The Nineteenth Century’s Largest Glass Plate Negatives

Restored panorama of Sydney from the Holtermann collection.
North Shore, Sydney Harbour and Fort Macquarie, from collodion glass plate negative, 160 x 96.5 cm (5.1 ft x 3.08 ft), State Library of New South Wales, XR 46

The largest glass plate negatives produced in the nineteenth-century were made in Sydney, Australia, in 1875. They were made by the professional photographer Charles Bayliss with the help of a wealthy amateur photographer Bernhard Otto Holtermann, who also funded the project. Holtermann appears to have started learning photography around 1873, after he commissioned Henry Beaufoy Merlin and Charles Bayliss to take photographs for the Holtermann Exposition. This was a project personally funded by Holterman which sought to display mineral samples, models, maps, natural history specimens and photographs which illustrated the wealth of Australia at international exhibitions.1

Bayliss and Holtermann produced four known glass negatives all of which were taken from Holtermann’s purpose-built camera in the tower of his mansion in North Sydney.2 Two were 160 x 96.5 cm (5.1 ft x 3.08 ft) and formed a panorama of Sydney Harbour from Garden Island to Miller’s Point. The other two were 136 x 95 cm (4.4 x 3.1 feet) and were of the Harbour Lavender Bay and Fort Maccquarie and Berry’s Bay and Goat Island.3 All four colossal negatives were acknowledged at the time as being the largest negatives made and appear to have remained so until 1900 when George R. Lawrence built his (4.5 x 8 ft) camera to photograph the Alton Limited locomotive.4

Berry’s Bay and Goat Island, Sydney from collodion glass plate negative, 136 x 95 cm (4.4 x 3.1 feet), State Library of New South Wales, XR 45

In December 1875 the Illustrated Sydney News reported that Holtermann intended to take all four to display at the 1876 International Exhibition in Philadelphia, America.5 It is unclear if all four eventually made their way to Philadelphia but at least one of the smaller glass plate negatives (136 x 95 cm) was displayed in the rooms of Bradley and Ralofson in San Francisco.6 Their studio in Montgomery Street was reputed to be one of the best in the city and Henry W Bradley had been appointed President of the National Photographic Association in 1874.7

This display seems to have been set up for the express purpose of giving the members of the Photographers Art Society of the Pacific Coast (PASPC) an opportunity to view what they subsequently declared to be the largest negative ever produced.8 In the 1860s the American photographer Carlton Watkins had popularised landscapes of the Yosemite Valley, east of San Francisco, using prints made from his ‘mammoth’ negatives (55.8 x 63.5 centimeters or 1.83 x 2.03 feet). This may have been one reason Holtermann chose to display the negative in San Francisco as upon examination it was clear that even these smaller Sydney plates were near twice the size of Watkin’s mammoth plates. The society then declared,

… that as photographers we are indebted to the liberality of B. O. Holterman, for demonstrating the possibility and perfecting the production of the largest negative; and we tender him the thanks of this society for kindly placing this negative on view for our benefit.9

North Shore, Lavender Bay, Sydney Harbour and Fort Macquarie, from collodion glass plate negative, 136 x 95 cm (4.4 x 3.1 feet), State Library of New South Wales, XR 45

Manufacture of the glass plate negatives
In 1875 Holtermann and Charles Bayliss started work on producing colossal sized glass plate negatives. The pair had already succeeded in printing a 10 metre (33 foot) panorama of Sydney from twenty-three 45 x 56 (18 x 22 inch) glass plates.10 But their next endeavour seemed specifically aimed at making the largest glass negatives they possibly could.11 Holterman built a tower on his north shore mansion to get a high enough vantage point to take the panorama of Sydney Harbour. This also housed the camera used to take the panorama but when it came to making the larger glass plates a larger lens was required. To accomplish this Holterman personally made a trip to Germany to supervise the purchase of a special lens. 12 13

On 11 February 1876, a journalist from the evening news outlined the complicated processes they used to prepare the plates, exposure them and then develop them.

Mr. Holtermann’s views from direct negatives are the largest in the world, and this phrase contains a conveys a good deal. It means that never before, were so large plates taken in a camera. When we say that the pieces of plate glass used for the negatives were five feet long and three feet two inches in breadth, our readers will have some faint idea of the extraordinary manipulation required to fix them upon the ‘counterfeit presentment’ of the object at which the camera was directed. In the first place a sheet of plate glass of that size without a flaw break or bubble, had to be obtained. It then required chemical cleaning and after that it had to be coated with collodion uniformly and evenly.

Those who know the care required to coat an ordinary carte-de-visite or cabinet sized plate so as to prevent “crossing” “double filming” or “waving,” may imaging the stupendous task that devolved upon the artist who undertook to coat a plate of five feet by three. When coated uniformly and without a flaw as to present a surface as smooth and regular as the glass itself. It is no easy task to submit an ordinary plate of a few inches square to the action of the nitrate bath, so as to ensure it sensibility at all points to the action of light, and unacquainted as we were with the peculiar process of Mr. Holtermann’s artist, we marvel how the operator managed to sensitise so great a sheet of glass.

Once sensitised satisfactorily the plate had to be subjected to light so as to receive the image it was destined to retain. It must have been an anxious time for the photographer. One second more or less might make or blur a picture and the toil of weeks, besides scores of pounds of expense, might be wasted.

The image secured, the next thing would be to retain it. The large piece of glass must be handled again. It must be taken from the camera, and developed with hyposulphite of iron and acid spirit. This mixture known to photographers as the fixing agent, required to be floated over the plates so uniformly and regularly that the slightest splash, dash, break or stoppage would ruin the picture. One wave must inundate the whole, or the plate is ruined. This is as delicate and important an operation as the filming, and it often takes amateurs years before they can master the task of developing a plate as many inches as Mr. Holtermann’s are feet.

The developing mixture brings the picture out but it has to be fixed with cyanide of potassium, and after that, it must be ‘cleared” with hyposulphite of soda. Then before it can be printed it must be dried and the film protected by varnish, which must be spread over the plate as carefully, and with one motion as is required in the spreading of the collodion or fixing agent.14

All of the difficulties described above were compounded by the fact the largest glass negatives weighed 36 kilograms (80 pounds).15 These then had to be carted up the stairs to be exposed in the mansion’s tower and then back down again once finished.

Printing from the glass plate negatives
The size of the glass plate negative also presented challenges for printing, toning and fixing the positives. Contact printing (lying the negative directly on the sensitised paper) was the preferred method of making positive prints and unfortunately for Bayliss and Holterman there were no single sheets of paper large enough for them to use. As a result, prints made from the negative showed a number of joins which people mistakenly thought reflected the size of the negative. In fact, they reflected the size of the paper which had to be used to cover the huge negatives.16 It is possible this was the reason Holterman had to take the fragile negatives overseas in order to prove beyond doubt the size of the plates.

Three of the four Giant Glass Plate Negatives of Sydney Harbour are currently held by the State Library of New South Wales. In 1952 they were donated to the Library by B. O. Holtermann’s grandson and in 2017 they were listed on the UNESCO Memory of the World.

