After seven and a half years in charge of the largest museum and art gallery in regional Australia, QVMAG director Richard Mulvaney retired from the role last week.
In a career spanning 35 years, Mulvaney has held many roles including notable stints as chief executive of the New South Wales Rail Transport Museum and the inaugural director of the Bradman Museum in Bowral before taking helm of QVMAG in December 2010.
Managing a museum with a vast collection of items covering history, natural sciences, and visual and decorative arts, presents itself with a distinct set of challenges, but choosing a handful of items which are personal favourites was no easy feat for the outgoing director.
Starting with a walk through of the Inveresk site, the self-confessed sports fanatic quickly selected a historical item, namely the cricket ball used in the first inter-colonial cricket match circa 1851.
“I picked this as one of my favourite objects because of my previous position as director of the Bradman Museum,” Mulvaney said.
“I always knew that the first inter-colonial cricket match in Australia was between the Gentlemen of Van Diemen's Land and the Gentlemen of Port Phillip, although they both called themselves Tasmania and Victoria.
“Interestingly this was five years before the name Tasmania was proclaimed.”
The game was played at the Launceston Racecourse, now known as the NTCA Ground, with Tasmania winning by three wickets. The ball was claimed by the umpire Charles Weedon, with his family donating it in 1935.
One legacy of Mulvaney’s reign at QVMAG is an increase in artworks collected by Tasmanian artists as well as launching the permanent exhibition The First Tasmanians: Our Story.
“The memory of the opening in July 2017 with so many proud Tasmanian Aboriginal people will rest with me for a long time,” Mulvaney said.
Situated in the display at Royal Park is another of his favourite objects, a basket made by Trucanni.
“This basket was made by Trucanni in about 1870. It was commissioned by Sarah Mitchell who collected white flag iris fibre on the east coast and sent them to Trucanni,” Mulvaney said.
“To me the Aboriginal occupation of Tasmania is a great human story of journey and adaptation going back at least 40,000 years. It is why I am so proud of our new permanent gallery.”
Citing the formation of the QVMAG Aboriginal Reference Group as one of his proudest achievements whilst at the helm as director, he was also quick to point out the more unorthodox initiatives the museum has undertaken recently.
“One thing that has given me a lot of fun is the work around the 220 year old yeast from the wreck of the Sydney Cove and turning it into The Wreck, Preservation Ale,” Mulvaney said.
A joint venture between QVMAG, the Australian Wine Research Institute and James Squire has allowed the museum to be involved with helping create and market the world’s oldest beer.
The brew was launched to a sell-out crowd at St John’s Craft Beer in Launceston at the end of May, helping further spread the reach of QVMAG beyond those who visit through their door.
“In an age of the 'virtual' I still believe that museums are about objects. We still want that physical connection to our past,” Mulvaney said.
Although the tactile appeal of museums and their collections are important, they aren’t the only thing the outgoing director has focused on.
When asked what advice he has for his eventual replacement, Mulvaney talked about the value of welcoming and including the Launceston community into the museum.
“We must remember that museums are about people not just objects. They are about stories of how we got here, and we must do all we can to ensure that they and the stories still to be told have meaning in our community.
“Above all else, remember that it is your people, the staff, the many volunteers, and the wider City of Launceston family, that will help you make this happen.”
One virtual project that Mulvaney has overseen during his time as director has been the digitisation of artworks, with the entire oil painting collection able to be viewed online via the museum’s website. The online collection also showcases a series of photographs and a large collection of watercolour works by Tasmanian convict artist W B Gould.
Gould painted about 200 watercolours of native Tasmanian plants between 1829-1833, while he was on Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour.
“That he could paint such exquisite and accurate depictions of plants while incarcerated in one of the most isolated and harshest penal settlements is quite extraordinary,” Mulvaney said.
Upstairs in the colonial gallery at Royal Park hangs an imposing three-meter wide 1859 work by Robert Dowling.
Aboriginies of Tasmania features an imaginary grouping of Tasmanian Aboriginal people based on a series of watercolours by convict artist Thomas Bock in the 1830s.
Robert Dowling painted it in London after moving there from Launceston to train as an artist. He presented it to the citizens of Launceston as a thank you for their support to the public fundraising to his training
“I love this painting because of the respect it shows to the Tasmanian Aboriginal people at the time, that Dowling chose it as his reminder of his Tasmania and that it has 'pride and place' in QVMAG since our inception,” Mulvaney said.
Although his time at the museum is ending, Mulvaney can’t help but look ahead at how the institution will continue to function and add value to the cultural fabric of the city.
“In the future I see a more clear definition between our two sites,” he said.
“The original building enhanced by making it a real community and tourism attraction, and the Inveresk building complex becoming very much a part of an expanded hub that not only includes UTAS but other arts providers.
“Both are unique sites with so much to offer Launceston.”
So after seven years in Launceston, looking after the two sites, overseeing hundreds of exhibitions and thousands upon thousands of items, what are his parting thoughts about his time at QVMAG?
“I have always loved museums and art galleries and being involved with such a prestigious museum that has such an important collection has been a dream come true,” Mulvaney said.
“I can say it now because I am leaving but I would have done the job for nothing.”