Ausheritage is delighted to welcome back to its fold our first Honorary Life members, Ian Cook AM and Heather Mansell. This fascinating dyadic interview is a compelling eyewitness account of their active leadership involvement in many of the key Ausheritage activities over more than 20 years.
We hope to hear more from them and look forward to their continuing involvement with us as we enter our 26th year.
The following interviews with Heather Mansell and Ian Cook AM were recorded on the occasion of the announcement of their Honorary Life Membership to AusHeritage Ltd.
Ian Cook interviews Heather Mansell
Cook: When did you first get involved with AusHeritage?
Mansell: It was 1998. I had just taken on the role of Manager Preservation Services at the State Library of NSW and at the time the Library was looking at its role as a regional player. My first AusHeritage mission happened about six months after I took up the manager’s position.
Cook: So, what was your first mission for?
Mansell: This was a conference /workshop on emergency planning and disaster management for ASEAN museums and heritage institutions in Brunei. It was a joint project with AusHeritage, The ASEAN Committee on Culture and Information, ICCROM and the Asian Disaster Reduction Centre in Japan. Professor Colin Pearson was asked to represent Australia; however, he was unavailable. He recommended me for the project because of my disaster planning experience across the library/museum community (which was actually, one might say ‘baptism by fire’ when the roof caught fire at the National Library of Australia way back in 1984. We all learned a lot!)
Cook: Were all ASEAN nations involved and how many people were involved?
Mansell: There were about sixty people from ASEAN, Herb Stovell from ICCROM and Yujiro Ogawa from Japan. There were only nine member states at the time. Brunai is a place of such contrasts – from the water village, Kampong Ayer, to the marble clad Great Mosque.
Waterside shopping, Kampong Ayer, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
Cook: When and what was your next mission?
Mansell: This was held in Luang Prabang, the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic in January 2001 with Vinod Daniel and Guy Petherbridge. By then I had been nominated to the AusHeritage Board and taken over the role of Secretary from Rodney Jensen. I remained Secretary until the AGM in 2010.
The theme of the Lao project was about preservation and conservation of heritage materials. I covered disaster preparedness and general collections management issues. Vinod Daniel focussed on environmental and pest control and Guy presented on preventive conservation.
Cook: The Lao project was another ASEN‐COCI exercise?
Mansell: Yes. All the ten Southeast Asian countries were represented. Cambodia which was number 10 joined ASEAN in 1999. Luang Prabang was such a peaceful, beautiful place – not really on the tourist track back then; I imagine it will have changed a lot in the meantime.
Cook: In 2002 you made your first professional visit to India.
Mansell: I travelled to India with Vinod Daniel and we did a collections management workshop in the National Museum New Delhi. Dr 0. P. Agrawal from INTACH was also involved. I visited many sites around New Delhi and made my first visit to the Taj Mahal but it was closed that day. I remember Achal Pandya, a student at the time (now Dr Pandya and currently one of the Vice‐Chairs of the ICOM‐CC Directory Board), accompanied me on the trip. After an in‐depth tour of Agra, I ended up at his aunt’s house for a wonderful home‐cooked meal and a rest before we caught the train back to Delhi that evening.
Vinod and I were also supposed to present the workshop in Mumbai but due to political unrest it was cancelled. Vinod was to visit Gujarat after Mumbai and I was going to travel with him. In the end it was decided it would be too risky for me to go. I was so disappointed.
Cook: I’m aware that you participated in the ASEAN‐COCI Myanmar and AusHeritage Joint Symposium in Yangon and Bagan in 2004. This was a certainly a watershed event for the
Mansell: If I remember correctly this was the largest AusHeritage mission up until then and perhaps the most well attended project historically. What made the project so important is that Australia was represented by most of the heritage professions; built heritage, collections and teaching. To travel with such a wonderful group of like‐minded colleagues was such a very special experience. Watching the sun set from one of the main stupas in Bagan was a highlight – getting back down in the pitch black is another story.
Cook: Then what?
Mansell: I had a few assignments in India. September 2006 and then April in the following year. In 2006 Vinod and I presented another disaster preparedness program at the National Museum in New Delhi. Have you forgotten that you helped me set up the scenario role‐playing segment for the program? We had a lot of fun (and learning about people) with that one particularly. There was a big AusHeritage contingent for the 2007 New Delhi joint seminar with INTACH (the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage). We had some marvellous site visits including finally making it to the Taj Mahal that year. I must say it is probably my favourite building. No matter how many images one sees, there is nothing like the feeling one gets actually being there – it really shimmers – hair raising on the back of the neck for me.
In 2009 I delivered a workshop in Kochi, Kerala on DP (Disaster Preparedness) and later I visited the Indira Gandhi Memorial in New Delhi with Kristin Phillips from Artlab Australia.