The Library holdings are XR 46 which is one of two glass plate negatives 160 x 96.5 cm (5.1 ft x 3.08 ft) which formed a panorama of Sydney Harbour and Garden Island to Miller’s Point.17 During the 1950s, plate XR 46 was moved to the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences for large-format copy printing. A silver gelatin contact print (ML 849) was created and sepia-toned to replicate an albumen print.18 In 1980 the three giant plates were photographed at a commercial photographic bureau, producing three 5 × 4” photographic acetate negatives, now stored in the Library’s cold storage facility. In 1982, XR 46 broke into large pieces, small shards and powdered splinters. In 2016 the Library used digital reconstruction to reassemble the original negative.19

The other two plates XR 45a and XR 45b are both 136 x 95 cm (4.4 x 3.1 feet) and one is a duplicate view of the larger glass plate view of the Harbour and Garden Island but taken at a taken at a slightly different time. The second is of North Sydney, the Harbour and Longnose Point.20 In 2012 the two undamaged large collodion wet plates XR 45a and b were digitised in high resolution.21

The location of the fourth plate is currently unknown although a carte de visite thought to have been taken in Berlin around 1876 depicts Bernard Holtermann next to the missing negative.22

Bernard Otto Holtermann, with an unlocated 160 x 96.5 cm glass plate negative, 1879, from carte-de-visite by Loescher & Petsch, Berlin, 1879, held by National Parks & Wildlife Service, Hill End, Beyers’ Family Album.

1 Mr. Holtermann’s photographs, (1875, November 9). Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931), p. 2. Retrieved November 4, 2018, from
2 This mansion is now part of the Sydney Church of England Grammar School (commonly known as Shore or Shore School).
3 Bernard Otto Holterman, (1875, December 11). Illustrated Sydney News and New South Wales Agriculturalist and Grazier (NSW : 1872 – 1881), p. 3. Retrieved November 4, 2018, from
4 Holterman’s Negative, (1876, September 12). Clarence and Richmond Examiner and New England Advertiser (Grafton, NSW : 1859 – 1889), p. 3. Retrieved November 3, 2018, from
5 Bernard Otto Holterman, (1875, December 11). Illustrated Sydney News and New South Wales Agriculturalist and Grazier (NSW : 1872 – 1881), p. 3. Retrieved November 4, 2018, from
6 Holterman’s Negative, (1876, September 12). Clarence and Richmond Examiner and New England Advertiser (Grafton, NSW : 1859 – 1889), p. 3. Retrieved November 3, 2018, from
7 Bradley and Ralofson,
8 Holterman’s Negative, (1876, September 12). Clarence and Richmond Examiner and New England Advertiser (Grafton, NSW : 1859 – 1889), p. 3. Retrieved November 3, 2018, from
9 Holterman’s Negative, (1876, September 12). Clarence and Richmond Examiner and New England Advertiser (Grafton, NSW : 1859 – 1889), p. 3. Retrieved November 3, 2018, from
10 Bernard Otto Holterman, (1875, December 11). Illustrated Sydney News and New South Wales Agriculturalist and Grazier (NSW : 1872 – 1881), p. 3. Retrieved November 4, 2018, from
11 Mr. Holtermann’s photographs, (1875, November 9). Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931), p. 2. Retrieved November 4, 2018, from
12 Fine Art Department, (1876, August 29). Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser (Qld. : 1861 – 1908), p. 4. Retrieved November 4, 2018, from
13 Summary of the News, (1876, February 9). Border Watch (Mount Gambier, SA : 1861 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved November 4, 2018, from
14 Mr. Holtermann’s photographs, (1876, February 11). Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931), p. 2. Retrieved November 3, 2018, from
15 Cruelties at the Randwick Asylum, (1876, February 8). South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900), p. 5. Retrieved November 4, 2018, from
16 Mr. Holtermann’s photographs, (1876, February 11). Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931), p. 2. Retrieved November 4, 2018, from
17 Bernard Otto Holterman, (1875, December 11). Illustrated Sydney News and New South Wales Agriculturalist and Grazier (NSW : 1872 – 1881), p. 3. Retrieved November 4, 2018, from
18 Brooks, Anna, Ngo, Lang, Parshall, Nicola, Thomson, Catherine, Rebuilding Holtermann’s Triumph from plate to pixel,
19 Brooks, Anna, Ngo, Lang, Parshall, Nicola, Thomson, Catherine, Rebuilding Holtermann’s Triumph from plate to pixel,
20 Bernard Otto Holterman, (1875, December 11). Illustrated Sydney News and New South Wales Agriculturalist and Grazier (NSW : 1872 – 1881), p. 3. Retrieved November 4, 2018, from
21 Brooks, Anna, Ngo, Lang, Parshall, Nicola, Thomson, Catherine, Rebuilding Holtermann’s Triumph from plate to pixel,
22 Brooks, Anna, Ngo, Lang, Parshall, Nicola, Thomson, Catherine, Rebuilding Holtermann’s Triumph from plate to pixel,


Old East India Company Windmill, Government Domain, Sydney

Old Windmill. Government Domain, Sydney, 1836, lithograph, by J.G. Austin, State Library of New South Wales, PXA 662p

In the early days of Sydney, this windmill stood in the Domain near Government House stables. Its exact position was close to the statue of a huntsman with dogs by Henri Alfred Jacquemart, which is still in the grounds of the Royal Botanical Gardens. Built of stone, it was owned by the Government and was used for grinding the grain of the settlers.

According to Freeman’s Journal, the windmill was built by the East India Company who were granted land around Farm Cove. The Governor of New South Wales later took forcible possession of the mill which resulted in a drawn-out lawsuit between the company and the government. Finally, in 1835 Sir Richard Bourke had the mill taken down and removed.

An interesting story about stolen money that had been buried in the ruins was recounted by ‘Fido’ in 1897, letter to the editor.

During the lawsuit between the company and the Imperial Government, the land was held in trust by the Internal Revenue Office. In the year 1832, my father was employed at the Internal Revenue Office at the corner of King and Macquarie streets.

The Collector of Internal Revenue, Mr Wm. McPherson, put my father in the possession of two cottages at the mill for a residence. At this time, where the Bent-street entrance is was occupied as a large dairy, kept by Mr W. Stone. I was a frequent caller at the dairy and knew the people that kept it. There was a large gate near the dairy; it stood a bit in from Bent-street, and faced Macquarie-street, with two large Norfolk Island pines on either side. This was the entrance to the company’s mill, but it could not be called a public entrance in the accepted meaning, it being on private property.

While we lived at the mill a remarkable thing occurred; it was the unearthing of the money stolen from the Bank of Australasia, which was buried in the mill. I wrote an account of this to the Freeman at the time of the International Exhibition; but as it might be interesting now, with your permission, I will relate a few of the main facts as they came under my own notice.

As I said before, the mill was long thrown idle by the action taken by Governor Macquarie. It was now fast falling into decay; it was a weird-looking object, with its enormous hardwood racks stretching far away in the air. The rails had long since been blown away from the racks. It was very broad at the base and strongly built with cut stone. It was a circular building and stood about ninety feet high. It had one door on the ground floor, which faced towards Government House; the ground floor was an earthen one; the floor above was floored with hardwood and stood about fifteen feet above the ground floor; there was a square opening in it, and hardwood steps about eight feet wide leading to the floor above.

It was under those steps that the stolen money was buried. A person standing at the front of the mill would have a clear view of the entrance gate and the road leading to the mill. Our residence was on the lower side of the mill and faced to the north-west. I don’t think a good view of the road could be had from there, as the mill intervened. It was one fine morning about the year 1833 or ’34 that myself and three sisters were playing in front of the mill when we saw two men coming down the road bearing something between them.

It being an unusual occurrence, we lost no time in acquainting our mother, our father not being at home. Our mother came out to see the men and learn their business. We could see they were two rough looking men and bore a suspicious look about them, and carried a large tub between them. On reaching where we stood, one of them informed their mother that they had been sent by a gentleman to get a tubful of the earth out of the mill.

