Posts Tagged ‘Australian War Memorial’

Finding Common Ground between the web and the museum: Powerhouse Museum

Finding common ground between the visceral and the virtual is the next challenge for cultural institutions as they work hard to engage new audiences and meet the needs of existing ones. As curators, public program developers and web teams collaborate on innovative projects, institutions are finding themselves participating with communities in a way they never have before.


Common Ground at the Powerhouse Museum, digitally altered, courtesy of the Powerhouse Museum

In one of the most exciting applications of social media to date, cultural institutions across three continents are joining forces to project the Flickr Commons community’s favourite images in one worldwide outdoor event. The Powerhouse Museum and the State Library of New South Wales will work together to invite their online communities to the front steps of the Powerhouse. The State Library of Queensland and the Australian War Memorial will be hosting their own Common Ground. In the United States, George Eastman House, State Library and Archives of Florida, the Oregon State University Archives and the Brooklyn Museum are taking part. The Swedish National Heritage Board, is representing Europe. The festival of photography will happen simultaneously across the US, Australia and Scandinavia (according to the timezone, October 3 @ 6.30pm).


Election night crowd, Wellington, 1931, William Hall Raine, Alexander Turnbull Library, Flickr Commons / National Library NZ

Dubbed as a community-curated event, photography-lovers will congregate on the Harris St forecourt to watch their favourite images projected onto the Powerhouse Museum’s façade. There will be talks by curators and the Museum’s Flickr community. Principal Curator Matthew Connell will tell the stories behind some of his favourite images while Assistant Curator Geoff Barker will explain how to look after an historic photography collection. Bob Meade will talk about how his involvement in Flickr has turned him into a detective or citizen journalist. National Library of Australia web developer Paul Hagon will discuss his project that enables the community to geo-tag contemporary images alongside historic images on Google Streetview.

Participatory experience researcher Nina Simon wrote in her blog Museum 2.0 that there is ‘a problem of making the visceral as relevant, dynamic, and interesting as the virtual. If you do fabulous things online and not onsite, your online audiences will show up and be disappointed. They will feel deceived’. She used the Powerhouse and Brooklyn museums as examples. ‘You join the Brooklyn Museum’s posse. You tag your brains out on the Powerhouse online collection database. And then you show up in person and feel jilted.’ Institutions worldwide are uniting tomorrow night to find Common Ground.

Take a look at the images from the Common Ground event on the Flickr Commons discussion board or the Indicommons Blog next week.

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Blogtrails: Liz Holcombe

Australian War Memorial Liz Holcombe talks about blogtrails and the infinite possibilities in exploring online collections. Liz is one of the CAN Outreach Blog regular contributors. On Mondays guest writers from galleries, libraries, archives and museums share their experiences, challenges, triumphs and ideas with the CAN community. If you would like to submit an article to the Outreach Blog, please email CAN Outreach.

Fiona Hooton’s post two weeks ago about ‘trail blazing’ got me thinking about how museum blogs can carry out a similar role. They can create paths into and through collections, putting together things in – sometimes – wholly unexpected ways. While blogs are not the only way to do this, they do have advantages over some more traditional methods: they do not take as long to create as an exhibition or even an article in print publication, they can focus on one small object or brief story, and, perhaps most appealing of all, can be about whatever the writer is passionate about and/or working on. They have other advantages too: they can group together things from different collecting organisations, and the writing of them can fit in with the work the writer is already doing.


‘Group portrait of the Victorian Navy Band’, HMVS Cerberus and the naval bridge, Naval Historical Collection, National Maritime Museum, 1898.

A terrific example of this trail blazing is a post by Dave Earl on the Australian National Maritime Museum’s blog. Dave starts his post, which is called On and off the HMVS Cerberus explaining that he has been “researching the museum’s collection of naval small arms. One of the attractions of this project has been following the lives and careers of the seamen who owned used the objects I’ve been examining.” Dave uses images from the Australian War Memorial, the National Archives of Australia, the Australian National Maritime Museum, the State Library of Victoria and a satellite image from Google to tell his stories of some of the men and objects associated with HMVS Cerberus. The post demonstrates beautifully not only the work that Dave is doing, but the sources he uses, the collections that hold relevant objects and images, and we hear Dave’s own voice in the process.

