Antarctic and sub-Antarctic cultural heritage
Dr Estelle Lazer
prepared for the 2006 Australian State of the Environment Committee, 2006
Collections of material associated with Sub-Antarctic and Antarctic cultural heritage are housed in a number of museums and other institutions in Australia. These include:
- Macquarie and Heard Island material held in the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery in Launceston, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery and the Australian Antarctic Division (Clark 2003, 4–6; Townrow 1992a).
- Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition and the 1929–31 British Australian New Zealand Antarctic Research Expeditions are represented by collections across Australia, including the Australian Museum, the Powerhouse Museum, the University of Sydney, the State Library of New South Wales, and the Newcastle Regional Museum (New South Wales); the Victoria Museum, the National Museum of Australia, the National Gallery of Australia and the National Library of Australia, the National Film and Sound Archive, the Australian Archives (ACT); the Barr Smith Library, the Mawson Estate Trustees Collection and the South Australian Museum (Adelaide) (Wheeler 1993, pp. 26–56; Godden et al. 2001, pp. 175–181; Wheeler and Young, pp. 193–202).
- A diverse collection of artefacts dating from the sealing period to the twentieth century at the Australian Antarctic Division in Kingston. This collection includes a number of artefacts associated with the 1911–14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition.
- Material is also held in private collections.
Some material that is of cultural heritage significance to Australia is held in overseas collections, for example the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand houses the magnetometer used for Mawson’s 1911–14 expedition.
These collections are generally not at risk, although the following comments can be made:
- The collection held by the Australian Antarctic Division would be well served by a conservation assessment and, where appropriate, action.
- Some of the artefacts from Heard and Macquarie Islands that were sent to the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery were not adequately managed or conserved after collection and by the time they reached the museum they were unable to be stabilised (Clark 2003, p. 5 and Clark pers. comm.).
- Concern has been expressed about the fate of movable cultural heritage items that were displayed at the now closed Antarctic Adventure facility in Hobart and the Antarctic Division display (RPDC 2003).
- As much of the material that is held privately was collected illegally, it is impossible to assess the quantity or condition. It is possible that material may be donated to public collections if an amnesty were granted. There is also an unknown quantity of material that was collected by early expeditioners and is now owned by descendents.
- There is provision for linking artefacts held in other collections with the Antarctic Heritage Register. Ideally, it would be desirable to link this database with all the collections within and beyond Australia.