The request was a remarkable one, as they could obtain good soil anywhere outside; but as it was a ground floor, and they were sent by a gentleman, mother thought she had better tell them to take it, as from the appearance of the men we all wished them away. This decision of my mother I believe saved our lives, as no doubt they were prepared to commit murder in case they were discovered, which was liable to happen at any moment.

On getting my mother’s permission, they went into the mill and closed the door after them, this being no easy matter, for the door had rusted on its hinges from being continually left standing wide open, and this circumstance added greatly to our suspicions, seeing that the only light they would have would be the faint light through the hatchway from the floor above. How long they stayed? It was a considerable time. I know my mother had gone back to her household duties, taking my two youngest sisters with her. I and my sister drew back from the mill but planted ourselves in a spot where we could see the door. After waiting some time, we saw the door open, and the men appeared, bearing the tub between them.

As we kept well out of sight they could not see us; they gave a look around to see that they were not watched and then started up the road, bearing the tub between them. On reaching the gate, which was about a hundred yards from the mill, they rested for a moment to change sides, giving a sharp look around at the same time, when they darted through. We stopped in our hiding place for a considerable time for fear that they would return, but they were gone.

As soon as we could muster the courage to leave our hiding-place we started for the mill. The door was left half open. On going inside we saw the ground had been disturbed underneath the steps, and there were lots of papers flying about the mill. We thought the whole business very strange at the time; but we had not long to wait for a solution, as those two men were shortly after arrested in trying to pass some of the money which was known as the money stolen from the above bank, and they were proved to be two escaped convicts from Norfolk Island, no doubt two of the gang that had been sent down there for life some time previous, as they knew where it was planted. They were sent back to the island.

This engraving by J. G. Austin was done around 1831. Even though the walls of the Government House stables are still recognisable the mill is depicted as a rugged old pile with the bush hut beside a few sparse shrubs and flowers.

by Geoff Barker, Senior Curator, Research and Discovery

VIEWS OF OLD SYDNEY The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 – 1912) 14 January 1888: 81. Web. 28 Sep 2017
A BIT OF OLD SYDNEY HISTORY. (1897, January 23). Freeman’s Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1850 – 1932), p. 20. Retrieved March 20, 2018, from

Amalie Dietrich – German Naturalist in Australia 1863-1872

Amalie Dietrich, copy from photo-mechanical print, State Library of New South Wales, Government Printing Office 1 – 12257

For ten years, between 1863 and 1872, Amalie Dietrich collected natural history specimens alone in the jungles and deserts of Queensland. Shaded by a straw hat, she walked thousands of kilometres with her small case of essentials including flour, salt, tea and matches.[1]

Born in the little Saxon town of Siebenlehn in 1821 she had no formal teaching in botany but through her husband, Wilhelm Dietrich learnt everything she could about the subject.

Between 1845 and 1862 she and her husband made a precarious living collecting Alpine specimens to sell to chemists for medicines and to museums for their natural history collections. [2] Some of the delicate alpine flowers Amalie collected in this period can be seen on display in the Natural History Museum in Freiburg. [3] There is no doubt that this was a hard way to make a living and in her biography, ‘The Hard Road,’ her daughter describes this period of Amalie’s life,

The cart was so heavy and the road often so bad, we had to endure hunger, frost, heat, and ceaseless crushing anxiety as to our daily bread, and you [Charitas their daughter]. Often still in my dreams, I pull the cart … [4]

After a while, it appears Wilhelm began spending most of his time mounting the specimens and the burden of collecting them fell to Amalie. This meant long, lonely, periods away from home which were made even worse after her only child, Charitas, was born. Her husband refused to look after his daughter and she was boarded out to strangers, and eventually, at age 11, left her to fend for herself. The final straw was when Amalie found out he was having an affair and she broke with him completely. [5]

In desperation, she travelled to Hamburg where she found work with the industrialist and natural history collector Johan Ceasar Godeffroy. He agreed to hire her as a collector in Australia but there was a downside. Amalie had to sign a ten-year contract and leave her daughter behind in Germany. For Amalie the pain was eased considerably by her friend, a collector named Dr Meyer, and his wife, who agreed to look after Charitas as well as provide for her education. [6]

Amalie left Hamburg on 15 May 1863 and her daughter’s account, though fictionalised, goes some way to describing her mother’s feelings upon finding herself alone on the other side of the world,

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this initial journey. In my heart I longed for guidance of a friendly loving hand on those first days, and would fain have had someone to instruct me about all the strange phenomenon.  … Alas, and now I had to keep on asking myself, is it really I, this lonely wanderer in the Australian forest. [7]

But Amalie grew to love working in a place where so much was new for the natural history collector, and according to Charitas she reconciled her longing for home by picturing herself on the day she would see her daughter again at the docks in Hamburg. [8]  The hardships she had experienced through her life also appear to have led her to focus on practical, rather than emotional matters,

I need courage, cheerfulness, and peace of mind for my work. With a heavy oppressed heart, no work is easily done-by either either of us. My own experience has taught me this: our moods and feelings change from day to day. [9]

Amalie was known to many collectors through her earlier work, but the cases and barrels containing stuffed animals, insects, mammals and plants which arrived at the Hamburg docks from Queensland increased her reputation. Over these ten years she collected in Brisbane (1863–1864); Gladstone (1864-1865); Rockhampton (1864-1866); Mackay (1867); Lake Elphinstone (1868); Mackay (1869); and Bowen (1869-1870). [10] Disturbingly Bowen is also where she also began collecting skeletal remains of local Aborigines to send back to Godeffroy’s in Germany. [11]

Amalie arrived back in Hamburg, 4 March 1873. Her daughter met her at the docks and described the moment in heartbreaking detail,

There at the end of the little cabin, sat an old woman. Her back was rounded. Her parchment-like, weather beaten face was furrowed with thousands of lines and wrinkles. Her hair, parted down the centre, was thin and white. A shabby skirt and a dark print jacket encased the ageing form. On her feet were old grey canvas shoes, displaying holes in sundry places. [12]

This may have been how she appeared to her daughter but it was not how she was regarded by the scientific community. Among this group, her reputation as a natural history collector ensured there were benefactors to help her through the next phase of her life. Primary among these was Johan Godeffroy who provided her with work in his museum and a room in his house for the next 13 years. [13]

Finally in 1891, while on a visit to her daughter’s home, Amalie fell ill with pneumonia and died. [14]

Her legacy continued to grow as more scientists worked on the 20,000 specimens she had collected for the Godeffroy Museum in Germany. And the many more sold to Kew Gardens, the British Museum and other collecting institutions. The size and significance of these collections now rank her as one of the most important naturalist-collectors to have worked in Australia.[15]

