Ask a Museum...or a Curator...or a Conservator...or an Archaeologist....

Your questions answered!

Museums are curious places, they inspire wonder, encourage questions and always remind you please, do not touch the exhibitions. #AskAMuseum (formally #AskACurator Day) is a yearly event that encourages museums, libraries, galleries, archives, science centres etc, to answer your questions, primarily over social media.

When the team is not off on fieldwork or busy preserving early colonial boats in PEG wax, we tend to the Silentworld Foundation Collection – some 2000 items which explore the maritime history of Australasia and Melanesia. So while we don’t have anyone on staff with “Curator” in their title, we DO have a range of skills and a wealth of experience which you will find in any collecting institution or archaeology department.

What will you ask? Banner for #AskAMuseum2021

Meet the team

Paul Hundley


Irini 'Renee' Malliaros


Conservator Heather Berry after a day of cleaning.

Heather Berry


Kate Pentecost


What's your favourite museum smell?

Paul: We have quite a collection of old books related to European voyages of exploration in the 18th and early 19th centuries, and the early history of the Australian colonies. They smell old, and that smell for me evokes a sense of the history that they tell.

Old books. Image by Bohdan Chreptak from Pixabay

What’s your favourite object?

Renee: Difficult to tell as I am still learning about our unique collection and may come across something that will blow my mind even more but to date, my favourite object is Chronometer 2 from HMS Beagle. The very special thing about this chronometer is that it is one of several used onboard during the voyage on which famous naturalist Charles Darwin joined. HMS Beagle set sail from Plymouth just after Christmas on 27 December 1831.

The expedition visited places around the globe and returned to Britain on 6 October 1836. Following this, Darwin, through his notes made during the 5-year voyage, wrote Journal of Researches into the Geology and Natural History of the Various Countries Visited by the H.M.S. Beagle, 1831-1836 and then a five-volume series called Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle. It is through this work that he began to formulate his theory of evolution by natural selection which he later published in his work, The Origin of Species.

Although it is unlikely that Darwin handled the chronometer personally, it is a true wonder to know that we are connected to his story through this object that has lived on beyond the time of HMS Beagle.

Chronometer carried by HMS BEAGLE on Darwin’s famous voyage
Chronometer carried by HMS BEAGLE on Darwin’s famous voyage
Kate Pentecost

What part of your job has surprised you?

Kate: Weird, unique little skills you pick up: How to open a door when moving an object (hint: use your back first), how to “feel” items with nitrile gloves on, cutting a straight line in archival blue card with a craft knife (it’s an art). How important office skills are: emails, data entry, scanning, how to run a useful meeting. None of these skills are ‘taught’ in Museum Studies, but you pick them up quickly on the job – or internship if you are lucky to have one.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay
Image by Pexels from Pixabay
Conservator Heather Berry after a day of cleaning.

What’s your largest object?

Heather: We have several cannon in the Silentworld Foundation museum – and I love them! Larger objects like that are for the most part, more robust, so when you’re doing a visual or physical examination you can worry less about causing irreparable harm with a small careless movement.

Large cannon at Silentworld
Large cannon at Silentworld

Have you ever broken an object?

Paul: Thankfully NO! But given that we have a conservator on our staff, I don’t feel that it would be a disaster. Heather could hopefully restore the object to a condition where the object was stable and looked like it did before.

Things to ask of a conservator. Via Giphy.
Things to ask of a conservator. Via Giphy.
Conservator Heather Berry after a day of cleaning.

What’s in a conservators bag?

Heather: It can sometimes look a bit threatening when I bring out my tool roll – it’s filled with dental tools! I have assorted dental picks, lots of different types of small metal spatulas, and four different kinds of tweezers. I also have a colour card, paintbrushes, and two different types of gloves.

Figure 2: Tools used in conservation process. Image: Heather Berry/Silentworld Foundation.
Figure 2: Tools used in conservation process. Image: Heather Berry/Silentworld Foundation.

Have you discovered any objects in your collection that are fake?

Paul: Yes, but they really weren’t a discovery! We have a Holey Dollar and Dump in the collection. The two coins were produced on the direction of Gov. Macquarie to address the shortage of coinage in the colony. It was common for forgeries of the smaller dumps to be made because of the value of the coin. We have an example of a forged dump (a fake coin) in our collection.

