Ask A Curator Day

This year, on 16 September 2020, we are participating in #AskACurator Day. We asked you to join in and ask us some questions! We thoroughly enjoyed chatting to different areas of the Memorial and getting these responses for you.

Thanks to all those who sent us questions and to the staff who participated.

What has been a highlight of working at the Australian War Memorial?
My great highlight is being part of the redevelopment team that worked on the First World War galleries. I got to work with some amazing people and see objects that hadn’t been seen since the War Records Section acquired them during the war. Finding the parachutes used at Hamel was mind blowing, but there are so many other really interesting finds that I could go on about for hours.My other highlight, was being a battlefield tour guide at Gallipoli for the centenary in 2015. Very special as I had a great group of travellers to share this experience with.
Michael – Historian, Military History Section

Where do you keep all the things not on display?
The bulk of the Memorial’s collection is kept in store, awaiting a need or opportunity for display in our galleries. Most of the stored collection is held in the AWM’s extensive facilities at Mitchell, (a suburb of Canberra) which have specialised environments suitable for long-term storage of a wide variety of items such as; paintings, textiles (including flags and uniforms), photographic negatives, vehicles and aeroplanes, etc.
Nick – Head of Military Heraldry and Technology


Image from our open day at the Mitchell Storage Facilities. 2019. Photographer:Thomas Lucraft. AWM2019.4.201.43

How did you become a curator?
I became a curator after training as a librarian and joining the Research Centre as its first digital librarian. While there I became fascinated by the rich archive of material and moved into a role as curator of photographs. Every day the collection surprises you and it is endlessly fascinating; I have worked in this role for a lot of years now.
Joanne – Curator, Photograph Film and Sound

It was more good timing than anything, really.  I studied history at university while working in various part-time roles at the Memorial.  When I was finishing my PhD thesis, a full-time position came up in the Heraldry and Technology Section.  Over 8 years later, I’m still here, and every day I feel lucky to work with this incredible collection – from buttons to bombers, and everything in between!
Kerry – Assistant Curator, Military Heraldry and Technology

Who is the most famous person to visit the Memorial?
There have been many well-known people visit the Memorial including heads of state, royal visits, athletes and international visitors. These have included Barack Obama, Queen Elizabeth II,  King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, Bill Clinton, Prince Harry and many more.
Amanda – Head of Digital Experience


HRH Prince Harry of Wales visiting the Australian War Memorial, 2015.
Photographer: Steve Burton

Is the G for George exhibition still there?
Yes! The G for George exhibition is still on display in Anzac Hall – remember if visiting, book tickets on-line!
Bianca – Manager, Exhibitions


97 year old Edgar Pickles DFC former Bomber command veteran, with G for George. Feb 20 2018. AWM2018.4.24.1. Photographer: Panagiota Marazioti

Were you in the ADF?
Yes, I have been in the Australian Army for over 20 years, serving as a Rifleman and Junior Non-Commissioned Officer in the Infantry.  During that time I have served overseas twice and whilst a Curator here at the Memorial I have deployed to the Middle East on two occasions to identify, record and collect items for the Memorial.
Garth – Assistant Curator, Military, Heraldry & Technology

Yes, I joined the army in January 1992 right out of high school. After basic and infantry training, I served with the 8th/9th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment. This was during the Ready Reserve scheme, which was 1 year full time service, 4 years part time service.
Michael – Historian, Military History Section

Who is your favourite artist in the Collection?
I would not say favourite “artist”, as our collection is so diverse and eclectic, but the piece by Michael Cook, a Bidjara artist, is one of my favourite works that we hold in the collection and I do enjoy viewing it on the occasion of the expanded Indigenous gallery tours and talks. I would definitely like to see it on display to allow many more people to appreciate the work and also answer the questions posed by the artist.  
Michael - Indigenous Liaison Officer

Michael Cook, Majority Rule (Memorial), 2013. ART96271,

What’s the first museum you ever visited?
The first Museum I ever visited was the Australian War Memorial, I was 6 months old and I still have the photograph of Dad holding me in front of the Matilda tank……way back in 1972.
Ally – Assistant Curator, Art Section

What other job in the Memorial would you love to do?
Trick question. Working as a historian is the best job at the Memorial.
Karl – Head of Military History Section

Which superpower would be most useful to a curator?
Fantastic question! Either X-Ray vision so we can see inside some of our objects, or telekinesis so we can easily move objects around.
Kerry – Assistant Curator, Military Heraldry and Technology


Photographer: Ian Roach. AWM2019.4.226.2.