Geoff Barker, 2017


  1. All the quotes from the letters in Bischoff’s biography of her mother are now thought to be largely fabricated. That being said we cannot exclude the possibility that they are based to some degree in fact. It is possible they could be based on lost letters or oral accounts she may have heard from her mother.The Hard Road, Charitas Bischoff, Martin Hopkinson Ltd, London, 1931, 234
  2. Amalie Dietrich 1821-1891, Studies in International Cultural relations, Number 29, Instiut fur Auslandsbeziehungen, Suttgart, SBUndersrepublik, Dueutschland, 1988, p.13
  3. Amalie Dietrich 1821-1891, Studies in International Cultural relations, Number 29, Instiut fur Auslandsbeziehungen, Suttgart, SBUndersrepublik, Dueutschland, 1988, p.13
  4. The Hard Road, Charitas Bischoff, Martin Hopkinson Ltd, London, 1931, 244
  5. The White Falcon, Pacific Books, 1963, p.52
  6. The White Falcon, Pacific Books, 1963, p.4
  7. The Hard Road, Charitas Bischoff, Martin Hopkinson Ltd, London, 1931, 237
  8. The Hard Road, Charitas Bischoff, Martin Hopkinson Ltd, London, 1931, 234
  9. The Hard Road, Charitas Bischoff, Martin Hopkinson Ltd, London, 1931, 241
  10. Dietrich, Konkordia Amalie (nee Nelle), Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria,
  11. The White Falcon, Pacific Books, 1963, p.63
  12. The White Falcon, Pacific Books, 1963, p.329
  13. The Hard Road, Charitas Bischoff, Martin Hopkinson Ltd, London, 1931, 316
  14. The Hard Road, Charitas Bischoff, Martin Hopkinson Ltd, London, 1931, 329
  15. Amalie Dietrich 1821-1891, Studies in International Cultural relations, Number 29, Instiut fur Auslandsbeziehungen, Suttgart, Bundersrepublik, Dueutschland, 1988, p.30
  16. Dietrich, Konkordia Amalie (nee Nelle), Council of Heads of Australasian Herbaria,

Further Reading

  • Dietrich, Lodewyckx, & Lodewyckx, A. (1943). Australische Briefe / von Amalie Dietrich ; with a biographical sketch, exercises and a vocabulary, edited by Augustin Lodewyckx. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press in association with Oxford University Press. 
  • Bischoff, C. (1914). Amalie Dietrich, ein Leben / erzählt von Charitas Bischoff. (Grote’sche Sammlung von Werken zeitgenössischer Schriftsteller ; Bd. 97). Berlin: Grote.
  • Lüttge, U., & Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen. (1988). Amalie Dietrich (1821-1891), German biologist in Australia, homage to Australia’s Bicentenary, 1988 / edited by Ulrich Lüttge. (Studies in international cultural relations ; v. 29). Stuttgart: Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen.
  • Sumner, R. (1993). A woman in the wilderness : The story of Amalie Dietrich in Australia / Ray Sumner. Kensington, NSW, Australia: New South Wales University Press.

Milton Kent (photographer)

From article I added to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 2018.10

Milton Kent was a pioneer of industrial and aerial photography, a prize-winning airman and a champion sculler. Initially, Kent worked as a sports photographer but by the 1920s he had embraced aerial photography using a specially crafted oblique camera. Over the next 50 years, Kent used his camera to capture the opening of new blocks of land across Sydney, the construction of the harbour bridge and panoply of other events right through to 1971.

Early life

Milton’s father, Charles Kent, was born in Collingwood, Victoria in 1862.[1] Charles was a photographer who bought his photo business from Murrell & Co. and operated from a building at 314 George Street, Sydney.[2] Milton was born above this studio in 1888 and from the age of ten was apprenticed to his father.[3]


In 1909 Milton set up his own commercial business and his first contract was to photograph the fighter R. L. ‘Snowy’ Baker at the Rushcutters Bay Stadium. His Mentor camera could capture the action, but the old plate films and poor lighting inhibited indoor shots. Instead, he took his photos in the sunlit passages around the bleachers.[4] Between 1914 and 1918 he photographed boxers in fighting poses, including Sid Francis; Jimmy Hill; Herb McCoy; Jeff Smith; and Les Darcy.[5]

In Sydney, the motor industry was in its infancy and Milton found work with many of the early people working in the trade. These businessmen, in turn, recommended Milton their friends and along with the fact he delivered excellent results his business grew from strength to strength. In the years before the outbreak of World War One, he rode a motorcycle to jobs.[6]

In 1911, he married Lillian Cropper, the daughter of an ex-mayor of Petersham but still found time to engage with the other love of his life, flying.[7] As early as 1912 he made box-kites modelled on the designs by Lawrence Hargrave and he was later introduced to the aviator William Hart.[8]Alert to the possibilities of aerial photography Kent took some images during one of Hart’s flights using rapid panchromatic glass plates.[9] In 1916, he was appointed official photographer to the State Government Aviation School at Richmond Sydney and became firm friends with the chief instructor, Captain W. J. Strutt. While not officially allowed to fly planes Kent learnt ‘under the lap’ while on photographic patrols around Sydney but was not allowed to land or take off.[10]

It was during this time that Kent learnt about oblique aerial photography at altitudes from 500 to 5000 feet. The greatest problem was the lack of sensitivity of the plates which meant operating on full aperture at around 1/200th of a second and images could only be taken in full sunlight with no cloud.[11]

This phase of his aerial activities ended when Strutt disappeared in a flight over the Bass Strait.  But Kent was convinced there was a market in aerial photography and over this period, he hired aircraft from Nigel Love, to do photographic work.[12]

In 1918 Love had purchased land at Mascot and formed the Australian Aircraft and Engineering Company. He erected a canvas hanger on the site which went on to become Sydney Airport. 1918 also saw Charles Kent handed over his business to his son before he moved to Queensland.[13]

Pastoral Finance Association building, Kirribilli, North Sydney, circa 1921, Milton Kent

In 1920, Kent imported a half-plate oblique aero camera from [ Carl Zeiss AG] in Germany for factory projects and real estate subdivisions. In 1921 aerial views of Kirribilli and Circular Quay by Kent appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald and 3 years later they published one of the more gruesome events which Kent covered.[14] This was the aerial view of the area around Long Bay Correctional Centre where the body of a woman was found in May 1924.[15]

In 1920 his son Lindsey was born, and he won the Mile Sculling Championship of New South Wales. It was also the year the New South Wales Aero Club was formed, and Milton was one of the first pupils after joining the club around 1924.[16] He was awarded his licence in November 1926.[17]

In 1927, he bought a Westland Widgeon two-seater monoplane with silver wings and a blue two-toned fuselage.[18] Kent felt the single wing gave a clearer view for his photographic work.[19] On 12 November 1927, he used the plane to win the speed championship at the Aerial Derby in Queensland.[20] The following year he tried to break the plane speed record from Sydney to Brisbane. Unfortunately, his motor cut out over Broken Bay and he was forced to crash-land his plane on a nearby cliff.[21] Kent and his co-pilot Larry Phipps were not injured although the plane needed to be dismantled and carried through dense scrub to the nearest road.[22] In June 1928, he and Captain Boyden took photographs of Charles Kingsford Smith’s [Southern Cross (aircraft) ‘Southern Cross’] as it came in to land at Sydney. And in 1930 he did the same when Chichester arrived in Sydney after his solo flight from England.[23]

For some years he was an aerial photographer for the Sydney Morning Herald and he photographed the Rothbury Riots in Northern New South Wales coalfields for them. Kent submitted a series of 24 aerial photographs to an aerial photograph competition held by the Photographers Association of America in 1929 and received one of the highest awards from the association.[24] For some years he was an aerial photographer for the Sydney Morning Herald and photographed the Rothbury Riots in Northern New South Wales coalfields for them.[25]

By the 1940s Kent was the principal aerial photographer in Sydney and his work was reproduced in thousands of advertisements in newspapers and magazines.[26]

Final Days

By 1953 his son Lionel was working with his father and the company had been renamed Milton Kent and Son. Their studio was beside his home at 19 O’Conner St, Haberfield, Sydney.[27] Kent continued to work with his son until 1961 when he retired.[28] When he died in 1965 he left behind his wife Lillian and their three children Freda, Gweneth and Lindsey.[29] Lindsey continued to manage the studio up until 1989 when he sold the business and thousands of negatives to Ernest Dorn.[30]


State Library of New South WalesMilton Kent aggregated collection of negatives, chiefly aerial views of Sydney, ca. 1920-1982.

