Last year for Ask a Museum Day 2022 we introduced you to the Heritage Team which at the time had some fresh additions to the team, Ben as the new curator (that’s me) and Ella as the Assistant Curator. A year has passed, and we still get questions each and everyday from people asking us about what it is we exactly get up to in our jobs, so we wanted to take the opportunity this year now that we have been in our roles for a little while to answer some of those questions!
Interview with Ben, Curator of the Museum of Fire
What is your favourite object?
My favourite object in the collection is our 1923 Merryweather Turntable Ladders! It is celebrating its epical milestone of its 100th birthday this year and as a testament to its age it has been made as our vehicle of the year for 2023. It has a very intriguing history originally being from South Australia and serving in the South Australian Fire Brigade as the states only ladder appliance at the time. It would be decommissioned in the 1940s and serve a new purpose, being acquired by the South Australia Electricity Trust. The Electricity Trust however was not so much interested in the truck, as it rather preferred the ladders and so the two were separated. Eventually the ladders and the truck itself would be reunited and be in safe keeping at the National Motor Museum until it was acquired by the Museum of Fire in 2019 where it has made its home ever since. You can learn more about the Merryweather by checking out our blog we wrote here.
What is the weirdest object in the Museum’s collection?
The weirdest object in my opinion that we have is a ceremonial trowel which was used and then gifted to Charles Bown who was the first Chairman of the Fire Brigades Board during the time of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, what we now know as Fire and Rescue NSW. The trowel marks the commencement of construction of Paddington Fire Station in Oxford Street in 1899. So, whilst not a typical object you may think you will see in a museum about firefighting, it is always exciting to see how an object can still represent a significant moment in time and contribute to the larger history of firefighting in this country.
Do you collect anything yourself?
I personally like to collect crystals and gemstones. I have a small collection with me in my office and an even larger collection of stones at home. Besides my love for the history of firefighting in Australia, I find gemstones and crystals very fascinating objects as I am always amazed by what nature is able to produce, how they can have so many different colours and have so many different unique properties.
If you could add anything to the Museum collection, what would it be?
If I could add anything to the Museum’s collection, I have always wanted for us to be able to have an example of aerial firefighting in the form of a helicopter. Our Museum is quite large with our displays and collection housed in an old power station so the ceilings would possibly allow for a helicopter to be on display, but I must admit that logistically this would be quite difficult to pull off. Although, a curator can still dream.
What is your Museum doing to diversify its collection?
Coming out of history week 2023 which had the theme of “voices from the past”, it centred on the idea of those voices from history which may be underrepresented from the historical record. As a result, we have chosen to highlight women within the fire brigade and bring to light the rich history that is there of women contributing to firefighting. It is very exciting getting to research a group which has been unrepresented in the historical records so far and to tie in with all the research we are doing, we will be launching an exhibition in 2025 on the history of women within the fire brigade. In the meantime, we do have an excellent display which discusses the integral role of the Women’s Fire Auxiliary which occurred during the Second World War, and shaped Fire and Rescue NSW into the organisation it is today. You can learn more about the Women’s Fire Auxiliary here.
What do you love about your job?
There is so many cool things I get to do as a curator it is too difficult to list them all! As a lover of history being able to be hands of with history is so much fun. Working in a museum which has a lot of historic vehicles means I get to see history come to life as a lot of the vehicles in our collection are still operational! We have a selection of vehicles which make up our parade fleet and we aim to organise a date once a month to take the vehicles out and about in the local area. In my role as curator, I get to come along for the ride on these parades and blast the siren for all to hear which can be a lot of fun.
What advice do you have for anyone interested in becoming a curator?
If you are thinking about becoming a curator my greatest piece of advice I can give is to make sure you put yourself out there. Getting experience within the Museum sector will help you tremendously and that can be through volunteering, or it could mean applying within a different section of the Museum first. Many different skills and jobs are available in a museum, I personally began my journey here at the Museum of Fire as a member of our front of house team which saw me as the first friendly face customers saw as they walked through the door. I assisted with the day-to-day operations of the Museum and worked within our gift shop. As time progressed and I demonstrated my passion for the job I made it to my current role as Curator.
Special feature – Are there other fire museums in Australia? – With CEO Belinda
Thank you for tuning in with us for this year's Ask a Museum Day!
-Blog by Ben Dickson, Curator