How I Ended Up Here – GLAM Blog Club

It has been way too long since I’ve written a post for GLAM Blog Club. This month, the theme is How I Ended Up Here. Not only does this allow for some great feelings of nostalgia, but also, time to reflect on my journey. It’s so easy to get caught up in the present or dread/fear/anticipate the future. How often do you take the time to sit down and really just remember where you started and how far you’ve come? I’m hoping that by writing this blog post, I can take the time to feel proud of what I’ve accomplished. I also hope that if you’re reading this post, you can also take some time out of your day to do the same.

Ok, so my story begins all the way back in primary school. Visiting museums was, for me, the best excursion ever. Seeing all the cool dinosaur bones and dioramas at the Queensland Museum is something that I can still so vividly remember. Especially seeing the two large dinosaurs that were and still are outside the museum in an outdoors area. My other hazy memories of museums and art galleries include visiting the Queensland Art Gallery and completing just about every school holiday activity I could find. I grew up really valuing museums and this is something that would continue.

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By Figaro at en.wikipedia (Own work Transferred from en.wikipedia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

 I’m going to skip ahead to my first year of University. History was my absolute favourite subject in school so it made sense to enrol in a Bachelor of Arts/Social Science at the University of Queensland majoring in history. I eventually dropped the latter in order to focus more on my Bachelor of Arts. After trying almost every elective, I settled on a German language/culture minor. What proved to be an extremely good choice as it allowed me to spend some time/fall in love with Berlin. While I enjoyed studying history, I was more interested in how history is presented and how you can use objects to tell stories.

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Sedination at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 One day, during my first exam period, I was procrastinating and googled every museum in Brisbane just to see if they accepted volunteers. I found the MacArthur World War II Museum in the City and thought it would be a cool place to start gaining some museum experience. For about two years, this was my only volunteering gig. I would go in every Saturday and help with welcoming visitors, running tours, etc.

It encouraged me to apply for a 2013 history scholarship at the University of Queensland which involved curating a display case in the Queensland Parliament Library. I loved writing labels for an exhibition about international exhibitions. It was meta, it allowed me to reach out to the community, and, most importantly, it meant I could learn a lot about Queensland’s history from rare books and manuscripts.

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Queensland Parliament Library Display Case

After this scholarship, I started my honours year writing on memorialisation of the 1692 Salem Witchcraft Trials. I wanted another volunteering opportunity so I could balance my time and feel like I was actually using my skills. I was absolutely thrilled when the Queensland Police Museum gave me the wonderful opportunity to work with and publish parts of their textile collection. It sparked a long-lasting love of historical textiles. At this stage, I was pretty confident that I wanted to study Museum and Heritage Studies. The University of Queensland had a course, but I wanted to try something new. I sent my application to the University of Sydney and was accepted to start studying mid-2015. In the six months leading up to me moving inter-state, I worked and volunteered almost everyday to build my experience and learn everything I could possibly want to know.

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My Honours Thesis

I continued volunteering at the Police Museum. I also started volunteering at the Commissariat Store Museum (a convict museum in Brisbane) and the Abbey Museum of Art & Archaeology in Caboolture. It was a very tiring six months but I am so glad I took the time to really get a grip on what I was going to study.

Then I moved to Sydney. One of the best decisions I have ever made. After a month of living in Sydney I got my first paid job in the museum/heritage sector as an education tour guide on Cockatoo Island. I still remember how excited I was when I got the job as this was really my first paid job doing what I loved. After my first semester, I boarded a plane to Melbourne to intern at the Geoffrey Kaye Museum of Anaesthetic History. Here, I developed a love of medical objects/history and learnt so much from my supervisor, Monica Cronin. It was during this internship that I realised this kind of work was exactly what I wanted to do and there was no going back.

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Cockatoo Island

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Cockatoo Island

 

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Geoffrey Kaye Museum of Anaesthetic History

For about a year, I held seven casual/part time jobs in museums and at heritage places (see About Me or my Extended CV for a list!). I did so because casual work was really all over the place and I needed to piece together something that resembled a full-time job. The stress of filling out rosters, ensuring I had enough hours, was insane. This was all worth it in the end. I gained so much experience in so many different areas I was confident and prepared to go for something more permanent.

In August this year, I started my role as Exhibitions and Education Officer at the Gladstone Regional Art Gallery & Museum. In just a couple of months, I have already had so many incredible opportunities. I can’t wait for the years ahead.

