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Reproducing editorials from Work Boat World and Ausmarine.

By Neil Baird, Editor-in-Chief, Baird Publications.

 

Australia’s too few truly “maritime” museums
Friday, 26 February 2016 12:14

Ausmarine Editorial - February 2016

Over the years, particularly the last couple when I’ve had more time, I have visited, viewed and occasionally been impressed with a large number of so-called “maritime museums” in many parts of the world.

I use the expression “so-called” advisedly. Too many of those museums are much too narrowly focused to be described as “maritime”. Some are entirely focused on naval history and would be more accurately described, as many are, as “naval museums”. Some are focused on exploration and too many others, such as Britain’s National Maritime Museum’s branch at Falmouth, are largely restricted to leisure boating.


There are a number of excellent fisheries museums such as in Concarneau, Grimsby and San Sebastian. They are clearly named as such and deliver exactly what they promise. They obviously record the history of an important sector of the maritime industry but nowhere near all of it so they are properly named.


The same applies to marine archaeology museums such asthe brilliant one in the old Crusader castle in Bodrum. The one in Cartagena is very good also. They cover a wide spread of maritime activity but their displays have generally been recovered from under the sea or ground, and are usually, very old. They don’t try to pretend to be anything else.
Naval museums usually describe themselves as such. I have in mind excellent ones such as the Museum of the Armada in Madrid which contains much to inform and even surprise Australian maritime history enthusiasts. The small one at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis and the big WW II museums in Pearl Harbour are first rate. Portsmouth and the submarine museum in Southampton are other fine examples.
There are very good exploration museums of which the ‘Fram’/Arctic museum in Oslo is a fine example. The Paris and Amsterdam maritime museums cover their countries’ exploration histories well too as does the Museum of the Armada in Madrid.

All-encompassing maritime museums are another matter altogether. The Amsterdam Maritime Museum is excellent as is the little private one in Hamburg. There are very good smaller ones in Barcelona, Dubrovnik, Brest, Hong Kong and Newcastle (Australia). The National Maritime Museum at Greenwich has a wonderful collection but it is very difficult to access most of it because its director has chosen to severely “dumb down” its displays in an attempt, presumably, to appeal to school children.
Regrettably, the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney has been given the same treatment as Greenwich. I understand that it possesses a diverse and high quality collection but on several visits there I have always come away disappointed. So much so that I have nick-named it the Sydney Yachting Museum. I don’t go to a maritime museum to see displays on bathing suits, surfing or migrant luggage, let alone a dominance of leisure boats.

Despite its “sea-blindness”, Australia has a long and fascinating maritime history. Whaling and fishing are probably too politically incorrect for the director of the Sydney museum but they have been important components of Australia’s economy in the past. They are truly maritime activities as too is shipbuilding. Australia has been a shipbuilding nation since the earliest colonial days and is still the world leader in high-speed aluminium ships. You wouldn’t learn that in Sydney. Coastal shipping, ferries, tugs, pearling and politically incorrect sealing, for example, are other important components of our maritime history that you won’t learn much about in Darling Harbour.

Western Australia is very fortunate to have the Fremantle Maritime Museum which I believe is one of the best multi-sector maritime museums in the world. That state has a long and fascinating maritime history covering all imaginable aspects of maritime activity but so does the east coast. If Fremantle which, presumably, benefits from much less funding than does Sydney, presents its maritime history so well, why can’t Sydney?

The ANMM in Sydney benefits from a brilliant location, presumably plenty of money and a comprehensive collection. It is sad that its management chooses to focus on populist frippery when there are so many people, like myself, who would appreciate serious displays covering real and important maritime history.

Neil Baird

Comments

avatar John Oscroft
0
 
 
Try the Barrow in Furness (UK) museum, housed in an old dry dock, whilst a lot is given over to the history of Barrow there are a lot of excellent ship models as well, albeit built at Barrow. Plus entrance is free, or used to be.
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avatar Ross Fletcher
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Well said.Needs a lot more noise on this issue. As a professional merchant navy Officer, I have been appalled at the lack of historical focus on our maritime heritage in "all" states. Tasmania has an incredible maritime history and the last remaining gems have been forgotten or discarded.We somehow need to drag the politicians back to the past and make them realise that we are an Island Nation with a massive maritime history which need preserving and highlighting in our education process.
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avatar david wood ross
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Excellent timely article Neil and accurately reflects my own experience. I say timely because recently I have been communicating via Vintage Port, the online portal for ex Port Line employees, both shore based and seagoing, discussing the very subject of your article which has been posted on the Vintage Port site. The debate began recently when I commented on the disappointing experience I had when my wife and I visited the Auckland Maritime (?) Museum last February during a round the world trip. I found a significant proportion of the floor space dedicated to New Zealand's prowess in sailing, i.e. Americas Cup etc. On leaving the museum I asked a representative if they could explain why there was only scant recognition (e.g. exhibits and memorabilia) of the part the fleets of the British Merchant Navy played in the growing economies of Australia and NZ from the 1950's thru to the 70's. No answer! As you commented about the Sydney museum, I found the same when I visited during 2008. I note you have nicknamed the Sydney museum The Sydney Yachting Museum and I will now recommend to the trustees of the Auckland museum that they also change it's name to reflect what is actually on display. best regards David Wood Ross (ex Deck Officer Port Line)
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