Have any items in your collection gone viral?
We haven't had a collection item go viral but one of our articles has. Prior to Remembrance Day 2019 a local pigeon made a nest of poppies in an alcove in the Hall of Memory. The Memorial snapped some photos, staff writer Claire Hunter penned a story with historian Dr Meleah Hampton and suddenly the pigeon was a celebrity. The story was published online in the US, Europe, China, Japan the UK and beyond. There’s now a plaque in the grounds of Memorial dedicated to pigeons, and some irony that we now have to clean pigeon mess off a plaque dedicated to pigeons.
Greg – Media Manager, Communications & Marketing

Have you added any objects to your collection to represent 2020?
The Memorial acquired three Anzac Day 2020 images from Canberra photographer Eva Schroeder representing #AnzacAtHome. The images are not yet available on our website but here is a sneak peek of one of them.
Blake – Head of Photographs Film and Sound


#AnzacAtHome Photographer Eva Schroeder. AWM2020.373.1.

What's on a Curator's playlist?
My playlist is all podcasts – on my high rotation are:
You Must Remember This – Karina Longworth’s in depth show about the forgotten histories (and scandals) of Hollywood’s first century.
Hit Parade – nerdy music history centred on deconstruction of the pop charts.
Science Friction – Natasha Mitchell’s brilliant show about the intersection of science and culture.
Reply-all – stories about the weird and obscure stuff that comes out of the internet.
Emma –  Assistant Curator, Photographs Film and Sound

For Photographs, Film and Sound we always love a bit of irony so songs like “Girls on film” by Duran Duran and “Photograph” by Nickelback are there. I actually made up a PFS playlist last year to help the team move over 200,000 photographic, film and sound objects. It contained a lot of disco, 80’s and rock music to get us all in a upbeat, happy mood. Personally I listen to a lot of calm, Australian made and nostalgic songs. Music like Electric Fields, Baker Boy, Odette, Bob Marley, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, Florence and the Machine and Elton John. It all really depends on what job you’re doing that second and how you’re feeling.
Bec – Assistant Curator, Photo, Film & Sound

What’s your favourite item in the WW1 collection?
My favourite object from the Memorial’s First World War collection is a sculpture by British artist Clare Sheridan, entitled “Women leading blind Soldier.” In 1917, Clare Sheridan recalled being transfixed by the sight of the blind Australian Light Horsemen walking alone in London’s Regent’s Park. This work is emblematic of the thousands of soldiers debilitated as a result of the conflict. It speaks of a generation of young men, once warriors, cut down in their prime, left fragile and vulnerable. Swipe up to learn more about this artwork.
Michael – Assistant Curator, Middle East Galleries


“Women leading blind Soldier" Clare Sheridan. ART19568

Apart from a Curator, what other jobs are there at the Memorial?
The Memorial has a wide variety of roles that are normally broken down into the three branches:
National Collection have Curators, Conservators, Registration Officers, Researchers and Reference Officers. 
Public Programs have Front of House Staff (Visitor Services Officers), Events and Ceremonies Officers, Exhibitions Officers (Project Managers and Curatorial Combined), Communications, including Digital and Social Media Officers, Marketing, Educators and Historians. 
Corporate Services have Finance, IT, HR, Retail and Building Services (Facilities Management) and Security.
Phil - Recruitment Manager, HR


Group portrait of men from D Company, 2/13th Battalion who have fought a rearguard action since the beginning of the withdrawal to Tobruk and are now guarding the outer defences of that town. Garth's grandfather, Private (Pte) Brian Francis O'Connell of Scone, NSW is on the far left. Photographer: James Francis Hurley. 007480

If you could add any object to your collection, what would it be?
If I could add an object the I think that a Second World War German Panzer (tank) that served against the Australians in Greece or North Africa would be great.  It would have to be an early war tank such as a Panzer I, II or early model III or IV.  One of my grandfather's served at Tobruk with the 2/13th Battalion and they often fought against Afrika Korps Panzers commanded by the famous "Desert Fox" Erwin Rommel.  The superb private collection at the Australian Armour and Artillery Museum in Cairns is the closest to Canberra that you can see several of these very rare Panzers.
Garth - Assistant Curator, Military Heraldry & Technology

Wrecked and battered German panzerkampfwagen III medium tanks in the Belhamed section of the corridor area after an attack had been repulsed. Tobruk, Libya 1941. 022261

How much is too little and much is too much when it comes to information in the exhibition space - and  how do you manage that as a Curator?
By the time I’m writing exhibition text I’m usually overflowing with Exciting Facts so it is hard to not write an essay. My rule of thumb is that artists communicate with viewers through their work, so what does the viewer need to know to have that conversation? But not interrupt them with unnecessary detail?

