The wharf display in the Commerce exhibition

During the coming months the permanent exhibition Commerce – The working sea is being removed from display and a new temporary exhibition space developed. The Commerce gallery is the only long term display that has not significantly changed since it was installed at the opening of the museum in 1991. While it’s exciting to see such movement and change in the museum in this first stage of a long term plan to revitalise our galleries, it was with a little sadness that I watched the first objects being removed from display!

Some of the popular objects in the exhibition were the replica wharf with a 1910 Johnson & Co wharf crane and a Norwegian built whale cannon from the 1940s which loomed ominously over the whaling section at the end of the gallery.

Dismantling the large, heavy wharf crane involved quite a bit of work

My favourite object, and one of the most signficant artefacts in the museum, is the  panel from the Sydney Wharfies Mural. The iconic mural – which tells the story of the politics and struggles of 20th century waterside workers in the context of Australian and international history – will remain on display elsewhere in the museum.

A harpooner with his whale cannon overlooks the dismantling of the Commerce exhibition

You will still be able to access the objects and stories from the Commerce exhibition through the museum’s continually expanding online eMuseum database. As curator of Environment, Industry and Shipping, I will continue to research and document these important areas of maritime history – particularly the transformation of the working harbour and maritime environmental history. Other areas of focus include the history of merchant shipping and the lives and stories of merchant seafarers, Australia’s regional maritime connections and the fascinating history of the Australian pearling industry.

With many changes taking place at the moment it’s quite an exciting time to be working at the museum …!


Stephen Gapps

Stephen is a Curator at the Australian National Maritime Museum. In 2014 he developed the War at Sea - The Navy in WWI exhibition. He was previously responsible for the collection areas of Environment and Industry. In 2015 Stephen developed a display showcasing Australian and Indonesian maritime connections. He has research interests in early colonial Australian history, Pirates and Vikings.

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