Series 01 Part 01: Milton Kent glass negatives of aerial views of Sydney, 1920-1970 | Series ( Contains 38 items ) Series 01 Part 02: Milton Kent glass negatives of aerial views of Sydney, 1930-1970 | Series ( Contains 33 items ) Series 01 Part 03: Milton Kent glass negatives of aerial views of Sydney, 1940-1967 | Series ( Contains 50 items ) Series 01 Part 04: Milton Kent glass negatives of aerial views of Sydney, 1950-1972 | Series ( Contains 90 items ) Series 01 Part 05: Milton Kent glass negatives of aerial views of Sydney, 1960-1974 | Series ( Contains 14 items ) Series 01 Part 06: Milton Kent glass negatives of aerial views of Sydney 1970-1972 and undated sequence | Series 02: Milton Kent film negatives and transparencies of Sydney factories, industrial plant and products for company publications, 1970-1982 | Series ( Contains 8 items ) Series 03: Milton Kent film negatives and transparencies of aerial views of Sydney, 1971-1978 and undated | ON 521 Series 04: Milton Kent film negatives and transparencies taken for clients, chiefly undated Series 05: Milton Kent miscellaneous film negatives and transparencies, chiefly undated


  • A Modern Ariel with a camera, People [magazine], 15 July 1953, pp. 24-27
  • Hunt Graham, ‘Milton Kent, Aerial and Commercial Photographer, 1888-1965’, Ashfield’s Men of Mark, Ashfield History No. 16, Ashfield and District Historical Society Inc., 2006
  • How Milton Kent Swam to Recover His Dead Pal’s Body (1929, November 18). The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), p. 3. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from
  • Fishing Record at Jervis Bay (1937, June 16). The Shoalhaven Telegraph (NSW : 1881 – 1937), p. 3. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from
  • NEWS AND NOTES (1932, February 16). The Richmond River Herald and Northern Districts Advertiser (NSW : 1886 – 1942), p. 1. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from
  • AEROPLANE CAUGHT IN HAILSTORM (1929, November 13). Singleton Argus (NSW : 1880 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from 


  1. Hunt Graham, ‘Milton Kent, Aerial and Commercial Photographer, 1888-1965’, Ashfield’s Men of Mark, Ashfield History No. 16, Ashfield and District Historical Society Inc., 2006, p. 2
  2. Hunt Graham, ‘Milton Kent, Aerial and Commercial Photographer, 1888-1965’, Ashfield’s Men of Mark, Ashfield History No. 16, Ashfield and District Historical Society Inc., 2006, p. 2
  3. A Modern Ariel with a camera, People Magazine, 15 July 1953, pp. 24-27
  4. A Modern Ariel with a camera, People [magazine], 15 July 1953, pp. 24-27
  5. Hunt Graham, ‘Milton Kent, Aerial and Commercial Photographer, 1888-1965’, Ashfield’s Men of Mark, Ashfield History No. 16, Ashfield and District Historical Society Inc., 2006, p. 5
  6. A Modern Ariel with a camera, People [magazine], 15 July 1953, pp. 24-27
  7. Hunt Graham, ‘Milton Kent, Aerial and Commercial Photographer, 1888-1965’, Ashfield’s Men of Mark, Ashfield History No. 16, Ashfield and District Historical Society Inc., 2006, p. 5
  8. A Modern Ariel with a camera, People [magazine], 15 July 1953, pp. 24-27
  9. A Modern Ariel with a camera, People [magazine], 15 July 1953, pp. 24-27
  10. A Modern Ariel with a camera, People [magazine], 15 July 1953, pp. 24-27
  11. A Modern Ariel with a camera, People [magazine], 15 July 1953, pp. 24-27
  12. A Modern Ariel with a camera, People [magazine], 15 July 1953, pp. 24-27
  13. Hunt Graham, ‘Milton Kent, Aerial and Commercial Photographer, 1888-1965’, Ashfield’s Men of Mark, Ashfield History No. 16, Ashfield and District Historical Society Inc., 2006, p. 4
  14. A Modern Ariel with a camera, People [magazine], 15 July 1953, pp. 24-27
  15. REMARKABLE AEROPLANE VIEW OF LOCALITY OF YESTERDAY’S TRAGEDY (1924, May 14). The Labor Daily (Sydney, NSW: 1924 – 1938), p. 1. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from
  16. TAKES HIS CAMERA (1929, January 25). The Labor Daily (Sydney, NSW: 1924 – 1938), p. 10. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from
  17. A Modern Ariel with a camera, People [magazine], 15 July 1953, pp. 24-27
  18. THE ‘FLYING CLOUD’ (1927, October 3). The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW: 1883 – 1930), p. 21. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from
  19. No title (1929, January 28). The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW: 1883 – 1930), p. 3. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from
  20. AERIAL DERBY (1927, November 13). The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW: 1883 – 1930), p. 13. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from
  21. FORCED LANDING (1928, August 23). Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931), p. 7. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from
  22. FORCED LANDING. (1928, August 23). The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), p. 13. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from
  23. THE END OF A SOLO FLIGHT FROM ENGLAND-AERIAL PICTURES OF CHICHESTER’S ARRIVAL AT MASCOT. (1930, January 31). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 14. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from
  24. AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHS. (1929, February 1). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 18. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from
  25. A Modern Ariel with a camera, People [magazine], 15 July 1953, pp. 24-27
  26. Hunt Graham, ‘Milton Kent, Aerial and Commercial Photographer, 1888-1965’, Ashfield’s Men of Mark, Ashfield History No. 16, Ashfield and District Historical Society Inc., 2006, p. 10
  27. Hunt Graham, ‘Milton Kent, Aerial and Commercial Photographer, 1888-1965’, Ashfield’s Men of Mark, Ashfield History No. 16, Ashfield and District Historical Society Inc., 2006, p. 5
  28. Hunt Graham, ‘Milton Kent, Aerial and Commercial Photographer, 1888-1965’, Ashfield’s Men of Mark, Ashfield History No. 16, Ashfield and District Historical Society Inc., 2006, p.1
  29. Hunt Graham, ‘Milton Kent, Aerial and Commercial Photographer, 1888-1965’, Ashfield’s Men of Mark, Ashfield History No. 16, Ashfield and District Historical Society Inc., 2006, p.1
  30. Hunt Graham, ‘Milton Kent, Aerial and Commercial Photographer, 1888-1965’, Ashfield’s Men of Mark, Ashfield History No. 16, Ashfield and District Historical Society Inc., 2006, p. 12

Cross Functional Workflows for museum, archive and library collections

In 2013 Parramatta City Council’s Museum, Archives and Local Studies Library were restructured into one unit, ‘Research and Collection Services’ (ARC).

Bringing together collections and staff from across three separate disciplines encouraged new work patterns and in some ways provides a glimpse into what could be the future for many working in the GLAM sector.

We are now two years down the track and this overview of our Parramatta and World War One project will hopefully provide some insights into how we are managing the challenges and benefits of new workflows in our cross-disciplinary team.

The primary focus of the World War One project was to research and develop stories relating to Parramatta and Districts and deliver these in tandem with 100 Year Commemoration events from 2014 to 2018. This project started in late 2013 but with few physical objects and records in the Council collections we had to think of another approach. We finally built the whole project around a rare copy of the 1920 publication ‘Parramatta District Soldiers in the Great War, 1914-1919’ which we purchased for the Museum collection in early 2014.