Our job at the Memorial was to examine and make recommendations for the library and textile artefacts, advise on fire suppression and look at the air conditioning problems in the Memorial’s exhibition spaces and install data loggers.
Cook: You did a workshop in George Town, Penang in 2010. I remember you included some content on applying significance methodology as part of collections management during this workshop.
Mansell: Yes, we had fun at this workshop looking at display and storage methods and writing significance statements for some ‘fake’ artefacts. The newly published Signficance
2.0. (Collections Council of Australia, 2009) was a really excellent guide for the participants.
Cook: From 2012 and 2017 you were involved in a series of AusHeritage workshops on Kinmen Island, Taiwan with the Chinese University of Technology, Taipei and the Quemoy National University, Kinmen.
Qiu Lianggong, Mother Chastity Arch, Jincheng, Kinmen
Mansell: The Kinmen Cultural Heritage Management Program was a very exciting venture. It was so great to work with AusHeritage colleagues such as Bruce Pettman, Mary Knaggs, Peter Romey, Sharon Veal, Alex Marsden and of course yourself. The program was rewarding at so many levels in terms of content development and the numerous site visits we made. The cultural interchanges were wonderful at times challenging and revealing and at other times to be avoided, if possible, like encounters with the deadly Gaolian.
Kinmen Workshop team briefing from Prof. Alex Chen, clan temple Qionglin village
Cook: Any final thoughts you would like to share with your readers?
Mansell: I feel very fortunate to have been involved with AusHeritage and to work with heritage colleagues from a wide range of disciplines. The learning experiences from the activities I’ve been part of really do work both ways. My life is certainly richer for them. I was so pleased to get the news about my Honorary Life Membership.
Heather Mansell interviews Ian Cook AM
Ian Cook AM
Mansell: How did you feel when you got the news of your Honourary Life Membership to AusHeritage?
Cook: I felt the same as you. I was really thrilled. I have had so many rewards for being involved in AusHeritage and recognition by the Board is the icing on the cake. The Honourary Life Membership award came close on the heels of my appointment as a Member (AM) of the Order of Australia (General Division) for contributions to the heritage industry. So I feel greatly indebted to Ausheritage and past and current Board members.
Mansell: You have worked in the cultural heritage field since your late teens. That’s more than fifty years without giving away too many secrets. We can talk about some highlights as we chat, however do you want to say anything about your early years in materials conservation as a starting point?
Cook: I was extremely fortunate to be offered a cadetship at the Art Gallery of New South Wales from 1965 under the direction of Head of Conservation, William Boustead. This was a brilliant opportunity. I was funded on full salary as an “assistant draftsman” (there was no employment structure for conservators in the Commonwealth Public Service until much later) by The National Library of Australia. The cadetship lasted nearly four years. It was very much practical training as an apprentice although there was some chemistry, art theory and history delivered through audio tapes and reading texts. You need to remember that the Materials Conservation Course at the Canberra College of Advanced Education (Now the University of Canberra) didn’t start until 1978.
I began fulltime work at the National Library as its first “conservator” (still something to do with draftsmen or was it as a technical officer) in 1969. The Library was very supportive of my career and the development of the material conservation profession more generally. With the Library’s support I was able to complete a degree in Applied Science (analytical chemistry) at the Canberra College of Advanced Education in 1978; established the Preservation Services Branch at the Library and worked with colleagues to create the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material. As you are aware there are so many stories that I could tell about my years at NLA and in Canberra more generally. For brevity’s sake I need to move on.
After fifteen wonderful years at the Library I left Canberra in 1985 to become the inaugural Director of the State Conservation Centre of South Australia (later rebadged Artlab Australia).
Mansell: So did your move to Adelaide meet your expectations?
Cook: I had learnt an incredible lot at the National Library especially regarding people and program management. I believed I was ready for what I thought was a bigger challenge. The Centre was designed as a central laboratory modelled on the Canadian Conservation Institute and other international laboratories. The objective was to service all the major state cultural institutions including the Art Gallery of South Australia, the State Library, the South Australian Museum and the History Trust of South Australia’s multiple museums. The job was just what I wanted but it turned out to be very challenging at times.
Mansell: How long were you Director at Artlab?
Cook: I started in April or was it early May 1985 and retired in 2004, nineteen years later.
Mansell: You mentioned that your Directorship at Artlab was challenging at times. Why was it so challenging?
