One of the questions asked today on Ask a Curator day on Twitter was:
Q: Interested to know if the curators have a favourite piece, or does it change with each new exhibition?
Our curators came up with a lot of different answers:
Another is our quirky First World War knitting pattern which gives you directions for knitting two socks at once.
The German camouflage observation post (called a “Baumbeobachter” by the Germans, literally meaning “tree observer”) because it looks so real.
It varies, and personally I can never settle on one item. I am constantly discovering items which are new to me but have been in the collection since 1919; and new donations always have a wee treasure or story lurking in them. Also, as you note, exhibition development allows you to investigate and research individual items more intensely, and thus appreciate their provenance, history and associations. As a curator, you have your areas of expertise and speciality but exhibitions, due to their broader scope, will present subjects and objects with which you have no familiarity. It’s often a steep but rewarding learning experience.
Objects in themselves are interesting, often beautifully made, but it is the stories which accompany them which elevates them to a higher level and provides the colour and associations which an anonymous version of the same object would lack. Thus, one of my recent faves is REL34430, a tiny squashed celluloid doll accompanied by a note “God send you back to us”. God never did unfortunately – it was owned by Private Walter Davis of 2/18 Battalion who was captured by the Japanese at Singapore and died in captivity on 4 August 1945, eleven days before the end of the war, of dysentery. Brought up by his aunt and uncle, and obviously with close family ties, he tossed a message in a bottle overboard on his way to Singapore in February 1941 assuring them he was alright. The message actually found its way to his family in 1945. This doll was amongst his effects – squashed, dissembled, but complete and obviously of huge importance to him in the camps in Malaya and Japan as a link back to the life he knew and which must have seemed a galaxy away by 1945.
Without this story, the doll is merely a badly damaged piece of celluloid which no one is likely to give a second thought to.
My favourite work of art is Dobell’s “The Billy Boy”. There’s something innately human about the subject character that appeals to me.
My favourite object is probably the Beaufort bomber, because I spent so much time working on it, and became good friends with a number of Beaufort squadron veterans.
My favourite part of the Australian War Memorial is the Roll of Honour/Commemorative area, after hours. It’s so calm and peaceful there.
My favourite is the Bean collection. (Charles Edward Woodrow Bean was Australia’s official war correspondent during the First World War and was later appointed official historian for that conflict. The personal records created by Bean in the course of those appointments now form part of the official records series: AWM38 Official History, 1914–18 War: Records of C.E.W. Bean, Official Historian. The Memorial has digitised 286 volumes of diaries, notebooks, and folders kept by Bean during and after the war and used by him to write the official history of the First World War.)
The war diary for 1 Naval Bombardment (AWM52 4/10/1) because when I was researching my grandfather’s service I found a group photo of the unit taken in Morotai that included him. ( While on active service, Australian Army headquarters, formations, and units are required to keep a unit war diary recording their daily activities. The diary that Jennie names is one of these. You can read more about the official diaries over here. )
I like the photos that Sean Hobbs bought back in 2007 – especially this one because I think it really captures what it can be like to be working in a place where the concept of a “set” bedtime is completely foreign. Being in a warzone means you are on high alert the whole time and the way in which Private Ormes is just grabbing rest where he can really shows that. I also am interested in the way in which he has put aside all of his “protection” – helmet, flak jacket.