There are some excellent examples too in the Australian War Memorial’s blog. A recent post by Paul Taylor shows very elegantly how one little object, not especially significant in and of itself, can be a marker on a trail with many branches. His post is called The girl on the badge, and in it, he connects Government employment policy in the Second World War, CSIR (now CSIRO), food preservation, Miss Plunkett (I wish there was more about her), Miss Joan Sutherland, and the Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, and uses images to illustrate his post. Paul, like Dave, was making his work public: he was doing this work anyway, and was so interested in the story that he shared it. Perhaps one day the badge will appear in an exhibition, but it is not likely that the entire story will be included.


AWM’s Di Rutherford regularly shares the work she is undertaking. Recent examples are the second of the two part series on the German camouflage tree, called Can’t see the tree for the wood… part II, the Baumbeobachter and one on flying boots called These boots are made for walking. In both posts Di makes use of images she has taken, as well as collection images, to illustrate her post, and the results provide an unusual and fascinating perspective of objects we would normally not see in this sort of detail (in fact, it is fair to say that the primary intention of both was to not be seen).

There are two more posts on our blog that I would like to mention, as they show another way of shedding light on collections and the interests of curators. Annette Gaykema wrote a post called Making a silk postcard, in which she not only demonstrates how she made the card, but what she learnt from the experience. Di Rutherford’s post called How to make a POW escape map, gives us step-by-step instructions to create a map, like those made by World War II prisoners in Europe, using stuff you can find in your kitchen. Both posts use collection items as the starting point, and both demonstrate ways of learning more about them.


‘Australia For Ever’, Embroidered silk postcard made in France during the First World War, 1914-1918.

Two other Australian museum blogs have caught my eye recently. One is From the loft… from the Justice and Police Museum. The post from 26 June called The Loft really appealed to me, as it shows just what many collecting organisations deal with. The images of the collection stored in the loft in 2006 on towering wooden shelves, with dim lighting, made me remember being excited and overwhelmed when confronted with a large mass of material that needs caring for. The before images contrast wonderfully with the after, and a little part of me secretly prefers the wooden shelving for its romance. The larger and more practical side of me much prefers the new loft, with its proper shelving, light and decent working space which keeps the collection and staff safe. The other I have noticed is about the care of living collections at the Melbourne Museum. It is called Live Exhibits Blog. The posts point to some of the challenges faced by those looking after animals and plants: finding the correct sized branches for the chameleon, walking the line between letting the bower bird build a display and protecting the plants he favours, and how the museum is playing its part in keeping a plant from going extinct.

All of the posts mentioned here talk about the collection that their writers care for and research. They provide views of objects and ideas that may not otherwise see the light of day, but which are nonetheless interesting, and not just to me: the comments show that others agree. They can fit in with work already underway, and they do not have to be about big, bold projects. Small and simple – better sized sticks for ageing reptiles – can be just as appealing. The best thing about all the posts I have mentioned here is that they show how trails can be made to highlight collections and how disparate things can be fashioned into great stories.

If you would like to share other interesting blogs with the CAN community, post a comment. Email Liz Holcombe, if you would like to chat with her about social networking around online collections.

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Trail Blazing: Fiona Hooton

Fiona Hooton is the third guest writer in our series that aims to share knowledge, experience and resources with the CAN community. Fiona talks about the new project Trail Blazing that Picture Australia and The Le@rning Federation have worked on together. It is a suite of slideshow picture trails with education kits that enables school students to explore and learn about Picture Australia’s wonderful collection of images.

Trail blazing is the practice of marking paths with blazes, which follow each other at certain but not necessarily exactly defined distances, and that mark directions. Picture Australia and The Le@rning Federation (TLF) have been working together to create picture trails that blaze a path through the vast tracts of Australia’s visual heritage.


Fiona Hooton, Picture Australia manager

TLF is a federal, Australian and New Zealand Government initiative. Its purpose is to develop online curriculum content for Australian and New Zealand schools and build resources for the upcoming national curriculum. The primary role of Picture Australia is to increase public access to Australian image collections and to build collaborative relationships with other Australian collecting institutions.

Together TLF and Picture Australia have created a suite of slideshow picture trails. These trails provide interpretation of some of the largest and most magnificent picture collections that are contributed to Picture Australia by collecting agencies across the county. These trails place this invaluable primary source material where it is most needed on the computer screens of 13,000 New Zealand and Australian schools. But it isn’t just passive viewing, as students and teachers can draw all over the projected trail images using interactive white boards, working together to plot visual questions and highlight focal points.

