prime site for other private and public events. I love that it both celebrates a history that was, and will never be. I will absolutely be returning to visit again this year!
In preparation of upcoming walking tours, I am currently researching the many varied sculptures in Commonwealth Park, Canberra. I do love this work, and discovering the people behind the amazing artworks is just delightful. I am perplexed however, in trying to find any information on the sculpture that I have nicknamed ‘Big Blue’.
The sculpture lays on the western shore of Nerang pool. Snuggled into the tree line, the plaque has long ago lost all writing from it. I have managed to narrow down some evidence so far:
1. A photo of it in the garden appears in a 1995 newspaper
2. It does not seem to be one of the commissioned works from 1995’s Floriade
3. It does not seem to have been a commissioned work from 1994
1993 winners are currently being illusive, much to my aggravation. On the upside though, it creates a timescale of probably somewhere between 1975 and 1995, which is somewhat smaller then what I was originally looking at.
My current plan is to keep reading through old newspapers and to widen my search of photos around the area. In addition, once all the fencing is down, I’m going to try a rubbing of the plaque, just in case.
I’ll keep the search going and update my avid readers with the outcomes. If you happen to have any old photos of the area near Nerang Pool, I would certainly love to hear from you!
Canberra Times (1995) - Floriade Canberra’s Spring Festival: All the things you need to know
Canberra Times (1995) - Floriade Canberra’s Spring Festival: Gardens a show case for sculptors
Canberra Times (1994) - Canberra’s Spring Festival of Flower
It’s interesting just how much angst I have felt about writing this blog, and amusingly this morning I found that the draft I had been working on had disappeared. Which means I have had even more time to dwell on the embroidered food bags that I have recently completed for a heritage home display.
The food bags were decided on to fill an interpretation hole in the space. The space is not able to have any panels or electronic means for interpretation, but there is an enthusiastic volunteer and staff team. The embroidered food bags were to be added into the living area of the 1860s zone, along with a number of other display food items. A common way of storing dry staple foods during this time period were cotton bags, but having bags without interpretation seemed lacking in depth. We were also a little concerned about people trying to open them and spilling the stuffing out in an attempt to work out what was in them (curiosity being the chief mother of invention and also mess).
I am an embroider, and love spending time on researching historic embroidery pieces. I sadly have been unable to find any indication of embroidered food bags. However, I can prove that women on their way to Australia on the boats did spend time embroidering and sewing small pieces. I can say that Mary Ginn, the first female occupant of the cottage was educated and likely had been taught embroidery as part of her education. We know that she could read and write. The font used for the bags is from a period embroidery book, which was fairly readily available. I do know that the fabric is on par with what should be expected, the threads are right and the stitching style is popular during that period.
Can I prove that there were absolutely embroidered food bags in the 1860s?
And it drives me crazy.
So why am I admitting to this?
During the Open Palaces Programme, I was struck by a talk that was given at the Tower of London. The Yeoman Warder who took us around during our tour was incredibly open about what had been tried and succeeded. Beyond that, he told us what hadn’t worked. Why it hadn’t worked. The processes that led to both success and failure and how they measured those attempts. And it inspired me, because in failure there is a great amount of strength. Knowing what has and hasn’t worked helps us to grow.
So, have I failed with these baggies? I don’t know. On one hand, the interpretation works perfectly. Visitors react to them really well and ask why the food is in bags. It sets up an indication of what hand writing could kind of look like. So there is some great things happening. However, I feel like it’s not quite right, so I will keep looking for evidence (whether for or against). I think the chief thing I could have done is finish them a hell of a lot faster. Part way through the process, I froze up with anxiety over whether they were right and how they would reflect on my (and the heritage home) if they were wrong. That was a good learning experience, in that sometimes you need to go forwards to give yourself time to think in the future. I can also say that the embroidery was travelling at about 1 letter per two hours, on average, so they took a really long time to complete. There are dozens of little things that my perfectionist brain hates as well, but they are far less useful to dwell on.