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Gladstone Regional Art Gallery & Museum

That’s my long-winded How I Ended Up Here story. I could not have ended up here without the support of oh so many people. At the risk of turning this into an Golden Globes acceptance speech, you know who you are and I thank you. I am incredibly proud to be in this industry and to have ended up exactly where I am.

GLAM Blog Club “Fear”

Time for another GLAM Blog Club post! I am truly excited to write on the topic of ‘fear’. I’m going to tackle this topic from a variety of angles. Not just because I have many fears, but also because I work with some objects that absolute ignite fear in others.

To start, I’m going to write about my time curating a medical collection. A few years ago I realised that I very easily have vasovagal syncope episodes. Basically, for me, being somewhere medical can result in me fainting and feeling incredibly nauseous. There are also times when my vision has become very blurry and my pulse slows right down. It’s quite hard to manage and even when I try my absolute best not to pass out, it still happens. A couple of years ago now it hit me while I was standing in a pharmacy looking at some medication. I saw the word swelling, yes it only took seeing one word, and I was out. Vaccinations as well as blood tests almost always result in a vasovagal episode.

It is caused by a whole variety of triggers including fear of pain and/or bodily injury. Some people experience slight lightheadedness, whereas others, including myself, just full on faint. So how does this relate to fear in the museum?

I became interested in medical collections in 2015. It makes no sense that I would be wanting to work with the objects that have caused me so much grief. Nevertheless I thought this history was way too interesting for me not to pursue. The real test came with my first internship at the Geoffrey Kaye Museum in Melbourne.

On my first day, I was guided through the collection by my wonderful supervisor, and to my surprise I didn’t feel ill nor did I faint. I was even comfortable handling needles. I thought this was going to be a great turning point for me. However, I still faint at the site of a needle today when it is about to go into my arm.

 

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Handling objects in the Geoffrey Kaye Museum

 

While I was still frightened by some of the old medical equipment, the fact it wasn’t going to be used on me helped in not triggering an episode. Even with the more modern equipment, seeing it trapped behind glass or sitting on a museum storage shelf allowed me to disassociate it from pain. Ironically, the collection of the Geoffrey Kaye Museum and Harry Daly Museum, where I now work as a curator, is all about preventing and treating pain. Luckily for me, the collection generates a different kind of fear that is more focused on ‘I’d hate for that to happen to me in x century’ rather than ‘wow this is actually going to happen to me right here, right now’. Objects such as a full medical kit from World War I including scapels and saws, I can now appreciate for their incredible interpretive capacity and how they might have been experienced without placing myself in the picture.

 

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The drawer of fear!

 

Moving on now to something a little less ‘my medical history 101’. I want to briefly talk about a heritage site, Cockatoo Island. Since February this year, I have started running ghost tours of the island. Some of the stories we share are truly horrible and transform the site from a nice place to picnic on the weekend, to a site of trauma. Considering it was a hard labour prison for convicts for 30 years, then a reformitory school for girls, and a shipyard during World War I and World War II, there are no shortage of terrible stories.

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The tour covers this gruesome history of the island including stories about convicts who were drowned and workers who were crushed to death in our Turbine Hall by large engines. It is truly a scary place. Out of respect to those who died, our tours focus more on the history of the site and tell the stories how they were reported on/how they were described by those who once worked on the island. Everytime though, I can feel chills up my spine and am so grateful to be on the island in the 21st century.

This was a great topic for GLAM Blog Club! Some of my fears, have joined me on my journey in the museum sector. Instead of shying away, I’m trying to work with them and not against them!

Trust Me, I’m a Tour Guide

This month’s topic for GLAM Blog Club is the theme of Trust. Enjoy reading my insight into both trusting other tour guides and being a tour guide myself!

My post begins in Las Vegas, 2014. My friend and I made the decision to go on a “Las Vegas Lights Night Tour” of the city. It was a fun tour filled with anecdotal stories, suggestions on places to visit post-tour, and a little bit of history. Throughout the night I remember thinking the guide was passionate and obviously knew their city. Jump to the end of the tour. We decided to check out some of their suggestions only to find that the information they provided was either wrong or out of date. Automatically I started to question everything they said and just like that, my trust in them vanished.

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Bellagio, Las Vegas

Later that year I visited the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I was lucky enough to see the beautiful pictorial quilt by Harriet Powers on display. Even better yet, I was able to join a short talk of the quilt by a member of staff. Similar to the guide in Las Vegas, my first instinct was to trust the information they were reciting. This wasn’t because I knew the dates they were saying were correct, but rather because they were confident and really tried to keep us all engaged. I wasn’t looking for the information already on the object label. Instead, I was hoping for a story or a narrative that gave life to the object. That is what the tour guide achieved and for that, I did trust them. 

