Getting the show on the road – travelling the “I’ve Been Working on the Railway” exhibition

Written by: Rob Sheils, Assistant Collection Manager, The Workshops Rail Museum

In May 2012 “I’ve Been Working on the Railway – Stories and experiences of Torres Strait Islanders, Aboriginal people and Australian South Sea Islanders” opened at The Workshops Rail Museum. We were lucky enough to later receive a grant from the Australian Government through the Australian Council for the Arts, its funding and advisory body, to travel the exhibition around Australia between 2013-2015.

Customised packaging for delicate items.

The exhibition has already visited Townsville at The Museum of Tropical Queensland and is currently drawing towards the end of its showing at The National Archives of Australia in Canberra. The exhibition will then move on to the Newcastle Museum before the Revolutions Transport Museum in Western Australia hosts the final viewing.

An enormous amount of work goes into planning and packing up the exhibition for travel. Each venue is unique which means the exhibition will look different in all the various spaces. Pillars, loading docks, fire doors, heritage-listed buildings and curved walls have all been issues that we have had to plan around when designing the layout for each viewing. The aim is to adapt the exhibition to the new space while still retaining the flow so that visitors move from theme to theme as originally intended.

Customised wooden crates at the Museum of Tropical Queensland in Townsville

The biggest jobs before leaving Ipswich were designing packaging for the objects so that they could travel protected and fitting out a shipping container to move everything in the exhibition in one go.

The objects in the exhibition vary from large track laying tools to delicate Coming of the Light ceremonial pieces. Each object needed customised packing, with most objects placed in boxes surrounded by foam cut out to fit the shape of the object. These boxes were then put into a wooden crate to protect them while travelling in the shipping container.

Installing the exhibition at the National Archives of Australia in Canberra

The shipping container was a new way of doing things for us. Previously when travelling exhibitions we had used a large number of wooden boxes containing all the parts of the exhibition. This time around we decided to fit out a 30 foot shipping container. It was a tight squeeze but we managed to maximise the space available and fit everything in. The advantage of using a shipping container is that you can use a smaller truck to move the exhibition between venues (reducing costs) and we don’t need a forklift at the venues because we are not using wooden crates which need to be taken off the back off a truck.

Setting up the exhibition at other museums has been a very rewarding experience. It is a great feeling to see how it goes up and how it looks in a new space after all the hard work that goes into the planning stages.