Rebecca started working at the Australian War Memorial in 2000 as an information assistant and is now a curator in the Military Heraldry and Technology section. She curated the exhibition Sport and War, which opened in 2006, and studied material culture at university in the United Kingdom in 2007.
I’m a Canberra girl, I was born and raised here, and the Memorial has always loomed large for me. I often went there as a child for school, as well as on family visits. After a degree in history at the ANU, I completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Cultural Heritage Studies at the University of Canberra and I wanted to find a way to make that study of history applicable in my work, to gain more meaning out of it. The Memorial is a place that I have a great deal of admiration for so I thought it would be a great place to work.
The Memorial was very generous and gave me a year off and I went and did my Master’s degree in the History of Design and Material Culture at the University of Brighton on the south coast of England. It was a great way to refresh my skills and rebuild my enthusiasm for my job. I had a wonderful time learning about new ways to look at objects, what they can tell us about the past and how to apply that knowledge.
It was a completely different experience and one that I was glad to have the opportunity to do. Having a new perspective on what people appreciate in terms of collections was really interesting. I gained a lot of new ideas to apply to my work back in Australia. From a personal perspective, this new experience refreshed me mentally as well.
It was one of the Memorial’s travelling exhibitions that opened in Canberra in 2006. I was given the opportunity to work initially as the co-curator and then as curator. I helped put the exhibition together in terms of selecting the displays and writing text. It looks at the ways in which war and sport have intersected over the last 100 years of Australia’s history. It’s been a popular exhibition, and provided us with a good opportunity to show a side of the collection that we don’t usually get to display. Visitors are able to see soldiers, sailors and airmen engaging in sporting activities, rather than the stereotypical things we think are involved in fighting war. It was a really exciting project for me to work on because we got some wonderful photographs, images and objects, and put them on display for the public to see.
It was about 18 months all up, which is a standard time frame for an exhibition. A lot goes on behind the scenes that people don’t necessarily think of.
Every day is different. I deal with a lot of public enquiries about objects in our collections. A lot of people often have objects in their own collections and they might not know what they are or how to look after them. Some people want to find a home for their military memorabilia and I deal with those donation offers. I also occasionally write articles for our website and magazine and answer media enquiries. Exhibition work is also a big part of my job with preparation and research. Cataloguing is another big part of my day.
We have a large collection of objects at the Memorial – there’s over 150 000 objects alone in the section I work in – and a lot of my work involves research to find out who the objects belonged to, and the story behind each one, so that we can preserve that information for everyone to access.
I travel occasionally, especially in connection with travelling exhibitions. I have the opportunity to visit the different venues where each exhibition is held, see it set up and talk to people in these regional areas. The Memorial also runs a Bring in Your Memorabilia program alongside our travelling exhibitions where a curator, historian and conservator go to each of these regional centres so that the public can bring in their objects to be identified and to get advice on how to look after them. It’s a really wonderful opportunity to get out there into the public and bring our collection from Canberra to these regional areas.
There are 19 people working in the Military Heraldry and Technology section. Most of these are curators and assistant curators, but we also have a photography team which works on photographing objects as they come into our collection so we can put them up on our website. Most of the people here are working on the collection, researching and answering enquiries, and getting the collection ready for exhibitions.
I’m getting ready to work on an upcoming exhibition that will open at the Memorial in late 2009. The exhibition has the theme of love and war and will involve stories about the personal relationships of servicemen and servicewomen during war. It’s going to be an exciting exhibition to work on and should turn up some wonderful stories, objects and photographs.
I’m always looking for new opportunities to grow in the curatorial field. No one day here is the same and there are always new things to learn and different challenges to face. I’d like to perhaps publish further and continue writing articles for the Memorial or other sources. It’s a wonderful working environment at the Memorial.
Everyone is very supportive and everyone I’ve worked with has been very helpful with my career development and helping me do things that I’d like to do, such as further study.