Pauline Cockrill is one of two Community History Officers within the Community History Programs team based at the History Trust of South Australia’s ‘HQ’ on the Torrens Parade Ground.
Pauline has always been passionate about museums and their collections.
I knew I wanted to work in museums from an early age, being inspired by school or family excursions to the major London museums (I grew up in south east London). I curated my first exhibition at 15 – a display in the history room for our school’s 75th anniversary and since then I’ve been hooked on history, following a rather peripatetic museum career, working with a variety of collections in England and Australia.
Pathway to the History Trust
Her career began in the UK where she gained considerable expertise on children’s toys, and in particular teddy bears (more on that later).
After gaining an honours degree in Art History and a post grad secretarial course, I entered my museum career via the back door albeit a prestigious one. After a two year stint in the Director’s office at the Victoria and Albert Museum, I moved onto my first curatorial position at the V&A’s Museum of Childhood in London’s East End, gaining my AMA (Associate of the Museums Association) diploma along the way.
Pauline emigrated to Australia in 1992 and for 12 years was a free-lance curator in Alice Springs, in particular at the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame where her passion for women’s history was rekindled.
In 2001 I undertook a study tour of 15 worldwide women’s museums on four continents thanks to the Northern Territory Chief Minister’s Women’s Fellowship. I began work at the History Trust in 2009 as Community History Officer but have also held the position of Curator and more recently Acting Director at the National Motor Museum.
All in a day’s work
Pauline describes her main work as providing advice and practical skills training in history practice, museum and collections management to South Australia’s network of around 250 historical organisations and community museums.
We particularly work closely with the 65 organisations that have achieved registration and accreditation status in the Community Museums Program, following the National Standards for Museums and Galleries. We also administer the History Trust’s two annual grant funds. You will generally find me in the office in the city or on the road.
Pauline is also involved in the History Festival and travelling exhibitions program, curating both Bravest of the Brave and Once Upon a Time which do the rounds of community museums and local libraries.
I’m the person behind the South Australian Community History’s Twitter and Facebook account and I’m generally the person behind the camera, and not afraid of the odd #museumselfie! I continue to keep up with what’s going on in the museum world and in 2013 I completed my Masters in Digital Heritage at the University of Leicester’s School of Museum Studies (by distance learning).
Pauline’s enthusiasm is contagious, and she’s well known among the community museum networks.
I love sharing my knowledge, and get to meet a wide variety of enthusiastic people passionate about their collections. I love solving problems – we get asked all kinds of things on the job from advice on museum databases or lighting to where to buy a horse mannequin or how to get rid of pigeons. I also love the travel. My job can take me to Kangaroo Island, over to the Eyre or Yorke Peninsulas or Far North, or down to the Southeast. The coolest visit is perhaps to Swan Reach when we have to take the car on the little ferry across the Murray River. We visit a huge range of collections, some relating to the history of local communities or some very specialised collections such as railways, aircraft or embroidery; or people and organisations like Mary MacKillop, migrant groups or the police. My day might involve answering enquiries, assessing a grant application, editing exhibition text or posting a news story on our website. Or it might involve running a workshop, climbing up a lighthouse, or taking part in an educational program, dressed in 19th century costume.
#flashbackfridays to our #sahistoryfest event at Beltana Station in the #flindersranges #wonderful_places #roadtrip #heapsgood #southaustralia A photo posted by SA History Festival (@historyfestival) on
Pauline tells us that it’s a common misconception that all the significant stuff is at the national or state museums. There is also the distributed national collection within South Australia’s community museums.
One of my most memorable moments at the History Trust began with spotting some 1860s daguerreotypes of indigenous men dressed in Western clothing from Poonindie Mission on open display at Mill Cottage Museum in Port Lincoln. At that time the museum volunteers were unaware of their significance and it led to the images being brought to Adelaide for examination by experts in the field as well as conversations with academics in both Australia and the UK, as part of an international ARC funded project. These early photos were eventually conserved by Artlab Australia and also featured in scholarly articles and conference papers. However the high point was the successful identification of one of the images and I was able to assist and witness the moving repatriation of a copy of the photo to the sitter’s granddaughter. This was not just all about rediscovering history but also how museums can play a significant role in health and well-being, a subject that I am continuing to explore.
The ‘bear essentials’ on Pauline
Pauline is our resident ‘go to’ for all things toys, and especially teddy bears.
Despite running away to Australia to escape being the ‘bear woman’ all my life (I accidentally became the resident teddy bear expert at the Museum of Childhood in London and have several books to my name on teddy bear collecting), my past sometimes catches up with me.
— History Festival (@historyfestival) May 31, 2016
If you can’t get enough of Pauline make sure you catch up with her tweets under the @communityHistorySA banner.