This book contained the names, locality and photographs of over 1500 soldiers and nurses who enlisted from here or were related by family to the Parramatta Local Government Area. We knew this book provided us with a kind of Rosetta stone to access content held in Trove, National Archives and at the Australian War Memorial but our first step was to digitise the book and its images, which were all out of copyright.

This was managed by our archival staff who also created the spreadsheet from indexes which broke down all the names, and locations into rows with a unique identifier. We then added the columns for information we would add later. These included, unit served, embarkation dates, links to external databases and pages, service numbers, and a central column containing a edited biographical entry.

Museum skills were useful for the collection of all the images and the retouching and cataloguing of these. After a month or so we had all 1500 of the soldiers images  cropped from the pages, resized to a uniform standard, and renumbered with the corresponding unique ID in our spreadsheet.

We then loaded the sheets and research information into our shared Google Drive (all of the ARC team shares the same login and editing, access and loading privileges) which enabled us to work collaboratively to x-check our work. We also opened up subsets of the data to volunteers so they could work remotely updating extra content on entries for soldiers, in fact one of our volunteers worked from Italy, while on a prolonged stay there with her family. Their content was then edited and updated by ARC team.

Library staff collated lists of books relating to a our research we we then ordered for the library collections as we worked on the project. We also began researching some of the broader Parramatta stories relating to Gallipoli, HMS Parramatta, and battles involving units with soldiers from the area. All this content we turned into blog posts which we then scheduled into our on-lineWorld War One blog-site to occur 100 years to the day of a major event in the post. We made the conscious decision to only select out of copyright material or content we had created to make sure the site and the posts were released under a Creative Commons licence. This ensured all our content could be accessed by schools, communities and other parts of Council for reuse and re-purposing.

The next idea we came up with relied heavily on museum exhibition development skill-sets. We decided to use the spreadsheet as the basis for kick-starting content for a touch-table which also incorporated browse and search options, location maps, images and a system users to put information back into the table and our spreadsheet.To help with this we ensured the table was designed with its own cloud based content management system, and WiFi connection.

ttble image

This ensured the table would not be locked down to a specific location and could be moved around the LGA between 2014-2018. It also provided another way of justifying the costs of the table whose usefulness for just this project could be spread over 4 years rather than being a one off semi-permanent display in the Heritage Centre.

The table was completed in late 2014 and after a spell of six months at the centre was re-installed at the Parramatta Returned and Services League Club in time for the 100 Year celebrations of ANZAC Day on 25 April, 2015. It is now scheduled to tour local libraries and heritage sites up until the end of 2016, … we still need to finalise the scheduled moves till its return to the centre for Armistice Day in November 2018.

The activities of the Research Services Team were loaded into ‘World War One Link’ a research project database established by the team at Inside History and also with the Imperial War Museum in England’s online register of research projects taking place around the world during the centenary of WWI.

By May 2015 we had had loaded about half of our 430 detailed biographies of the soldiers and nurses into our blog Parramatta and World War One and scheduled them for publication 100 years to the day the researched story occurred. The first of these was published in August 2014 and the last will be published November 2018. This means we will continue to post of WW1 for the next few years using material completed in 2014.

For the 100 years ANZAC Day Commemorations we created a blog of standalone web stories and biographies about local soldiers who served at Gallipoli in 1915. We also created a series of specialised blogs relating to current interest groups and demographics in Parramatta.  As we use a word-press back-end all of our online content scales automatically to use on tablets and phones. This was great because in enabled Council hosts and guides to use the information on their I-Pads to tell their stories at the Parramatta’s Centennial Square as a part of the school holiday activities.

For ANZAC Day we also created a playlist of 20 short animations of soldier’s stories using this content and after loading this onto our You-Tube channel shared these with the Main Library and Riverside Theatre who put them on continuous rotation on screens over the ANZAC period. Re-purposing this content we provided a set of specially edited photographs, biographies, and movie files to the ‘Communications and Marketing’ and ‘Events’ teams in Council for them to also use for promoting activities over this period.

We also used the spreadsheet to create info-graphics from our data. For these we went to an on-line company who were able to convert the data we provided into the info-graphic you can see at the top of this post. The turnaround time was around a week and cost minimal, admittedly we didn’t have as much control over the process as some of the more expensive offerings but we felt the ability to change and update the content more regularly offset this.  The PDF file was made to a specific size to enable it to become an element of out exhibition space at the centre, but it was also reused for pull up banners, marketing, and for on-line graphics once the touch-table started travelling.

Finally it is important to note that the creation and editing of these all the above has been shared across the entire ARC Team. Our volunteers have continued to add more content to our on-line spread sheet and these have been updated by our team into the on-line CMS for the table. All of which has provided training and increased the competency of the entire team in dealing with some of the new cloud based Google tools, social media and the Word Press software used to deliver our content.


While the major portion of the project has finished we are continuing to develop content in relation with upcoming 100 Year Commemoration events and continue to work with volunteers to upgrade content. We have also begun looking at a new e-pub project which utilises our World War One content and as we get closer to the hundred year centenary of the publication of the ‘Parramatta Soldiers’ book we are hoping this expertise may be utilised to republish the 1920 book with all of the contributions by community, volunteers and ARC staff.

ISO15489 New Archival Standard, NSW Record Managers Forum, notes

Geoff Hinchcliffe, Sate Records New South Wales, Intro
Outlined there are currently around 400 archival sites across NSW and the vastness of area is also complicated by the diversity of temperatures. Forum will look at new standards for the sector and also to let everyone know about the New State Records website launched 21 June, 2016 with over 2000 pages. It also has a useful section for all organisation looking for help managing govt records.

David Roberts. 20 year anniversary (just about) of the AS4390 standard about to be replaced
Twenty five years ago there was no standard and archivists just produced disposal authorities. The 4930 standard changed this and was the first national standard produced anywhere in the world.

Types of Record keeping
1 Interoperability
2 Mandatory regulatory standard a) outcomes standards when there has been a failure and b} checklist standards objective auditing requirements
3 Codification

AS4930 really developed as a part of 3 as it was thought best practice should it reflect innovation or current working standards. 4390 was created to deal with innovations. In part implemented because in the 1980s there was a crisis of accountability but the lack of standards meant it was hard to measure anything against. Needed code of best practice.

AS4390 was cutting edge in its time

Part 1 Definitions  created an opportunity to clarify new thinking about new approaches to records and concepts and emphasised a transactional distinction between data documents, records and the record keeping.

Part 3 strategies set out requirements for full and accurate records. Designing a record keeping systems (Dirks, which everyone seems to acknowledge had its problems) but business analysis was really what dirks about. Traditionally the question was how do we manage all this stuff but dirks turned this upside down and asked how do we satisfy the requirements for recorded evidence. What records need to be generated in the first place.

Part 5  Appraisal … turned idea of disposal on its head instead AS4390 was based on business systems what do we need to capture and how long should they be kept.

Barbara Reed Chair Standards Australia IT21 local committee part of international network of record keeping standards.Australian and NZ standards have an AS/NZ prefix. This committee chooses which international standards will be brought into Australian environment.

Core ISO15489
Iso 30300
Iso 23081
Iso 16175

Risk assessment for records is a good useful international standard,  work process analysis, digitisation (from NZ) digitising before business rather than after the business is completed.

Hierarchy of standards
Top jurisdictional NSW
then Australian standards
then ISO standards

Different cultures have different approaches no set way of implementing across the globe. Feels they should be inspirational just above the bar of what can be done but this is not a consistent view across different countries.