Cook: Artlab was one of the divisions within Arts SA and it was much more political than working in the Commonwealth Public Service where people at my level were often protected by more senior people in the hierarchy. In the first couple of years we were looked after pretty well. John Bannon, the Premier of South Australia, at the time, signed my contract and showed a great deal of interest in our work. The CEO of Arts, Len Amadio kept an eye on me and many of my museum colleagues were very supportive. The main problem was that there was never enough money to go around.
As the years went by it became quite competitive, especially when you consider that the Arts had responsibility for the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, The South Australia Ballet, the Opera, the Festival Centre and the Festival, Carrick Hill, the Jam Factory and the Film Corporation to name just a few. As the State’s economy seemed to struggle things started to get more bureaucratic. There was a perennial tension between providing conservation services for the State’s collections and sustaining and maintaining a quality team of conservation specialists. “Money didn’t grow on trees, especially the ones growing in SA” so I knew we needed to look elsewhere for financial and political sustainability. It wasn’t a popular idea for some staff.
Mansell: It sounds like it was a bit grim.
Cook: Well the answer was yes and no. It was very hard sometimes but I, together with my colleagues, were given a lot of room to experiment. And it is out of this environment that Artlab rescoped its service‐base introducing a fee‐for‐service stream. While the project did not receive widespread acclaim, it had its champions, and as we delivered projects across the state and eventually across Australia it provided an opportunity to showcase the talent and expertise of many of Artlab’s conservators as well as bring some extra money in. What this meant was that Artlab started to be seen as a national institution.
Mansell: How did this development play out?
Cook: By the mid‐nineties Artlab was forging ahead with service development across Australia. At the same time a series of parallel developments occurred at the national level from the amalgamation of museum associations, the development of the Council of Museum Directors and the establishment of the Heritage Collections Committee under the auspices of the Cultural Ministers Council. In essence, for a short time a collective vision for the management and conservation of the distributed national collections gained widespread support.
I was very pleased to represent South Australia on the Heritage Collections Committee and convene the Conservation Working Party for some time. It was a very exciting time and in 1995 the Cultural Ministers Council, through the Heritage Collections Committee published a National Preservation Policy for Movable Cultural Heritage. Three years later in 1998, the Policy was republished together with a national conservation and preservation strategy through what was now the Heritage Collections Council of the Cultural Ministers Council.
Mansell: Was Ausheritage a child of the Cultural Ministers Council?
Cook: In part the answer is yes but developments are unsurprisingly much more complicated and involve many more people than one might first imagine. One of the great outcomes of the Heritage Collections Council was that there was considerable interaction between officers representing the states and those from within the then Department of Communication and the Arts in Canberra. My engagement with people like the late Kaye Daniels and Damien Stevens was tremendously energizing as we discussed how to frame collections conservation as a key national endeavor to sustain Australia’s movable cultural heritage.
The great thing about the Federal Department of Communications and the Arts at the time, was that it initiated numerous developmental projects on the one hand, and on the other, strengthened its relationship with the Australian Heritage Commission and in particular Alex Marsden and her boss Sharon Sullivan. From my perspective, it was out of this fertile environment with a thirst for change that two significant things happened.
The first of these was the commissioning in 1994 of a consultancy to evaluate cultural mapping as it was practiced in Australia and internationally, to develop methodology and undertake two pilot studies. The consultancy was managed by Damien Stevens and the consultants included Greg Young (at the time Pac Rim Consulting) and Ian Clark and Johanna Sutherland from AIATSIS. While I was not directly involved in this venture, the idea of cultural mapping was planted firmly in my psyche through regular contact with Damien Stevens. This ultimately led to a ground‐breaking seminar and workshop in Adelaide in 2003 managed by AusHeritage and Artlab in association with the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta and representatives from the ten ASEAN countries.
From around 2004, the impetus for an AusHeritage‐ASEAN‐COCI (Committee on Culture and Information) cultural mapping publication moved ahead to create a regional guidebook. It took quite a time for the guide to be drafted and then published. The Australian launch was held at the Australian National University to a celebrated group of ASEAN diplomats, bureaucrats, scholars, AusHeritage and family members in 2013. Emeritus Professor Ken Taylor, co‐author and project partner and I were thrilled to see the project get over‐the‐line with the launch and participate in various engagements which ensued.
I should get back to 1994 to discuss the establishment of AusHeritage. The creation of AusHeritage, was another Communications and the Arts initiative. During the mid‐nineties the Federal Government was interested in exploring and supporting sustainability strategies for the Australian “arts industry” through international promotion and positioning. Many of the States came on board as well, if not financially, then at least in spirit. To this end, if I remember correctly, three industry sectors were identified as possible starters with a brief to accelerate international engagement. These were: a group called Publish Australia, an ecological consortium and the heritage sector, including both the movable and immovable cultural heritage sectors. In many countries across the globe the heritage sector is unified by governments, bringing together collections management and the built and often natural environments.
