STO­RIES ON HOLD

As our mu­seum takes shape, its pre­cious in­hab­i­tants wait pa­tiently in ... Welsh­pool

The Sunday Times - - NEWS - BELLE TAYLOR

ABLACK bear and a warthog stand sideby-side eye­ing off a swoop­ing ea­gle. A po­lar bear snarls over their heads and a hip­popota­mus yawns at a light fit­ting.

This is the ex­otic menagerie found at the Western Aus­tralian Mu­seum’s Welsh­pool stor­age fa­cil­ity, where en­dan­gered rhi­nos rub shoul­ders with grey kan­ga­roos, and lions jos­tle for shelf space with ex­otic mon­keys and do­mes­tic dogs.

Next to the stuffed an­i­mals are gi­ant banks of draw­ers, each con­tain­ing neatly la­belled col­lec­tions of small an­i­mal bones. Hun­dreds of tiny fe­murs. Piles of rib cages. Tubs and tubs of minia­ture pelvises.

It is just one of the wild and won­der­ful rooms in the cav­ernous ware­house space which holds about 8.5 mil­lion of the ob­jects that col­lec­tively tell the story of WA. From rocks that re­veal the se­crets of how the land was formed, to in­dige­nous art­works de­pict­ing sto­ries from the Dream­time, to arte­facts from the shores of Gal­lipoli, this is the phys­i­cal stuff that has shaped this land, our cul­ture, us.

In the sec­ond half of 2020, the new Western Aus­tralian Mu­seum is set to open in the Perth Cul­tural Cen­tre. Part of the $395.9 mil­lion de­vel­op­ment will see a mod­ern struc­ture en­velop the ex­ist­ing her­itage build­ing. It will boast 6000sqm of gallery space and it is set to be the jewel in the crown of WA’s mu­se­ums, which in­clude the Mar­itime and Ship­wreck mu­se­ums in Fre­man­tle, and sev­eral re­gional cen­tres.

“It will be a unique mu­seum in terms of not only its con­struc­tion, but also the story it will tell in terms of the West Aus­tralian story and our place in the world,” Min­is­ter for Cul­ture and the Arts David Tem­ple­man said.

While con­struc­tion ploughs ahead in the city, in Welsh­pool teams of cu­ra­tors are sort­ing, cat­e­goris­ing and, in some cases, dis­cov­er­ing anew the mu­seum’s trea­sures. His­tory doesn’t sit still, and the new mu­seum is giv­ing the cus­to­di­ans a chance to re­think how the story of WA should be told.

“We are taking a com­pletely dif­fer­ent ap­proach to how the mu­seum dis­plays its col­lec­tion,” project di­rec­tor Tr­ish McDon­ald said.

“Pre­vi­ously, the mu­seum was a very tax­o­nomic mu­seum, there was the but­ter­fly gallery, there was the di­nosaur gallery, there was the his­tory gallery. What we’re try­ing to do is a much more mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary the­matic ap­proach so we’re blend­ing in the nat­u­ral his­tory, the so­cial his­tory, the cul­tural his­tory.”

For­get dusty old ex­hibits with dry sci­en­tific plac­ards. The new mu­seum will tell a more in-depth story of WA. The mu­seum is car­ry­ing out on­go­ing con­sul­ta­tion with re­mote Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­ni­ties about how to tell their story. And Ms McDon­ald said they would not shy away from the darker as­pects of WA’s past.

“We will be deal­ing with some quite hard his­tory,” she said.

“The deaths in cus­tody and var­i­ous other sto­ries around the im­pact of coloni­sa­tion. One thing we are do­ing is work­ing very closely with com­mu­ni­ties to talk through the way for­ward and how we can do it in a way that cel­e­brates sur­vival and looks to the fu­ture, ac­knowl­edges the past, but def­i­nitely looks to the fu­ture.

“We will have some ar­eas in that space where there is a bit of a de­com­pres­sion and a quiet space af­ter some of those hard sto­ries.”

There is also a re­newed fo­cus on our chang­ing cli­mate and how hu­mans have im­pacted the WA en­vi­ron­ment.

A new ex­hibit will look at the ex­tinct an­i­mals of WA and will fea­ture a never-be­fore-dis­played gem from the taxi­dermy col­lec­tion — a cres­cent nail­tail wal­laby. Also known by its in­dige­nous name, wur­rung, the small, noc­tur­nal crea­ture was last sighted in the 1950s. The item has a tag around its neck from when it came to the col­lec­tion — 1899.

“We need to learn about what we have lost to care about what we still have,” Dr Kenny Travouil­lon, cu­ra­tor of mam­mals, said.

“Of­ten peo­ple don’t re­alise how much di­ver­sity is out there be­cause most of the an­i­mals were noc­tur­nal, so peo­ple have never seen th­ese an­i­mals alive. They don’t know what they are miss­ing be­cause they have never had a chance to see them.”

There will also be a fo­cus on WA’s im­pact on the world and how out­side forces have af­fected life in this part of the globe. One ex­hi­bi­tion will look at Gal­lipoli, in par­tic­u­lar the 3rd Field Am­bu­lance C Sec­tion. Front and cen­tre of the dis­play will be a rel­a­tively new acquisition — a Red Cross Flag be­lieved to be the first med­i­cal flag flown at the beach at the land­ing. The flag was sou­venired by its bearer, Pte A. D. Kemp who, in 1918, sent it to C Sec­tion’s com­mand­ing of­fi­cer, Capt. Dou­glas McWhae.

“(McWhae) brought it back to WA, but it gets a bit murky then,” ex­plained Stephen An­stey, head of the his­tory depart­ment. “No one quite knows where it ended up, and there are sort of vague ru­mours about it be­ing found in a store­room in Beatty Park when it was be­ing ren­o­vated, but we can’t ver­ify that.”

In 2016, the flag resur­faced in Canada, where it had been bought by mil­i­tary col­lec­tor Doug Buh­ler.

A grass­roots cam­paign raised enough money to buy the flag for the WA Mu­seum, where it will go on dis­play for the first time in 2020.

The new mu­seum will also con­tain some old favourites. The much-loved blue whale will be re­turn­ing.

The whale washed ashore near Bus­sel­ton in 1898, where it was cleaned on the beach and trans­ported to Perth.

“I mar­vel at the fact they were able to ren­der this beast down and trans­port it. With­out all our mod­ern tech­nol­ogy, th­ese guys work­ing in the 1890s were able to do it,” Dr Scott Mitchell, head of col­lec­tions man­age­ment and con­ser­va­tion, said.

The blue whale will be hung above vis­i­tors in the orig­i­nal part of the mu­seum.

“I think it’s true to say, through the his­tory of the mu­seum it’s con­sis­tently been the most pop­u­lar item,” Dr Mitchell said.

Be­cause some­times the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Pic­tures: Trevor Col­lens

Build it and they will come: Min­is­ter for Cul­ture and the Arts David Tem­ple­man at the WA Mu­seum un­der con­struc­tion. Left: How the mu­seum will look when com­pleted. Right: Stephen An­stey, head of his­tory, with the 3rd Field Hospi­tal Red Cross flag that flew at Gal­lipoli, at the mu­seum stor­age fa­cil­ity in Welsh­pool. Be­low: Cu­ra­tor of mam­mal­ogy Kenny Travouil­lon at Welsh­pool.

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