I don’t know if I will call this any type of serious failure. I will call this a learning experience that I can develop from. I will also be open and transparent, because failure is healthy. It’s good to fall over and make mistakes and doubt ourselves. And if we share these stories and these thoughts openly, then it helps others to make informed choices in the future. It also just makes us feel less alone.
My current challenge is to find some new and realistic food for our little cottage. We have a marvellous new artist working on items, and I can not wait to show you what she has been working on. However cabbages are proving very hard to find, if not outright illusive. Sadly, I do not think this fine example will fit in with the tone we are attempting to create...
When I first started studying at the University of Canberra, I saw a poster for the Open Palaces Programme on the wall and thought “One day, I am going to do that”.
And friends, that is a goal I can tick off my list now.
Why did I want to do the Open Palaces Programme? At first, honestly the idea of walking around in palaces sounded like a beautiful thing to do. I had been involved in a medieval reenactment group, and castles sounded exciting and filled with medieval ‘stuff’. As I grew into my studies a bit more, and worked in the industry, the program started to embody the excitement of learning about heritage and museum practice in a different country. To look at ideas from a different point of view. I wanted to be steeped in museum ideas and saturated in heritage. It certainly achieved all of those things and more.
The program is run by Glasscastle Ltd, and designed by Jean MacIntyre. Jean has an incredible wealth of experience in the GLAM sector, and was a very warm and inviting person to work with. The purpose of the program is to provide a unique learning experience for students and emergent professionals in the GLAM field. The program works with a number of organisations (including the Bath Preservation Trust and the Historic Royal Palaces) to provide talks and workshops on different topics. There was a good combination of theory and hands on, with time to discuss and ask questions. The networking opportunities were vast and highly enjoyable.
Travelling with a group of like minded and fantabulous museum professionals for 20 days was wonderful. One of my favourite parts of any convention is knowing that everyone around you has the same style of passion, but they only last 3 days. Having 20 days to discuss, and theorise, and debate was just lovely. To ensure that the program runs smoothly, a team leader and mentors are assigned to the group. This years team leader for our session was Robbie Ladbrook, an entirely inspiring individual who organised and sorted the group seamlessly. Jill Eastcott and Tyler Mills were our mentors, providing valuable insights and a hearty dose of humour. Travelling for a fair amount of time and taking in a huge amount of information, these 3 lovely individuals made sure our brains were not entirely falling out of our heads and even cared for some of us as we fell sick from lurgies. I have no doubt that these connections that I made will continue to be a valuable resource in my future career path.
I’m lining up a number of blog posts about the places that we visited, talking about some of the topics that we covered. The program has inspired me to keep writing and has left me feeling reinvigorated after a bit of a low point. Over the course of the program, and then with the additional 20 days of travel that I tacked onto the end of the program, I visited 50 different museums, galleries and heritage sites. I have a fair amount to talk about!
For future posts, I’ll tag which of the sites we visited as a part of the program, just in case there is anyone else out there looking for information about some of the places visited in the 2018 sessions. They do change the program regularly though, so please if you are reading this, make sure to check the official website if you are looking for concrete future information.
If you are looking for further information, you can find plenty on their official website: http://openpalace.co
It’s been a busy few weeks, with more things to do then I can poke a stick at. Most of it includes a lot of relaxing before Uni starts back up for the year. However, I have been attempting to get ahead in my texts before the class starts. One of the books assigned to last years class is Objects - Reluctant witnesses to the past by Chris Caple. It’s a fantastic read so far, and I’m loving finding ideas for evidence that I hadn’t considered before. I’m sure I will have more commentary when I have finished reading the book!
As an additional piece of excitement I have been busily preparing for my trip to England this year, having been accepted into the Open Palaces Programme. Occasionally, as I am working out where to stay and what other places to see, I am struck by how vast the world is and how many museums there are to visit yet.
Museum working, game playing and dog loving geek. Tune in for musings about the GLAM sector, and generally geekiness.