At the time I thought this was a splendid starting or restarting point for Australia and a necessary opportunity to strengthen the sectors political influence. One of the great achievements of AusHeritage has been that it has supported this vision since its incorporation in 1995.
AusHeritage had generous Federal funding for about three years as part of the industry development initiative and then the funding dried up. It was a wonderful honeymoon for its thirty or forty members and its business and communication strategies were ably supported by the appointment of Penny Ramsay as Executive Director. It was a great privilege for me to work with Penny and the new Board of Directors as AusHeritage’s first Chair between 1995 and 1998. It was such an exciting time with many international missions: to India, Southeast Asia and China.
It was also a time of great discovery, learning and relationship building with colleagues both within and outside Australia. Many of these relationships continue to this day.
Mansell: You have provided a broad sketch of parts of your career and especially regarding the early development of AusHeritage. It’s remarkable how the organization continues to stage mission after mission and provide opportunities for members in the international arena. What were you most memorable experiences?
Cook: AusHeritage has undertaken a huge number of missions, projects and training events over the last twenty‐five years. I’m not sure how many, but the total must be well above fifty. This represents an extraordinary experiential base and a significant cultural capital resource. While I’ve been personally involved in only a fraction of these endeavours, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to all the ASEAN nations, to India, China, Taiwan and New Zealand on AusHeritage business. These experiences have really been so very rewarding.
As mentioned earlier, engagement with ASEAN and especially the travel associated with the cultural mapping program was an outstanding opportunity. Ken Taylor and I had some very satisfying visits across Southeast Asia. It’s no easy task to single out specific localities and events because all were fruitful in one way or another. Like you, I found our visit to Kampong Ayer (the water village) in Brunei’s capital, Bandar Seri Bagawan intriguing.
Also, I was very excited to walk the cultural trails developed in Singapore as part of their cultural mapping initiatives with Ken Taylor. The disaster preparedness workshops held at the National Museum in New Delhi were very innovative as well AusHeritage’s seminar with INTACH colleagues.
Perhaps the longest and most gratifying project of all occurred after I retired from Artlab in 2004. This was the engagement with Taiwan pioneered by Bruce Pettman. I had the good fortune to be involved in six or was it seven missions to Taipei and Kinmen Island off the coast of mainland China with small AusHeritage teams of four or five people. These included Bruce Pettman, Peter Romey and Mary Knaggs, Alex Marsden, Sharon Veal and many others, and of course you participated in most of these as well.
I think we both developed strong bonds with Taiwan and our Taiwanese colleagues especially from the China University of Technology in Taipei and the National Quemoy University on Kinmen. The quality of our interactions with the workshop teams and participants and the lecture segments were very rich, sometimes funny but all the time rewarding. This program which continues, is typical of what AusHeritage can achieve with its international colleagues. It is based on multidisciplinary approaches to heritage sustainability and brings together participants from across the cultural heritage sectors – tangible and intangible, movable and immovable.
Photo mapping – Qionglin 201
One of the most fulfilling moments of participating in the Kinmen workshops was the immense cross‐cultural coming‐together which took place on many occasions between participants with shared visions but different cultural perspectives. At the heart of these engagements were the multiple site visits to various heritage places on Kinmen.
The site, however, that is etched into my psyche is the village of Qionglin with its thousand‐year history and TV aerials and all that suggests. And contributing to the spiritual character of Kinmen are the numerous cheerful and comforting Wind Lion Gods scattered across the island in various public spaces. But as you have hinted one cannot think of Kinmen without fearful memories of the regional Gaoliang liquor, a spirit ranging between 38 and 63 percent alcohol and ubiquitously present at every celebration and banquet of every mission night. For those who may visit Kinmen in the future, all I can say is “beware the fish tail.”
Wind Lion Gods on Kinmen
One thing does lead to another ‐ so from Kinmen it was most fortunate that we were able to visit Xiamen city, across the water from Kinmen and its now world heritage listed, Historic International Settlement on Gulangyu. Perhaps most thrilling of all was our visit to the spectacular World Heritage Site of the Hakka Tulou villages about one hundred kilometers west of Xiamen and enjoy a tea tasting with some charming Hakka ladies.
One of the Hakka village clusters, Tulou WHS 2017
So many wonderful experiences. I do hope I have earnt my keep.
Mansell: So what’s next?
Cook: Well, hopefully the journey isn’t over for both of us yet, although in terms of international travel we might need to put it on hold for a while. There are so many projects that I want to pursue and as you know and I’m working on several at the moment. They will keep me occupied for quite a while but there are so many more ideas – after all a life in heritage is a rich and all‐consuming life.
Wind Lion God at home