Charles IV Holey Dollar. SF000849. View online here.
Charles IV Holey Dollar. SF000849.

Which is your favourite room in your museum and why?

Renee: On balance, I’m going with the room we generally refer to as “The Map Room”. The series of maps it contains show the evolution of understanding and surveying of our island home – Australia. It is a summary of voyages of exploration by individuals who were daring, brave, motivated and a little mad. It is a summary of how humans completed the picture of what their home planet looked like on the surface.

View of the Silentworld Museum, 2021. Copyright Silentworld Foundation 2021.
View of the Silentworld Museum, 2021. Copyright Silentworld Foundation 2021.

Do you have any wisdom for aspiring curators?

Paul: Having been in museums for 40 years and having been in a position to hire young entry-level curators, I can say that the most important thing is to get as much practical and hands-on experience as you can.  Do a high school work-study placement if you can.  Volunteer in a museum department that you have an interest in.  Take up any internship that is available whether it is paid, unpaid or part of your education.

Unfortunately, there are many universities teaching museum studies courses and far more students are graduating with degrees than there will ever be positions to fill.  I have had over 125 applicants for two positions on one-year contracts.  Applicants included BA’s, MA’s and even 12 Phd’s in Museum Studies. Most of the graduates at any education level had no practical experience at all. The positions were filled by applicants that had volunteer experience in institutions that had given them experience in actually working with a collection management system and writing label text for exhibitions.

Do as much on the job training as possible. Image via pixabay.
Do as much on the job training as possible. Image via pixabay.
Conservator Heather Berry after a day of cleaning.

Have you ever broken an object?

Heather:  Not yet – though as a conservator, I feel it’s only a matter of time until a treatment goes wrong… but then I have the means to (hopefully) fix it again!

The closest I’ve come was with an old pewter button – perhaps 200 years old – I was doing an internship and was advised by my supervisor to dewater it in acetone after a treatment, and was reminded NOT to put the object down onto plastic, as the acetone would melt the plastic. I listened carefully, made notes, dewatered it in acetone, and carefully placed the button on a plastic tray.

I was terrified seconds later when I looked at it, thinking I’d somehow caused flash corrosion from the lead component – there were white blooms disfiguring the face! I panicked, and called over my supervisor – I had melted the plastic on, just as she had warned.

It was easily removed, I was heartily laughed at by others in the lab, as I deserved, and I learned the lesson.

Acetone and plastic don't mix
Acetone and plastic don't mix

Zombies attack, which museum object do you use to fight them?

Renee: The Royal Naval Officer’s dress sword by Gieve Matthews & Seagrave, Weymouth. First of all, Weymouth has a special place in my heart and second, if one is to lop off zombie heads, one should do so in style – nothing wrong with a bit of nautical themed bling while the slaying rolls.

Royal Naval Officer's Dress Sword and belt. SF001088.
Royal Naval Officer's Dress Sword and belt. SF001088.
Kate Pentecost

Is your museum haunted?

Kate: Not this one…but I’ve had a coworker swear she saw a ghost once at the Australian National Maritime Museum (and no, it wasn’t a security guard checking on the gallery after hours). Also, the library there was said to have visits from a former librarian.

Who is the most famous person to visit your museum?

Paul: David Attenborough came to dinner at our museum several years ago!

What is the most dangerous object in your collection?

Renee: Define dangerous! Dangerous to a human, physically, would be any number of weapons in the collection. If I had to pick the most devastating to both humans and ships, I might go with one of the carronades in the collection. Think large-diameter bore, short-range cannon. A bit like the shotgun equivalent of a cannon.

They were popular on merchant vessels, as they were easier to use with less crew and devastating at short range. They were also used by the navy and worked great at short range broadside engagements. Their use faded towards the 1850s.

Light anti-personnel swivel Carronade
Light anti-personnel swivel Carronade
Conservator Heather Berry after a day of cleaning.

Do you collect anything?

Heather:  Only guinea pigs! (see pics with tool roll) I have 7 – thankfully not all as woolly as this one.

