Help the performing arts recover

29 May, 2020


The Australian Performing Arts Collection goes on tour, and sometimes it needs a chaperone as Megan Williams reflects.

Imagine you have been entrusted to escort a celebrity half way around the world in a single day. You are not to take your eyes off this treasure as you guide him or her through unfamiliar airport terminals, security check points, body scans, boarding and disembarking, flight turbulence and all kinds of weather, for 38 hours straight.

Now you have a feel for the job of being a courier for museum objects on tour. The task sits somewhere between being a bodyguard and a personal assistant… to a set of crates.

However, these are not just any crates. In my case, the crates contained 185 objects from the Australian Performing Arts Collection – as well as loans from private individuals – all relating to much-admired musician Nick Cave.

These highly significant and often deeply personal objects are Cave’s legacy of notebooks, drawings, photographs, possessions and song lyrics; and they travelled from Melbourne to Copenhagen for an exhibition which will open at the Royal Danish Library on 8 June 2020.

Notebook compiled by Nick Cave


Notebook compiled by Nick Cave, 1984-1985, Gift of Nick Cave, 2006
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne


Cushioned comfort travel

As custodians of a state collection, we are obliged to maintain the objects as close as possible to the same condition they arrived with us - to preserve the nuances of their creation and use. This requires a thorough understanding of the materials, forces and agents of deterioration.

Consider all the forces you encounter on an international flight - rapid acceleration and deceleration, turbulence, vibration. Museum objects are at greatest risk when being transported, so packing them is a complex business. Think of it like that science assignment where you had to build something out of straws that would prevent a dropped egg from breaking.

To pack the Nick Cave collection for this trip we built acid free cardboard boxes and fitted them out with polyethylene foam. This foam is inert - it doesn’t release gases that will react with the object and cause it to discolour or change over time. We support each object from all sides, including above. The books are wrapped in a polyethylene fabric before boxing.

Magazine of Wonder, Wirth Bros Circus


Packing a bag once owned by Nick Cave
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne


Packing method for books


Packing method for books. Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne


Nick Cave sorts through his collection with Janine Barrand


Nick Cave sorts through his collection with Janine Barrand, Director of Collections, Research and Exhibitions
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne


The Journey

At 9.30am on a Wednesday at Arts Centre Melbourne I oversee the climate controlled truck being loaded.

At the airport’s freight terminal I follow the crates to the loading area, where I monitor the airport staff wrapping them in plastic and then strapping them into an airfreight unit. After a five hour wait before boarding, there is a tense moment at the final boarding call as a text message that the crates have been loaded successfully comes through just in time.

As I sit on the flight, each time I feel some slight turbulence I think of the treasures in the hold and all the precision packing, designed to insulate them from vibration and shock.

After two long-haul flights, it is 6am in chilly Copenhagen and I change into steel-capped boots and high vis to go over to the freight terminal. The staff unstrap the crates and move them on a forklift over to the loading dock. I’m glad I’m there to supervise. Of course, these handlers have no idea what is in the crates but they know by my presence it must be something special.

The truck arrives at the air freight terminal and after careful loading we make the final leg to the Royal Danish Library. The roads appear small from this large, hyper-modern truck. Arriving at 8am, five of the library staff are there to meet me. I feel a sense of wonder and relief to finally meet them in person and at last have the crates on site.

Arriving at the high security room where the crates will stay – they need to acclimatise for at least 24 hours after such a journey – we solve one final hurdle of moving some glass showcases that block our path. It’s 9am in Denmark and I’ve been travelling for 35 hours. With the crates stowed in their safe room, I head to my hotel with my mind at ease.

Nick Cave sorts through his collection with Janine Barrand


The crates, shortly after unloading
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne


Coming soon...

Travel and isolation restrictions put in place for COVID-19 postponed the original opening date of the exhibition in Copenhagen by two months. With the easing of restrictions in Denmark the exhibition will now open 8 June 2020.

The Black Diamond - Royal Danish Library, Copenhagen, Arts Centre Melbourne and Australian Music Vault present
Stranger Than Kindness: The Nick Cave Exhibition
Supported by main sponsor Gucci and the Danish foundation Beckett-Fonden
8 June 2020 – 13 February 2021
The exhibition is shown at The Black Diamond, Søren Kiergaards Plads, Copenhagen.

More information


Megan Williams
Project Manager
Australian Performing Arts Collection


Australian Performing Arts Collection logo


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