Museums & Galleries Qld

Posts Tagged ‘The Workshops Rail Museum

M&G QLD held its 2015 State Conference from 6-7 August at the award-winning The Workshops Rail Museum in Ipswich. The Conference is a major industry event for people working throughout the public museum and gallery sector in Queensland and is held every four years.

Feedback from delegates was very positive with 98.6% of delegates, who responded to the evaluation survey, rating their overall satisfaction with the Conference as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ and 100% of delegates rated the organisation of the Conference as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’.

Delegates were asked ‘What were the highlights of this Conference’?

  • “Being in Ipswich; Liverpool presentation; connecting with people in education and public programs.”
  • “David Fleming was amazing! Thank you for arranging such an incredible international speaker with rich knowledge and experience in the industry.”
  • “As always the organisers have successfully balanced topics relevant to museums and galleries, and addressed current issues – providing practical case studies.”
  • “I enjoyed all of it and found it incredibly worthwhile – especially the mix between blue sky thinking and actual results.”

At this Conference, Read the rest of this entry »


Museum & Gallery Services Queensland (M&GSQ) proudly announced the recipients of the 2013 Gallery and Museum Achievement Awards (GAMAA) at a special event hosted by Museum of Brisbane on 22 November. Guest presenter, Hon. Ian Walker, Minister for Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts presented the winners with specially-commissioned trophies created by Queensland artists, Charlotte Beeron, Theresa Beeron, Ethel Murray and John Murray, represented by Girringun Aboriginal Art Centre.

We bring you the stories on each of the Winners and Special Commendation recipients of the 2013 GAMAA in five categories. In our final article, we announce the GAMAA recipients in the category, ‘Organisations: Staff of 4 or more’:

WINNER – Museum Development Officer Program, Queensland Museum for their 2013 Queensland Museum MDO Flood Response

SPECIAL COMMENDATION – The Workshops Rail Museum, Ipswich for their exhibition, I’ve Been Working on the Railway


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Conservation and Restoration

When it comes to decisions about conservation and restoration, the approach seems to be that it’s better to be canny and careful and not rush into things. Like most places, in the US it appears that there are some diverse views on how objects should be presented and what constitutes an appropriate degree of intervention.

Last week I talked about the drive to improve the care of big things, rolling stock in particular, by ensuring it is at least under cover and where feasible in a controlled environment. Once you have the rolling stock inside, the next question becomes how do you care for it – do you stabilise and conserve, cosmetically restore, or return to operating condition, with all the alterations from original that might entail? There is plenty of scope for a range of decisions to be made and it’s not always black and white – there is any numbers of positions between stabilisation and full restoration.  And these decisions are equally as difficult whether it be for a locomotive, an aeroplane, a boat or a building.

The discussion about restoration seems to centre on two things – intent and methodology. Under the banner of intent is authenticity in restoration – understanding what’s been done to historic objects in the past (sometimes not so good), and thinking through the decision – when to restore and when to conserve. People here have been asking questions like “What are you trying to show an audience?”, “What is significant about the object?” and “Does this have some bearing on how and why you conserve, restore or operate?” In thinking about how restoration proceeds, people are giving attention to details such as authentic colour, configuration, materials and traditional methods. Restoration is often to a specific era, not always “as it came off the line”. But whichever “era” you choose, the decision to restore begs the question of whether, if it’s not stabilised in the current condition and configuration, then are you not erasing some of the history?

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Another challenge is what can be considered authentic – is a building or carriage that only has original foundations really a restored object or a reconstruction/reproduction. Is it like Grandad’s axe with four new heads and seven new handles, effectively a facsimile of the original object? And does that matter? Sometimes it may be that this is the only way that we can hope to see what a unique carriage would have looked like. But in every reconstruction, we make decisions today that take liberties with originality.

I don’t know what the answer to this dilemma is. In a number of places I’ve visited the approach has been meticulous research on the history of the object; attention to the technology, fabric and material changes to the object; the use of traditional methods, especially in building restoration; careful documentation of every step of the process; and clear delineation between original and new/replacement parts. There are a number of on-line resources museums here go that, while not specifically related to transport objects, are very useful and these include: and

In some places, rolling stock is being presented in original conditions. Which leads to another question, especially in the environment of limited funding where priorities have to be assigned to restoration, which is: when is it ok not to restore? Personally, I sometimes feel that the original condition, with stabilisation to ensure the longevity of the object, gives a feeling of authenticity that no degree of restoration can match. However, it is as much the experience of hearing steam, feeling a loco move, smelling the fuel, and seeing the grandeur of a shiny loco that contributes to people’s engagement with the stories, technologies and significance of big things. So many people marvel over the real thing and it’s clear that the capacity to achieve that awe and wonder, the appreciation of the “romance” of transport in the past, is important. This was made abundantly clear this week at the California State Railroad Museum where they marked the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Union Pacific railroad. The large event included train rides in historical carriages, opportunities to climb into locos and an array of beautifully restored rolling stock out on public display. The crowds were phenomenal, the excitement of little kids marvellous to see, and there was a depth of engagement for many visitors. I also visited a live steam event at Railtown 1897 this week, and the enjoyment of the physical experience of an operating steam railway was palpable amongst visitors. These two events were a timely reminder of the wonder big things can induce.