Heather's guinea pig
Heather's guinea pig and tool roll
Kate Pentecost

What’s on a Curators playlist?

Kate: Lots of podcasts and movie soundtracks! Anything that lets you zone out and concentrate on the job – moving objects, data entry, writing blogs…I recommend Stories of ScotlandLore, and Uncanny Japan, as well as soundtracks by Bear McCreary (Black Sails fits the maritime theme of our work at Silentworld VERY nicely).

Image by Firmbee from Pixabay
Image by Firmbee from Pixabay

What’s your favourite museum to visit other than your own?

Renee: Not sure if it classifies entirely as a museum as it is a commissioned ship – HMS Victory, of Battle of Trafalgar fame, in dry dock at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, UK is one of my favourite places connected to history. Although the fabric of the ship is largely replaced through many repairs over time as needed, it is its essence that lives on and captivates the imagination and the senses.

There is nothing more engaging than experiencing “an exhibit” in more than just the usual way. The smell of the ship, the sound of the creaking timbers and their feel beneath one’s fingers as well as the visual presentation of the space envelops and transports the visitor. I have been on board 3 times in the space of 2 years and would visit again given the chance.

HMS Victory. By Jamie Campbell from Emsworth (nr Portsmouth), U.K - HMS Victory, CC BY 2.0,
HMS Victory. By Jamie Campbell from Emsworth (nr Portsmouth), U.K - HMS Victory, CC BY 2.0,
Conservator Heather Berry after a day of cleaning.

What’s the role of a museum in 2022?

Heather:  I think the ultimate role of a public museum in 2022 is to not just showcase diverse stories – but to allow the tellers of those stories access to museums and the reified behind the scenes spaces. It’s not just about having input from the community anymore, but about the community telling their own stories in their own ways.

As a conservator, I’m less involved in deciding what the museum displays, but conservation as a field is increasingly looking to the communities of origin and creators of artefacts to inform treatment decisions – and I think this needs to continue, and increase.

Kate Pentecost

If you could sum up your job with a meme, what would it be?

Kate: For a good giggle, I recommend checking out the hashtag for MusMeme.


Kieran Hosty with an insitu anchor during the 2018 Boot Reef expedition. © Julia Sumerling/Silentworld Foundation.

Capturing the world under the waves

Diving into photography: A chat with Julia Sumerling

To celebrate World Photography Day, I sat down (over zoom) with Julia Sumerling – the talented photographer and videographer behind some of the Foundation’s most beautiful expedition imagery.

Julia has a talent for capturing the adventure of fieldwork, the mystery of insitu artefacts and, of course, the beauty of underwater seascapes.

Her work has been featured in documentaries and print by the BBC, Discovery Channel, National Geographic, ABC and SBS. She has travelled with her camera to Papua New Guinea, Japan, Sri Lanka, Pitcairn Island and the Bahamas, and closer to home, explored the Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Sea. Not to mention she’s won a number of awards including:

  • QLD Australian Cinematographers Society (ACS) 2021 Gold Award - Ron Taylor AM ACS & Valerie Taylor AM Wildlife & Nature Award for "Fight For Our Reef"
  • Short List - August 2017 - Australian Geographic Photographer of the Year Award
  • 1st Prize - Feb 2016 Beneath The Seas Festival in New York, Underwater Photography Competition 2016, Marine Life Category
  • Gold Award – 2009 Mission Beach Film Short Festival

Follow Julia online via her website and her Instagram @seajewlz (underwater photography) and @seajewlz_land_adventures (Tropical Queensland adventures above the water).

Read more

Cover. Episode 2. Mythical Sea Monsters. Into the Silentworld, a podcast about the sea, humans and history.

Episode 2 Mythical Sea Monsters

Sightings, reports and myths (plus a flying fish!)

A dive into the stories of some legendary aquatic monsters of the Aboriginal and Pacific mythologies. This episode touches on a small number of terrifying sea creatures – some from Aboriginal tales; some tied to the myths of our neighbours in New Zealand; and others from the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.