ISO15489 new standard released 2016 

Foundation standard for use by records management practitioners and is also a statement of principles and operational control and processes .. new one has a new focus on digital material.

What’s different … emphasis on metadata and digital environment with out being format specific change in the definition of records and new emphasis on assets. More balance on process to say what can be done in range of environments and here are the controls you need … emphasis on access security and disposal … appraisal brought back in this standard (this is the analytic framework on which all these tools are based.)

ISO30300 management standards … higher level strategic organisational standards for good record keeping of entire organisation ie work and safety requirements
ISO23081 metadata standards …no digital record can exist without metadata … controversial as some what to take back to Dublin core … others want to include process some want to extend past just a profile of the record.

ISO16175 standards for functional requirements in electronic office environment. Still being reviewed to look particularly at better definitions for strategy

Annalisa Yeo,  Policy and Innovation ICT and Digital Government,

Focus on services to public and open data policy, improved performance management and provision of services. Final update Digital + 2016.

NSW Government ICT strategy’s final update outlines standards critical to the success of these. ROLE OF INFO FRAMEWORK CENTRAL TO REUSE OF DATA 3.9 define architectural layer and 3.10 standards for open data as (top of the list will be a data dictionary)

ICT Management FRAMEWORK ... most important to clarify it is aligned with ICT  strategy and provides guidelines and standards for government data across the NSW sector.

Built around 7 principles of data management
1 Govern
2 Collect
3 Organisation
4 Secure
5 Use
6 Share
7 Maintain

IM framework artefacts are linked to these principles. Standards are applied to these principles.

FIVE criteria for adoption of IM Framework standards
1 Aligned
2 Relevant to specific business need
3 Proven endorsed in principle
4 Aspirational incorporate working base line and continual improvement
5 Enterprise wide as well

NSW Metadata standards policy will be updated soon and requires agencies to publish metadata standards and baseline metadata standards applied and standard vocabularies applies.

Catherine Robinson Acting Manager NSW Government Record Keeping this talk was key in bringing together the other speakers outlines and makes it clear that the State records Act is the one that has to be adhered to when managing records.

1 Part 2 State Records Act sets out broad range of obligations .. to assist organisations understand how to implement codes of standards and obligations.

2 Very important design criteria means any organisation can implement to act and improve outcomes. THEY ARE MANDATORY and can be audited. 12 standards for practice from 2014 Act reviewed and reduced standards to just two and were all wrapped up into the standard on record management which was issued last year.

3 Also needs to adopt code of best practise to manage their practice.

These two standards and the adoption of best practice criteria are the minimum you need to apply to manage records in NSW.

They are designed to manage physical and digital records so new standards do have a focus on digital records. Standards build on previous foundation of standards.

How do these standards fit with the other standards outlined above. This group of 3 have been brought into this standard and harmonise with digital + strategy and hooking into other standards nationally and internationally. Always draws on these sources and referred to in standards issued under the state records act.

Ref: futureproof blog 

Geoff Barker, 2016

Staffing the Museums of the Future: Seb Chan interview

A transcript of the interview I did with Seb Chan, who was then Director of digital and emerging media at the Cooper Hewitt ,in the run-up to the 2015 Museums Australia Conference. Seb as usual was full of interesting insights into the business of musuems …

Hi Seb

Hi Geoff

Geoff: So can you give us a quick introduction.

Seb: Hi I’m Seb Chan, Director of digital and emerging media at the Cooper Hewitt which is the Smithsonian’s Design Museum in New York. I was previously at the Powerhouse Museum and headed up all the digital stuff there and some other units as well which was fun in the last couple couple years of a New York Hewett rethink what it is to say to be a museum in the digital age and help it reopen. It had been closed the last three three years and reopened end of December 2014.

So pretty exciting times and now we’re just into that time five six months later figuring out what’s working, what isn’t working, and getting ready to roll the next set of these set of exhibits we’ve got some cool ones coming up and then bedding down some of those systems and you know bedding down some of the change that’s gone on as well. It’s been a pretty exciting time. New York’s always full of good things and with summer coming around it’s good.

Geoff: Lots of good coffee shops and gelato shops

Seb: Yeah it’s starting to pick it up you know I think one of the more significant changes at the Museum that people don’t talk often enough about is that we now have a fabulous European grade coffee which is very nice to have on the Upper East Side it’s been a little bit rare over the last few years but they have also learned how to do a proper Australian cup too which has been a good thing.

Geoff: The question I’m going to ask you is one one of those from the Museums Australia Conference 2015 and this is … What will the staff of the Museum of the future look like?I’m just wondering what your thoughts are, whether it’s more about the structure that’s going to change, or the people that are in the structure that are going to change.

Seb: Yeah look I don’t know really know. I mean I think it’s an interesting period I’ve seen moving into the States that the States has a very different financial model for museums and that really affects the staffing structure of this sort of staff you have. So in the States you have development or fund raising teams that are often quite sizable and in fact you know often a bigger than say digital team or as big as the education team because fund raising is such a key part of keeping the doors open and I guess the other thing that’s different views is because of that you have a lot of staff who are project based and that’s both good and bad. Good in that I think what’s interesting here is that it’s perhaps in New York at least a bit easier to get significant capital to do interesting stuff but also because of the project nature of the staff and the lack of a solid recurrent funding base it often means that the goals are relatively short term and the biggest sort of strategic visions are very hard to pull off. Not only because it’s hard to see far but it is also that actual resources you have are on hand are only for a certain period of time and you can’t redirect what they do to perhaps to the strategically appropriate goals because you signed onto a particular grant three years ago which no longer is necessarily the right things to be doing.

4:54 So that’s kind of tough and I guess the other thing is we’re also seeing a lot of turnover with staff retiring which is similar in Australia, there is this curatorial generation leaving museum world to retire And so I think for the first time perhaps in twenty years there’s a whole rush of new people into those sort of positions which is really exciting but I think it’s also pretty tough because I think you know for twenty years graduates of museum studies and curatorial programs have really struggled to find employment sector and it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out in time. And of course it’s coming at a time when there’s a whole lot of new skills required to run a museum and to think about how curatorial practice, conservation practice and education practices are delivered. So perhaps even the recent graduates are not appropriately skilled for the museums that we need.

I certainly see that when I’m hiring people with digital skill sets now. You know there is a real shortage of people with the necessary experience I guess but it’s also very hard to get experience because it just haven’t been any of the jobs so you know it’s tough right, it tough.

6:30 Geoff: I know I’m going to be talking to Catherine Howard in a couple of days time and she’s been doing her Phd thesis on convergence across the heritage sector and looking at staff across the heritage centre. And to me that seems to be one of the themes for the future that seems really positive. I think that Archives, libraries and museums kinda merging their staff skill sets could be really great. Have you come across much of that happening in the museum sector?

6:59 Seb: Yeah. I mean there is, but it’s often couched also in terms of downsizing So where there were two or three departments they get collapsed into one and thus lose two to two-thirds of the bodies. In fact what we need is a convergence with minimal loss because I think particularly in that area we need staff who have digital preservation training and skills and interest as well as new forms of registration staff as well cataloguing staff to do and design the new catalogues we need.

7:52 So I also think often what I’ve seen of late is yes all of these departments and themes merge but it’s just about shrinking the full time positions rather than actually coming up with the necessary reallocating of staff and retraining staff for the skill sets that are necessary in the present.

