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#Ask A Curator Day 2021

It is #AskACuratorDay tomorrow (Wednesday 15 September 2021) and to celebrate we are hosting a week-long curatorial takeover!

Did you know that our CEO started her museum career as a Curator?

Perhaps this is why she has endorsed this weeklong promotion of our curatorial team, but it might also be because Curators are the backbone of a museum.

Our CEO Belinda back in her early Museum days as a Curator

What is a curator?

A curator is defined as a keeper or custodian of a museum or other collection. It is Curators who oversee the conservation and preservation of a collection. They also play a big role in deciding what is displayed in Museum exhibits and what history is shared.

In small Museums a curator often wears many hats and this is the case for our team.

To showcase what takes place behind the scenes we shared “A Day in the Life” of our curator yesterday on our social media. So what does a day look like for our curator Laura?

Every day it looks different, but this is a brief run-down on a general day at the Museum. Please note that due to the lockdown we have limited staff on site, so Laura’s day looks a little bit different to normal and most days Laura is now working from home like the rest of our team so her day at the Museum is much more hands-on than it would usually be as she needs to fit all of her practical activities into the days she is on site. With that said here is a quick snapshot!

Pictured here:

  • We have been updating our exhibits and Laura is busy trying to make sure they are ready for when we re-open. This is our Occurrence Book Display and Laura is changing over the open display books for conservation reasons.

  • We receive new donations almost daily. Due to the lockdown these donations are slowly being processed when our team are on site. In this photo Laura appraises a new uniform donation.

  • The Museum conducts the heritage research for Fire and Rescue NSW (FRNSW). To do this we utilize a vast historical archive of station files. Laura seeks “a needle in a haystack” to answer a legal inquiry we have received.

  • This is how a curator tends to spend most of their day. In front of a computer, just like most other people. Laura is going over some research for an upcoming FRNSW station event.

To catch up on yesterday’s day in the life head over to our Instagram stories!

Tomorrow Laura will be joining with our CEO Belinda to discuss a number of curatorial questions to celebrate Ask A Curator Day. This will be live at 12pm on Facebook and afterwards will be posted on our website. Last year we had a great time and if you want to catch up on this head to

When we put this blog together it got us thinking about our Curator Laura and so we wanted to ask her why she became a Curator and what about her job was her favourite part?

Museum Curator Laura, 2020

This was her answer:

While I had never envisaged myself as a curator, my passion does lie with museum collections, so some might argue that it’s a great fit. Working for a small organisation, no matter what role you’re in, you must be prepared to take on different tasks from time to time. It’s one of the things I enjoy most about being curator at the Museum of Fire – no two days are ever the same.

Sometimes I might undertake collection management duties, which can involve anything from cataloguing new items, improving existing documentation or overseeing our integrated pest management program. At other times, my curatorial responsibilities might take priority. These tasks may include concept inception and proposal, writing interpretive text or physically installing the display. Other days, I am researching and writing heritage reports or centenary publications. I can say, without a doubt, that I will always have work to keep me going.

Each day is different, especially so in lockdown. While I have generally been working from home, I have spent some time on-site at the Museum. For these days, I undertake practical tasks that I cannot complete from home. The following ‘A Day in a Life’ snapshot represents one of my more ‘jam-packed’ days.

During this lockdown, we have taken the opportunity to update some of our more dated displays (and lighting). With several changeovers in progress, I have been busy installing displays so that they will be ready for when the Museum re-opens.

For our occurrence book display, I replaced the items that had been on display for an extended period with new items held open to their respective pages with mylar. Turning the pages or changing the books on display are important tasks to undertake as prolonged exposure to light can cause irreversible damage, such as fading. The spine is also put at risk when open in the same position for too long and without support.

Owing to the nature of our collection and its association with service, we tend to receive donation offers frequently. All offers are reviewed against our updated Collection Policy, which outlines our priority collecting areas. Depending on the nature of items proposed, they are then presented to the Executive Board for final consideration.

The Museum conducts all heritage research for Fire and Rescue NSW, and so we require access to a range of archival files and materials relating to fire stations. At times it can be like searching for a needle in a haystack, especially when we receive very specific research enquiries.

Although the physical aspects of a curator’s role are exciting (and arguably the most enjoyable), I generally spend my days in front of a computer – researching, writing, responding to enquiries. In this photograph, I am looking over some research for an upcoming centenary event.

Want to read more about what our curatorial team get up to? Here is a quick run down of some of the blogs our Curator Laura and her team have penned over the last year (you’ll notice we haven’t listed any vehicle blogs and that is because although everyone loves the red shiny trucks our curator’s do much more than curate our vehicle collection)!

This first Curator’s Blog discussed the recent donation of the Western Electric Wall Phone from Her Majesty’s Theatre in Sydney. This wooden wall telephone with transmitter and receiver was also one of the first items I had the pleasure of formally accessioning into the collection and creating a catalogue record for. I particularly enjoyed exploring the link between this phone and the State Heritage listed Headquarters Switchboard, which was designed and built by Edward Smith in 1909, and remains on display at the Museum.

On 23 July 2020, we received the first Fire & Rescue NSW drone in an official handover at the Museum. Two members of the Technical Operations Aviation Team saw that the unit was safely at its new home. While some may not consider the drone (otherwise known as a remotely piloted aircraft system) old enough to take up residence in the Museum, its inclusion in the collection charts the development and use of technology in firefighting operations.

For History Week 2020, we explored some of the earliest fire stations in New South Wales. I also wrote this blog, which looked at a recent acquisition referencing the first professional firefighter in the state, Thomas James Bown. The attached female coupling was clearly marked with the stamp of the family business, T. J. Bown & Co. The provenance etched into the object also dated it to 1889, thereby supporting its significance as an early piece of firefighting equipment in Sydney.

Since I first started at the Museum of Fire, I have learnt masses about historic fire engines (although, I am very much aware that there is much more to learn!). Interestingly, most of what I have learnt has come from the Museum’s archive – a collection featured in this blog. In January 1983, Australia Post released a series of Historic Fire Engine stamps to pay tribute to the dedicated efforts of Australia’s firefighting personnel. As the stamps highlighted fire engines (or appliances) from the Museum’s collection, I was able to learn more about them through my exploration of the archive.

With the 2021 lockdown in full swing, I decided to be punny and write a piece on ‘de-installing an en-gauging exhibition’. If it didn’t make anyone else smile, at least it left me chuckling away for a time. In this blog, I looked at the different gauges comprising an older display at the Museum. I also discussed the process of removing them from display, cleaning them, and amending their documentation to reflect updated standards - if you would like to learn more about the full de-installation process.

For those of you who are more interested in vehicle histories, please feel free to peruse such blog topics here

Thanks for joining us for Ask A Curator Day 2021 and for following along this week!

-Museum of Fire Team with contributions by Belinda McMartin, CEO and Laura Anderson, Curator.


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