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Harriet Powers Quilt, Boston

On writing this post, I am beginning to see that I too easily trust people with an ID card who begin talking about things. On the other hand, I often find I’m not alone in going into these situations basically relying on what I am being told. If you type into Google tour guides + trust + Tripadvisor you will start to see what I mean. There are a lot of reviews that mention tour guides and how much knowledge they had, how engaging they were, and how they contributed to an individual’s knowledge of a place. There are even studies out there that show people are apprehensive of becoming tour guides because they are worried they won’t be trusted (link).

Until 2014, I was always a guest on a tour and never the guide. This all changed when I started taking Convict and World War II history tours in Brisbane. All of a sudden, people were listening to me and asking me questions. Before my first tour I had my head stuck in books reading everything and anything I could about the early colonial development of Brisbane and its evolution over time. It was through this that I made a little discovery of my own.

Building trust is so much more than knowing the exact date of everything that happened. In fact, to me that would be impossible considering there can be a lack of evidence etc. I have been on so many tours where the guide has estimated dates or provided a time frame and this has never left me thinking they knew nothing. Going back to my discovery, I decided that if I was going to get a group of people to trust me, I had to be engaging and I had to capture and hold their attention from the first sentence to the last. In my mind, trust comes from balancing sharing the evidence available with reading the dynamics of a group. I learned very quickly in the role that if you want a group of people to stay with you and, dare I say it, even grow to trust you, you should deviate from a rigid script.

There are, of course, so many problems that arise with issues of trust and tour guiding. I had two hours to communicate basically the entire history of Brisbane from convict settlement to modern day. On Cockatoo Island, I have even less time to communicate even more information. So then do people trust you’ve selected the most interesting stories or the most relevant “truths”? Your own agenda will ultimately play a huge role in how you deliver a tour. To build some trust, I make my biases clear from the beginning stating what I am going to focus on and how these particular stories work together to create a specific perspective. What I also tend to do is use the material evidence around me as evidence. Even then, it is a huge ask for people to trust what I say.

So why do I care if people trust me or not when I’m guiding them around? The answer is simple – I want people to stay engaged. I love talking about history because I think it’s interesting and I want other people to think it’s interesting as well.

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Final Thoughts

The definition of trust encompasses reliability, truth, or ability. In other words, when you’re a tour guide there is so much more to gaining trust than simply knowing a heap of “facts”. It is a constantly challenging role that does test your ability to engage others and communicate history. Becoming a heritage guide is also, however, one of the best decisions I have ever made.

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It would be interesting to hear your thoughts in the comments. Have you been on a tour when you’ve “trusted” the guide? Why?

Cover image supplied by: http://www.wikihow.com/images/8/81/Become-a-Tour-Guide-Step-7.jpg

What I Want to Learn in 2017…

This is my first blog post for the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) Blog Club! I am so excited to be a member of this initiative. Once a month I will be writing an entry that relates to a specific theme or selected topic. For January the themes are:

“What I learned in 2016” OR “What I want to learn in 2017”

I selected the latter because I think I have already spoken at length about what I learned in 2016. Above all else, I learned the importance of being proactive and actively seeking opportunities.

There is so much I want to learn in 2017.

The following is my wishlist:

1. Learn more about archival practices

Whilst I have been working and volunteering in archives for the past six months, I hope that 2017 will be a year of refining my skills and learning new practices. As part of this, I have finally made the decision to study a Graduate Diploma in Records Management and Archives through Curtin University. I cannot wait to combine my practical experience with some theory. Yes, this does mean another year of non-stop assignments, but, I am looking forward to delving deeper into the world of archives.

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2. Learn more from short courses and workshops

One thing that I really want to do this year is be involved in more workshops and short courses. For example, I would love to take a basic textile preservation course offered by Preservation Australia:

http://www.preservationaustralia.com.au/

These seem like a great way to keep up-to-date with current standards and reinforce what is best practice. I am most interested in learning some basic conservation principles. Especially those related to textiles and paper.

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3. Learn how to write an impressive grant proposal

I have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to writing grants. Whilst I have an understanding of how to write a grant proposal, I am hoping to learn some tips and tricks to improve the quality of my proposals. Here’s hoping by the end of the year I am more confident in my writing abilities!

It will be very interesting to review these three goals at the end of the year and compare what I learnt to what I was hoping to learn. I am sure as the year continues there will be many more goals to add to the list. It does, however, feel good to write something down and have this post to reflect on as the year unfolds.