By Creature


  • The Land (Sydney, NSW : 1911 – 1954)  Fri 8 Feb 1918, Page 12
  • Noonuccal, Oodgeroo {also known as Kath Walker}, 1972. Stradbroke dreamtime, Pymble, N.S.W. : Angus & Robertson
  • Smith, M., 1996. Bunyips & Bigfoots: In Search of Australia’s Mystery Animals. Millennium Books.

Hawkesbury River Monster

  • The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947)  Thu 11 Sep 1924, Page 5
  • The Evening News (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1924 – 1941)  Tue 28 Jul 1931, Page 5


Pelorus Jack



Additional information

Cover. Episode 1. Mapping Sea Monsters. Into the Silentworld, a podcast about the sea, humans and history.

Episode 1 Mapping Sea Monsters

Halloween in Spring

A warm welcome aboard. Hold tight as we plunge Into the Silentworld – a maritime-themed podcast centred on Australia and our neighbours in the Pacific, exploring our relationship with the sea through various topics.

We begin with a Halloween themed season focusing on the supernatural elements associated with the waters through time. This episode begins with a look at this time of year in southern hemisphere terms before plunging in to begin our exploration of the surreal with painted monsters on maps in our own museum collection and their meaning through time.



Far East map

Referred to as “Far East map” in the episode – Exacta & Accurata Delineatio cum Orarum Maritimarum tum etiam Locorum Terrestrium quae in Regionibus China, Cauchinchina, Camboja sive Champa, Syao, Malacca, Arracan & Pegu …

Map of the Far East, 1596 by Jan Huygen van Linschoten. Silentworld Foundation collection.

Map of the Far East, 1596 by Jan Huygen van Linschoten. Silentworld Foundation collection. 

View online collection

Cartographer: Jan Huygen van Linschoten

Engaver: Arnold van Langren

Publisher: Linschoten

Place issued: Amsterdam

Date: 1596

Medium: Paper, ink. Hand-coloured copper engraving

Size: 380mmx540mm

About this object

The first accurate map of the Far East. A rare map from Jan Huyghen van Linschoten’s legendary ltinerario. “Jan Huygen van Linschoten was for five years in the service of the archbishop of Goa whom he accompanied on his journeys in the region of the Indian Ocean. ( … ) On the map reproduced here the Far East and the Malay Archipelago are shown in such detail as was known only to the Portuguese at that time and had never before been shown on a printed map. The cartographical work of Bartolomeu Lasso served as a model for these charts. Only a tiny portion of the south-land can be seen: ‘Beach’ the auriferous province.”

This map of Southeast Asia and the adjacent coast of China shows Korea as an island and a geographically misunderstood representation of Japan. The map is illustrated with sea monsters, sailing ships, and Mannerist-style strapwork cartouches embellished with grotesque masks. An interesting menagerie of fauna in mainland China includes a giraffe-like animal. This important and influential map was published partly to interest merchants to follow the Portuguese sea routes to the “spice islands.” Although the map is unusually oriented so that east appears at the top of the page, this would be its logical position in the hands of a ship’s captain finding his bearings from a westward approach.

Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis Geographica ac Hydrographica Tabula map

Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis Geographica ac Hydrographica Tabula. Silentworld Foundation collection SF000821.
Nova Totius Terrarum Orbis Geographica ac Hydrographica Tabula. Silentworld Foundation collection SF000821.

View online collection

About this object

Matthaus Merian, was a publisher and engraver renowned for his town views. This world map from his Neuwe Archontologia Cosmica is presented on Mercator’s projection and is closely copied from Blaeu’s world map of 1606. Germanic script for the text is used and the Latin title is repeated in Gothic script below.

The seas are decorated with ships, compass roses and galleons. The lower corners have insets of the north and south poles.

Noted at the top of the map is the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus’s in 1492 and Terra Australis Incognito is shown as extending along the entire lower area of the map. The naming of Beach the northern tip of Terra Incognito, can be traced back to Fine’s 1532 world map which was based on information of Marco Polo’s incorrectly scribed accounts.

Maker: Matthaus Merian – Engraver

Date: Made c1646

Period: 17th century

Place Made: Frankfurt

Medium and Materials: Paper, ink. Hand-coloured copper engraving.

Measurements: 245mm × 350mm

Object number: SF000821

General information

Sea monsters on maps