The Berndt Museum of Anthropology is on the move.
At the moment, the journey is more important than the destination. Plans are still being discussed for the eventual location of the Museum, which will be a major part of a new Indigenous gateway to the University.
But safe storage for the treasures of the Berndt Museum in the meantime is a priority.
The collection has grown from 1,700 objects in 1978 to 11,500 this year. The Museum still occupies the same space it was given more than 30 years ago. Director John Stanton said that 95 per cent of the Indigenous art and cultural materials acquired since 1978 have not been displayed.
"We simply don't have the space," Dr Stanton said. "It got to the stage where it was so crowded that not only could visitors not appreciate the collection, but it had become a health and safety issue. And it was too difficult for our staff to do much."
The extensive and unique collection is now going through the lengthy and painstaking process of being recorded. Staff are measuring, checking, photographing and carefully packing thousands of objects for storage in a conservation facility off-site.
The Museum will move, with some of its collection, to temporary premises in The Dr Harold Schenberg Art Centre (incorporating the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery) by the middle of next year, where they will stay for up to five years before a permanent home is ready.
"We will have the use of the Holmes à Court gallery for our exhibitions," Dr Stanton said. "It is only half the size of our existing gallery but at least visitors will be able to see some of our treasures and we will be able to change the exhibitions regularly."
Dr Stanton said the potential for damage in the original gallery, in the basement of the Social Sciences building ("We have had a few floods over the years"), and the inability to be able to verify and audit the collection had made the move inevitable.
"We have put on two new staff and Facilities Management has provided three staff for the relocation," he said.
Feathered and ochred items and bark paintings are the most fragile objects in the collection. These will be packed for the move to the Shenberg Centre but not stored.
"Any unnecessary movement is the biggest danger to any art collection," Dr Stanton said.
While they are recording the collection, staff are digitising it and at least part of it will be put on the Web and made available to visitors to the Museum at LWAG and to UWA staff. They hope to develop a virtual tour for visitors while the bulk of the collection is inaccessible.
The Museum was named after two of Australia's greatest anthropologists, Ronald and Catherine Berndt, who worked together at UWA from the late 1950s to the early 1980s. It is a centre for research and exchange of knowledge about Indigenous art and culture.
The biennial Berndt Lecture will be held at the University Club on October 21. UWAnews will run more information on the lecture in future issues.
Published in UWA News, 6 September 2010