The trails have been curated by TLF researcher, Charles Morgan, an education specialist with many years experience. Morgan is President, of the Network of Education Associations of Tasmania (NEAT) and the Tasmanian Association for the Teaching of English (TATE).

Morgan marks out the collective meaning of his curatorial selection with accompanying education value statements. Like blazes, these statements do more than simply reassure the user he or she is on the right track, they signal the imminent twists and jolts that our visual culture provides.

For example, the Advertising in Australia trail clearly reflects the changing nature of Australian society from 1870 until 1954 through our consuming passions. This trail lays bare the subtle and not so subtle messages that graphic artists and advertisers use in their trade to manipulate our buying behaviour. Some of the past techniques used now appear to be exceedingly comical.


Men and women posing for a toothpaste advertisement, Sidney Riley, 1923, State Library of South Australia.

In Cartoons and Caricatures, Morgan has selected the work of some of Australia’s best known cartoonists, to highlight people and issues of interest at different times in Australian history from 1786 to 1950.


The Billy book, Hughes abroad, 50 new drawings, 1916, Sir David Low, 1891-1963, National Library of Australia.

Most of the trails contain thirty images, but some like the Mawson in Antarctica show are expeditions of epic proportions with over fifty images.


Mawson rests at the side of sledge, outward bound on first sledge journey in Adelie Land, 1911-1914, State Library of New South Wales.

Given the importance of conflict in forging our national psyche, Morgan has dedicated five trails to different aspects of Australian wartime experiences. In Scenes from the Second World War all the icons of war photography: Damien Parer, George Silk and Frank Hurley can be found. Their images etch the shocking details of the consequences of war and the atrocious conditions in which Australian soldiers fought. In ‘Scenes from the Western Front’ the preparations for combat, action at the front, conditions in the trenches and the aftermath of different battles are organised in sequence.


Members of the crew of the cruiser HMAS Canberra engaged in live firing practice with 0.50 inch (12.7mm) four barrel machine guns used in a close range anti aircraft role, 1939-1945, Damien Parer, Australian War Memorial.

Picture Australia functions to bring Australian collections together in one cultural database. The Trail Blazing project reveals the importance for researchers of seeing these collections in relationship with one another. Only the juxtapositions between these luminous collections provide the signposts for us to follow the decisive directions our national heritage has taken and to explore why.
These trails are addictive viewing for anyone looking for answers to these questions.

Fiona Hooton
Picture Australia slideshow trails
This article was adapted from an article published in the National Library of Australia’s Gateways – an online journal for the Australian library profession and community.

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Guest writer: Liz Holcombe, Australian War Memorial

We have started to invite writers to regularly contribute to the CAN Outreach blog as we want the discussion forum to be the voice of the community. Our first guest is Australian War Memorial web manager Liz Holcombe who we interviewed last week about the AWM’s social media strategy. Liz uses the analogy of gardening to explain how she builds and maintains the Memorial’s online community.

Liz Holcombe

I like gardening, and really enjoy my vegie patch at home. I get to garden at work too. Here at the Australian War Memorial, we have been using social media in various forms for the last two and half years. Our first major foray was with blogs in late 2006. By early 2008 we had a Facebook page, a YouTube channel, and a presence on Flickr. In November 2008 we joined the Commons on Flickr, and in March 2009, joined Twitter.

One of the key things we have learned from this work is that you need to become a constant gardener, and gardening takes time. Gardening is the term I use to describe the constant activity that needs to happen on social media sites to keep them going. This means paying attention to comments, notes, fans, subscribers, and statistics (because someone will ask sooner or later what sort of result the site is yielding).



I like the word gardening because it is positive, organic and ultimately nourishing. Gardeners are constantly tidying, trimming, planting, weeding, dreaming and designing. Things never stay the same in a garden, and they don’t on the web either. And like in gardens, sometimes the changes are small and numerous and if you aren’t paying attention, you suddenly have a tangled jungle.

We have a few automatic ways of doing some of the gardening. When someone puts a new post on our blog, our Twitter page and our Facebook page automatically publish a link to the post. Comments are automatically emailed to blog authors, so the expert on the topic decides if the comment can be published, and if it needs a response. There is always someone in the web team keeping an eye on activity too, just in case the person who should be dealing with the comments is away.