So what is the answer? I don’t know, but it seems like to be canny and careful, understand your object, its history and significance, to carefully adhere to conservation standards including documentation, and identification, reversible changes and so on and to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve in the conservation/restoration, what your objectives are, all important facets in a well-considered decision.


GERALDINE MATE is the Senior Curator, Transport and Energy at The Workshops Rail Museum, Ipswich, a campus of the Queensland Museum.

M&GSQ’s 2012 Mentorship, Exchange and Fellowship Program is funded by Arts Queensland through the Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF). RADF is a joint Queensland Government and Local Government partnership to support local arts and culture.

See M&GSQ’s website, for more information about the Mentorship, Exchange and Fellowship Program.

First Impressions

Let’s start at the very beginning … Here I am in Baltimore, Maryland for the first Railroad Museum visit. And I must remember to call them Railroads, not railways … it’s an American thing. As American as George Washington. The first national monument to George Washington was erected here in Baltimore in an area called Mount Vernon, an area that also boasts the Peabody Institute, the former home of Wallace Simpson (now the hotel I’m staying in), the First and Franklin Presbyterian Church with the city’s highest steeple, and the 1872 mansion of John Garrett, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad magnate. In Baltimore it seems everything relates back to the railways (woops), so it’s a fitting place to start my visit.

So far I have braved the freeways, learned to look right and then left when crossing the road, worked out the money (sort of) and bamboozled people with my Australian accent.  So today I was wondering what the first museum would bring. Interestingly it was a sense of home. I visited the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum, on the site of the former Mt Clare Railway Workshops. The industrial site, the locos, and the museum talk made me feel, at last, that I was in a familiar place. The scale was different but the issues the same. The locomotives were bigger, and the collection impressively large, but as we discussed the challenges of engaging audiences, caring for large technology objects (more about that another time), interpreting important stories and keeping visitors coming, it was with a sense of shared purpose.

Railroads – As American as George Washington and popular with people of all ages.

The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum has had their fair share of challenges, the most dramatic of which was the collapse of the roof of the historic roundhouse in 2003 after a heavy snowfall. The roof collapse closed the museum, and damaged some significant collection items. But, as it is in the railroad (got it right this time), from adversity comes advance. The restored Roundhouse is a fitting venue to show off their amazing collection of rolling stock. And the interpretive strategies they use to tell a variety of parts of the history of the B&O Railroad has moved to focus on people, a deliberate shift away from a focus on technology. This is something that many rail museums (indeed many transport museums) struggle with, but is a key to attracting a more diverse audience. Although it is important to meet the needs of the more knowledgeable sectors of audiences in specialist museums, I really believe that if we want to make collections more accessible, it’s not just about getting the objects on display or on the web, but making them interesting to a wider range of people and giving our visitors a deeper understanding of the human stories behind our museum collections.

A beautifully restored loco, this piece was damaged in the roof collapse and has undergone careful restoration.

And rail museums are about the people. According to the directory of North American railroad museums, there are 294 railroad museums in North America. That’s a lot of people – visiting, inquiring, restoring, telling stories about, and working in, the railway. The very first story you see in the B&O Railroad Museum, is the story of a person – Charles Carroll, then the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, who broke ground for the start of the B&O Railroad, in 1829 – the first railroad in the United States. So as a beginning, the B&O Railroad Museum, the place recognised as the birthplace of American railroading, seems a very good place to start.

The timbered dome of the B&O Railroad Museum’s roundhouse.



GERALDINE MATE is the Senior Curator, Transport and Energy at The Workshops Rail Museum, Ipswich, a campus of the Queensland Museum.

M&GSQ’s 2012 Mentorship, Exchange and Fellowship Program is funded by Arts Queensland through the Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF). RADF is a joint Queensland Government and Local Government partnership to support local arts and culture.

See M&GSQ’s website, for more information about the Mentorship, Exchange and Fellowship Program.

Museums & Galleries Queensland

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Phone: 07 3059 9740

Museums & Galleries Queensland is the peak professional body for the public museum and gallery sector in Queensland.

Museums & Galleries Queensland promotes, supports and provides services to foster excellence in museums, galleries and keeping places. We strive to ensure a future where museums, galleries and keeping places are relevant, accessible and valued by their communities.

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Donna Davis, Exhibition Program Officer
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