Australian War Memorial Internship
By Kate Ritchie
During July, I was lucky to head up to Canberra with fellow Grimwade Centre student Zora Sanders, to complete our internships at the Australian War Memorial. Interning alongside us was a student from the University of Canberra Heritage, Museums and Conservation undergraduate course. Over the three weeks it was really interesting to hear about the similarities and differences between the two courses, as well as having the opportunity to learn from each other and our internship supervisors.
Rather than have set projects for us to accomplish during our time, the conservators we were working with in the objects lab immersed us in their standard day-to-day activities, meetings and commitments. This loose structure allowed for flexibility in choosing tasks that may be more interesting or informative for the three of us, but more importantly it gave us the opportunity to understand what was required of a conservator across all areas.
The conservation labs are not located on site at the Memorial, but at a designated storage site in Mitchell, a suburb on the outskirts of Canberra filled with factories, manufacturing and storage sites for the National Museum of Australia and National Archives. Regardless of this physical separation from the main Memorial site, we were required ‘in town’ as it was casually referred to amongst staff, at least a few times a week for meetings, GM (gallery maintenance before public opening hours), and object installation.
One of the most exciting experiences during my three weeks was using laser ablation to remove corrosion from metal substrates. Having heard about it from lecturers, I was keen to experience the technique for myself. It was remarkable to watch the corrosion appear to simply vanish from heavily corroded surfaces, only leaving trace amounts of dust and smoke wafting into the air. Personally, I believe this could be a highly beneficial option for certain projects, however it does take some trial and error, as well as plenty of practice, to achieve the desired effect.
Overall, the confidence and trust that the staff imbued within us has been one of the greatest outcomes from this experience. Being a student conservator, positive reinforcement and professional respect from senior members of our profession is priceless, and the difference it can make to one’s own self-belief is immeasurable.
Thank you to all the staff at the War Memorial for their hospitality and kind welcomes, and particularly to the objects conservators: Karen Wilcox, Jacqui Jordan, Andrew Schroeder, and George Bailey, whose patience and willingness to impart their knowledge knew no bounds for three eager interns.
Visit Australian War Memorial to see their conservation projects.
Photographs by Zora Sanders + Kate Ritchie.