But you know I think we’re in a period of change I think there’s a lot of exciting work going on in individual preservation space and other related spaces too which face some similar challenges people trying to preserve or at least document ephemeral cultures. And you know I think that’s in a period of flux but you know while those areas are emerging we are yet to see a merger that’s not just about saving money.

8:53 Geoff:I know that the digital humanities conference is coming out to Sydney in May this year. I think digital humanities is one aspect of education and the role of particularly tertiary institutions in terms of ongoing preservation of culture and the role of those institutions in things like museums should be closer aligned. And it would be interesting to get your thoughts on whether you think there’s more scope for partnership with tertiary institutions. So rather than appoint curators or registrars per se there may be skill sets that are more applicable across all of the cultural and digital humanities.

9:43 Seb: Yeah sure I mean I think the digital humanities is fascinating at the moment. I think there’s a lot of the issues in digital humanities particularly in the U.S. around tenure positions and the challenges of Academic publishing and all these other things that have meant that digital humanities maybe faces other challenges in the academy still that haven’t been resolved. I would say there’s a lot of really exciting work going on in the field and to date it’s been libraries on the whole that have been able to benefit the most because I guess they have had the most text based materials and humanities has been primarily text oriented, although that’s beginning to change. But we do see a lack of enough collections from the museums sector that are ready for programmatic analysis and study. And I think this is one of the big things museums need to get on top of, and that doesn’t happen without some of the more traditional roles being filled. I mean you know you need collection management registrars and cataloguers to get these museum collections into a place where digital humanists can actually apply programmatic methods of analysis to find things, let alone do scholarship with them.

So you know I think that that’s something that museums you know are going to have to work on pretty hard on. I think here in the states the New York museums and some of the conferences that we have coming up there is some very exciting stuff coming up but within museum world there’s so much work to be done still. I mean there always is that sort of work and that’s what’s interesting about it but

I think that we haven’t yet come up with killer digital humanities uses of museums stuff yet. And maybe that’s just not going to happen, and that’s OK too. But I guess you know programs like the ‘beautiful data’ series that the Getty’s supporting through Hub The meta-lab is interesting, that happens each summer. Last Summer’s ‘beautiful data’ series was really interesting, really amazing in in fact, and this summers one happening in July looks really good as well. And the meta Lab is doing really interesting work with people who go to ‘beautiful data’ to really probe museum collections and what is actually possible with them, art museum collections particularly. But this year’s focus is on ephemeral collections which will be fascinating to see what people do with it over the two week period.

But who knows I think its early days but from what I see now museums are behind in the digitisation game and they need to catch up pretty fast, get all their stuff digitised and make it accessible and then perhaps we can talk about stuff. That’s always been the case but I thinks its more pressing now.

13:45 Geoff

But One of the things I’ve noticed since I moved to the Parramatta Council is that the role of the museums, the archives and the libraries are being presented as being responsible for external relationships with the community. It’s all about family history, it’s about putting on exhibitions but since I’ve been there what I’ve noticed is that we play a very integral role to developments across Council so whether its DA applications or its archaeological digs there’s a whole raft of things where we’re trying very hard to integrate our selves much more with Council activities so for example we are collecting books in the local studies libraries about urban change and urban living, books about the future of living in cities and we are trying to pull our collections together and integrate these together with Council kind of gives us a greater sense of what a museum is for. What are your thoughts bout museums and actually making inroads into the general population to justify why they exist in the first place.

Seb Sure I mean I guess, local museums have that luxury, that National and State museums often don’t have, I think some of the work of the New York Public Library is doing in that regard with a very specific geographic focus is fascinating, I was out at the Minnesota Institute and History centre just last week in fact and a lot of work they are doing there, amazing story telling work, from the local Minnesota community, it’s incredible stuff there, and you know I think its those, sort of institutions that are very focussed on a geographic region that allows them I guess, to enact what the New York Public Library calls a space time explorer view where you can explore particular geographies through time and space and its a defined thing.

That’s very different to a museum of painting from the 1800s or a design museum like my place or a museum of Australia. Those are very different types of institutions but often its those larger ones that have those really diverse collections that would benefit a lot from integration with those other smaller ones that have those specific focuses. But yeah I guess there is no ‘one size fits all’ for the humanities researcher or any of that. Some museums will always be better off serving the public as exhibition spaces where people go as an outing and others will be more primarily focussed on one speciality, and that speciality may attract very particular niche audiences, I’m thinking here particularly in Brooklyn, the morbid anatomy museum, which is one of my favourite museums in New York. Super discrete focus, super tight connection with he community which isn’t geographically bound but is subject bound. So there is those sorts of things, it’s hard to say what kinds of things come out of that but it would be good to have ways we could explore all of those collecting specialities in some way.

Geoff: Yeah I agree, I think given the breadth of collections it would be nice see them opened up. But what I’m finding very interesting is the actual sharing of more collection spaces for storage and not thinking so much about the bricks and mortar of where things are but more about what you can do with stuff and I think for the museums of the future it does have to think outside of the physical structure. And I know this is something you’ve been talking about or awhile now and that these are not just digital solutions but physical ‘on the ground’ solutions where people can access the stuff and take it away and loan it or re-purpose it and do things with it.

Seb: Yeah Sure. I mean digital is the easy way to do it but often it is actually the physical repatriation, or the loans of pieces that bring collections to life. I think what’s interesting about what we’ve been doing at Cooper Hewitt is not just part of the work we’ve been doing in the digital space it is also about affirming and asserting the role of the physical museum and bringing a sense that the physical museum has to reassert why visiting it on site actually matters and making that a primary concern which forces an exhibition designers, curatorial staff, education officers, and the museum as a whole to say why this is different when you see it physically. And that’s really interesting and think that’s the same if I’m … you know Aaron Pope in my team jokes about relocating all of the museum collections to the airports around America because those have so much through-put and wouldn’t it be great if you were waiting for your plane and you could browse through all these collections which just happens to be on loan to each of the airports.

That sort of thing of putting collections where people are and asserting that the physical collections actually matter, not just putting them in a store house to be forgotten and have digital surrogates as their sort of access copy, but having the ability to actually see things and asserting that the actual thing matters. Whether its actually physical or even digital born itself is interesting to. I think there is a need even with digital born collections to see them in their context and a place to bring a focus to that context. And often that is simply a matter of the viewer being forced to dedicate time and attention to it in a space that hasn’t got other tabs open at the moment and twitter buzzing and you’re not …

Geoff: … Getting a call to get on your air plane…

Seb: … yeah, yeah, right. You know what’s interesting about museum spaces or cultural heritage spaces is even when they are just exhibition halls, as a lot of museums frankly are, is at least they offer a place where people commit to a certain period of time with whatever it is. So if I’m going to say, the Powerhouse, right, or I’m going to say the Cooper Hewitt with my family, I’m setting aside a block of time and I’m saying I’m going to spend this amount of time at that place so then its just the museums responsibility to use that commitment of time audiences, that visitors have made to make most use of that time. You know Xerces Mazda up at ROM in Toronto said something to me a couple of months ago that really stuck with me which was … we have the ROM collections with all these amazing things and it’s our responsibility as museum people to tell people why these are so amazing and why they should care about them, and that if we don’t, because our signage is bad, our labels are bad, or we don’t explain them well then we haven’t done our job.

You know we need to assert that these things are 3000 years old and they really matter, because … because … because … and museum professional can’t just expect folks to know. I think there’s a responsibility for the museum professional to assert why we should care about this stuff and sometimes its much easier to assert when its physically present, it really hard to assert that the thing on your screen really matters because it could just be anything and could be anywhere, right!

… end of part 1