Meet the Curator – David Parkhill

Photography by Michelle Legg

Queensland Museum Assistant Collection Manager David Parkhill writes about his personal journey, from being captivated by Museums as a young boy growing up in England to arriving in Australia to peruse a livelihood as a jackaroo to finally finding his calling… a journey he describes as “a long strange trip”.

As a young boy growing up in the early sixties in England, no trip to “the big smoke” was complete without a visit to a museum.  The primary school I attended also had a large (or so it seemed at the time) Cabinet of Curiosities that we had to pass on the way in or out of the main building.  This cabinet contained an eclectic mix of “treasures” belonging to the students and teachers alike, who both took pride in explaining to anyone who stood in front of the cabinet just what they had contributed.  Combine these early influences  with a love of history it is little wonder that from a young age I thought it would be cool to work in a museum – although I didn’t know what cool was or what people did in museums.

Fast forward a few years and the boy with his nose pressed against the glass of a museum display cabinet has left high school, like so many of his peers with no qualifications, and started work as a jackaroo – the Pommy Jackaroo.

Restless in my employment I had one unfulfilling job after another.  From factory hand to bush carpenter and from trawler hand to steel rigger I was always looking for that elusive “something”.

Back in 1991, an industrial accident on a construction site set me on the path to my career at the Queensland Museum – and I haven’t looked back.

I started working for the Queensland Museum some time back in ’95 volunteering for Education Loans, a department of the Museum that develops kits and sets of museum specimens and artefacts that can be loaned to schools across Queensland.  Two years later I began fulltime employment with the Museum as a cadet Library Technician, and in 1999, after completing my Diploma in Library and Information Studies I was appointed to the position of Library Technician.

Building on my childhood interest in history, I completed a BA in Ancient History, and Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Queensland in 2008, being awarded the Elias A. Heiser Prize in Classics and Ancient History in the process. In 2009 I completed postgraduate qualifications in Museum Studies from Deakin University.

In 2012 I was seconded, on a part time basis, to the Cultural Environment program as an Assistant Curator, initially to work on an exhibition to celebrate the 200th birthday of Ludwig Leichhardt which eventually morphed into an online exhibition.  Two years later and I am still working with the Cultural Environment team, now as an Assistant Collection Manager, assisting in both the Archaeology and Social History sections.  My work days can see me researching items in the collection, talking to the public about specific objects or handling artefacts made thousands of years ago – to name just a few of the tasks involved in helping to care for the State Collection.

Fifty or so years have passed since that little boy thought it would be cool to work in a museum.  Now that I know what people do in museums, and what cool is, I can say that working in a museum IS as cool as I thought it would be.

David will be hosting two  Meet the Curator sessions in early 2015. Drop into the Discovery Centre on level 3, Wednesday 21 January  & 18 February from 1pm – 2pm. Follow the Queensland Museum Facebook page for session updates and follow ups.