Each day we spend time gardening on our various sites, looking at what is happening, reading what people say, responding to comments when it is appropriate, recording statistics and telling our colleagues what we learn. The demographic data that comes from Facebook and YouTube is invaluable, and the things that people share with us here have been surprising and sometimes touching. The photos that people take of the Memorial building and grounds and upload to our Flickr group create a unique visitor survey: some were taken in the 1960s. The reaction to the collection images on Flickr Commons has been incredible. One of the images, a striking portrait of an unidentified soldier from the First World War, has attracted particular interest, but no one has yet been able to help us work out who he was.

Unidentified soldier
An unidentified soldier. Do you know who he is?

Of course, there is some gardening that you don’t have to do on external sites that you have to do on your own website. You don’t have to make and manage the user interface. You don’t have to manage users’ emails and passwords or to provide help for people using the site: that is all done for you. On the downside, you have to accept what you find and live with it: if you don’t like the layout, or it does not work exactly the way you would like, you are not able to do much more than complain to the site owners, who are not obliged to do anything about it. It is a little like renting a house with a garden: you can’t really do a great deal to it, aside from maintaining it. If you own the garden though, you can pretty well do what you want. There are risks in using the external sites: is the site viable in the long term? What happens to your data if the site disappears? How do you do your record keeping if the activity if on some else’s server? How much do you need to record anyway?

Social media relies on participation, on two-way conversations: it is not enough to put something up and expect people to come. You have to work at it, keep on gardening, all the time. This is important, as once it was enough to just have the content on the website. Now we need to do more and allow more to happen with our content, largely because people are expecting more because of what they can do on other sites.

The major implication is that you have to work out how much activity you can support. The more care you can put into a site, the greater the return is likely to be, just like in a garden. You have to pick the best approach for the result you want, be prepared to work at varying speeds depending on the time or season, and remember that big things can grow from very small seeds. The trick is picking the seed that will flourish and ultimately bring a change to the garden. Social media is changing the way people use the web and that will inevitably change how museums operate on the web, and how the web is used by museums.

Guest writer Liz Holcombe, web manager, Australian War Memorial

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Part 5: CAN interviews Australian War Memorial on social media

Those fascinated by the death of the German fighter pilot Red Baron, also known as Manfred von Richthofen, will welcome the Australian War Memorial’s social media program. Web manager Liz Holcombe uploaded the video of the Red Baron’s funeral to the AWM YouTube channel last year and made links between the collection objects relating to this story on AWM blog Who killed the Red Baron? and on their webpage titled 1918 Australia in France. The video has received almost 25,000 views and the comment section is evidence that the public love the opportunity to debate and discuss the fine details of the Red Baron’s death. Canadian pilot, Roy Brown claimed he had shot Germany’s most prized pilot in 21 April 1918 from the ground. While Private Alfred Fowler, with the 40th Australian Battalion, claimed to have seen the bullets shot by the 11th Battalion pierce the cockpit. While it is believed it was Australian soldier killed the Red Baron, the details continue to be debated.

Watch the interview with Liz Holcombe on our collectionsaustralia YouTube channel about her social media strategy. She discusses how she uses Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.




German fighter pilot Red Baron, also known as Manfred von Richthofen

Her main focus has been to intertwine all of the social media tools so that people can just be a member of one or two of the sites and not miss anything. For ANZAC Day this year, the AWM paid for ads on Facebook for the first time promoting their activities. They used Twitter to send out notifications on what was happening. Attendance to the actual event in Canberra jumped from about 3500 to 5000 visitors. In this video interview Liz breaks down who her audience is, how she evaluates viewer behaviour and how CAN’s use of social media works to promote the Australian War Memorial’s collection. As seen in our blog last week, the war memorial is using Flickr as an exhibition research tool. They have invited members of the public to share their wartime love stories in the Flickr group Australian War Memorial: Love and War. These images will work to generate interest in the exhibition and possibly unearth value exhibition material.

Liz will start our series of guest blogs this week with a piece on ‘Gardening the Web’.

Sarah Rhodes

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Love and War at the Australian War memorial

The Australian War Memorial is canvassing the country for wartime love stories for an exhibition to be held at the end of this year. The material they collect on the “Australian War Memorial: love and war” Flickr group will set a romantic background for the museum’s collection of objects, photographs and artworks.

The wonderful selection of photos in this slideshow already raise questions about how people meet and how they keep a relationship going in spite of separation? And what impact loneliness and conflict have on a relationship long after the war has ended.

If you have any related material in your institution’s collection or even at home, please email web manager Liz Holcombe. Any images or letters you contribute will not be directly part of the exhibition and will not be used without your permission.

Sarah Rhodes

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