To manage this I go back to the core purpose of the exhibition. For example, in Australian War Memorial exhibitions the historical context is important: was the artist a soldier? An eye-witness? Who or what is the subject? A visitor needs these details to understand the work. But for the same piece exhibited in an art historical survey, the development of their style and artistic influences may be more relevant.
Anthea – Senior Curator of Art, Art Section

Do you remember the first time you went to the museum?
My first visit to the Memorial was on a school excursion from Sydney, I never imagined I might work here one day.
Joanne – Curator, Photographs Film and Sound

What’s your largest object?
By size or by weight? In terms of both, the bridge and gun mount of HMAS Brisbane are amongst our largest and heaviest items, their size meaning that they have to be displayed outside. Other heavy items include most of the armoured vehicles – the Centurion tank, for example, weighs over 50 tonnes. The biggest objects in terms of footprint are probably assembled aircraft like the Lancaster bomber. Fortunately, the Lancaster can be disassembled (relatively) easily into smaller components for transport. Other aircraft, such as the Caribou transport or Chinook helicopter, cannot be reduced in size so easily. To move these, we usually have to close roads and tow them in (normally in the middle if the night, to minimise the inconvenience for everyone else!)
Nick – Head of Military Heraldry and Technology

Photographs and photographic postcards relating to the First World War service of 712 Second Lieutenant Henry Miller Lanser, 1st Australian Infantry Battalion.

What’s your favourite sound in the Collection?
I love the recorded letters that we have in our sound collection. Some are only a minute or two long, but they allow us a glimpse of the personal thoughts and feelings of people during wartime as they send a message to their loved ones. If I had to pick one favourite it would be S00104; a recorded letter made in Cairo by Lance Corporal (later 2nd Lieutenant) Henry Miller Lanser in late 1914 or early 1915, before the landing at Gallipoli.

Not only is this recording the oldest sound recording in the Memorial’s collection, it is also the only known recorded letter made by a First World War soldier to exist anywhere in the world. Lanser was killed in action on 5 November 1916, so it is incredibly touching to able to listen to his voice more than 100 years later. Photographs of Henry Miller Lanser can be seen here.
Jennifer – Curator, Photographs Film and Sound

I’ve seen some expansion plans that had a F/A18 in the memorial, will you get an F-111?
The Memorial acquired an RF 111C, serial number A8-134 last year.  Although the aircraft is currently in storage, we hope to display it in the main Campbell galleries in the course of the current redevelopment works. We are hoping to acquire an FA-18 Classic Hornet early in 2021.    
Shane – Senior Curator, Military Heraldry and Technology

What’s your favourite collection item in the memorial?
There are so many great items to choose from, but I think Sergeant Brian Cooper’s flak vest would be the standout. His position on Hill 111 was heavily attacked by the Chinese during the battle of the Samichon in July 1953 and that vest would have some stories to tell if it could talk.
Michael – Historian, Military History Section

Favourite item is a tricky question as that does change a bit, but at the moment my favourite image is of former prisoner of war, Jack Dando, who I had the privilege to meet and bring into the Memorial for a visit some years ago. He had a copy of this image (P09337.087) which he offered to us, but we located one already in the collection so did not need to acquire his. This image shows Jack using equipment designed and made in POW camps. Jack credited Dr Albert Coates and Sergeant Ralph Horton (pictured on right) as saving his life (many amputees did not survive the operation in POW camps).

This image symbolised so much for Jack and, combined with me bringing Jack and his wife Kathleen to the Memorial to view the Prisoner of War section in the Second World War gallery, has made this my current favourite image. I located another image of Jack here, after his arrival in Australia, when I was looking for images relating to the end of the Second World War. Jack is on the right and the amputee ex POWs are all in better condition than they had been the previous month. 
Joanne – Curator, Photographs Film and Sound


Private (Pte) John Edward 'Jack' Dando, 2/10 Australian Ordnance Field Park, an amputee undertaking some physiotherapy, assisted by Sergeant Ralph John Horton, 2/15 Field Regiment. P09337.087.