Preservation and accessibility of a large, multi-format collection

Photographic portrait of a woman with light coloured shirt
Marion Page c 1950s (YMS 16147, Box 79)

In December 2016, the Library received  a large, multi-format Manuscript collection belonging to the late Marion Page (1918–2015). Its journey at the Library began with our Preservation department, which is responsible for providing safe, long-term protection for the collections we receive, to ensure that they will be accessible and discoverable for future generations.

Born in Melbourne at the end of the First World War, Marion Orme McPherson was the only child of Lady Sidney and Sir Clive McPherson. Her father was a prominent pastoralist, businessman and advisor to former Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies. The family home was in South Yarra and the McPhersons also owned two large properties on the edge of Lake Mulwala, Tarramia in Victoria and Boomanoomana Station in New South Wales.

Portrait of a girl with her parents either side
Marion with her father and mother (Sir Clive and Lady Sidney McPherson), c 1920s
(YMS 16147, Box 74)

Marion enjoyed her family’s connections and social privileges. One of her closest friends was Heather Menzies, daughter of Sir Robert Menzies, at whose wedding she attended as bridesmaid. Marion completed studies in Law and Commerce at the University of Melbourne during the 1930s and 1940s and became the first articled woman at Mallesons Solicitors in 1941. She served as an officer with the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Airforce (1944–1947), working initially as a driver and then a member of the legal service. In 1953, she was appointed as private secretary to Lady Violet Brooks who was the wife of Sir Dallas Brooks, Governor of Victoria (1949–1963), and Divisional Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Red Cross Victoria (1949–1963).

Portrait (head shot) of a woman wearing Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force Servive Uniform
Marion in the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force c 1940s (YMS 16147, Box 79)
Three women wearing evening gowns standing together having their photograph taken
Marion (left), unidentified woman and Heather Menzies (right) c 1950s (YMS 16147, Box 80)

Marion outlived her two husbands – Dr Julian Smith (1903–1971) and Brian Page (1903–1989) – and had no children.

She passed away in 2015 at the age of 97 and her wish that State Library Victoria be entrusted with the care of her archive was fulfilled. In late 2016, the collection was received by the Library with a generous donation from Sir Clive McPherson’s Estate to rehouse, list, preserve and make the collection available.

The scale, poor condition and multi-format nature of the collection, coupled with a tight timeframe, presented a significant challenge for the Preservation Team. This was the genesis of a year-long project, culminating in the presentation of a paper at the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials’ Book, Paper and Photographic Materials Symposium in Melbourne in November 2018.

What’s in the collection?

The collection includes late 19th and early 20th century material belonging Marion’s parents and their respective families, including personal papers, correspondence, and photographs. There is material relating to Marion’s education at Toorak College and the University of Melbourne, her various careers, and the organisations she was involved with throughout her life. The archive also includes business and financial records belonging to both Marion and her father, many of which relate to the agricultural properties held by the family. Through her private papers and correspondence, diaries, photographs, film reels, and textiles and other realia, which span her early years and her two marriages, the wide-ranging material reflects Marion Page’s rich life, her achievements, and the social context in which she existed.

Arrival at the Library: assessment and sorting

An initial off-site assessment of the collection in mid-2016 revealed that storage conditions had not been kind. Large components were damp or wet, with some evidence of active mould growth. However, recognising the value and significance of the collection as a whole, the material was packed and transported to the Library’s Quarantine area for further assessment.

Internal view of a brick-walled storage area containing a large number of boxes and plastic tubs of papers
Initial collection viewing in South Yarra, 2016
Close up image of damp and mouldy newspaper
Initial collection viewing in South Yarra, 2016
Plastic tub containing miscellaneous papers
Initial collection viewing in South Yarra, 2016

Undertaken in consultation with our Manuscripts collection manager, the assessment revealed that some material was unsalvageable and this was safely discarded. While much of the material was damp, it was in fair condition and could be treated effectively. Damp material was air-dried and stabilised, mould-affected material was dried and cleaned and the entire collection was temporarily boxed for storage until time and resources allowed for intensive preservation work to begin.

Miscellaneous papers, maps, newspaper clippings, etc. drying on table
Quarantine assessment and initial remedial treatment
Letters pegged to pieces of string, drying
Remedial treatment of damp correspondence and papers
Piles of photographic material drying on table
Remedial treatment of damp photographic material
Wallet being cleaned with brush-vacuum
Brush-vacuuming mould-affected item

Beginnings

Preservation work began in earnest in early 2018. Overall, the collection was in a disordered state and required a significant amount of sorting prior to rehousing and listing. Generally, the original order of collections received by the Library is maintained, however the evident lack of structure within the Marion Page Archive demanded a pragmatic approach and the need to preserve and make the collection available was considered a priority.

Cardboard boxes on top of table with women's head peeking over the top
Where to start!?
Pile of miscellaneous letters
Unsorted correspondence
Piles of mixed materials including letters, photographs and newspaper clippings
Unsorted material

An initial high level sorting – ‘Clive’s papers, Marion’s papers, pretty things, unpretty things’ – evolved into a more detailed and granular process. This enabled the development of an appropriate range of subject categories to be used for series and sub-series.

Two women sitting at benches sorting papers into piles
Leah Williams and Kate Holloway from Preservation sorting material

Preservation lists are used by Manuscripts staff for cataloguing purposes and the creation of comprehensive finding aids, which are linked to catalogue records to enhance discoverability of collections. There are general series common to most manuscript collections – for example: correspondence, personal papers, financial records – however, collection-specific sub-series can also emerge, which help to create structure in a collection and improve the ability of researchers to understand what is held.

Two women looking at laptop screen with piles of papers
Preservation listing of rehoused material

Rehousing the collection

Preservation packaging standards are well-established for paper-based collections, however Manuscript collections often contain a variety of other formats, all of which require different packaging materials and storage solutions. This adds to the complexity of maintaining the integrity of a collection as a whole. Such was the case with the Marion Page Archive.

Colourful maps
Various maps from the collection (YMS 16147, Box 50/4–5)
Framed portrait painting of a man in an archival board box
Framed print reproduction of portrait painting of Sir Clive McPherson (YMS 16147, Box 114)
Assorted loose stamps and envelopes
Assorted stamps, possibly belonging to Marion’s mother (Sidney McPherson)
(YMS 16147, Box 86–87)

An initial priority was a box of 16mm cellulose acetate film reels showing early signs of degradation. These were rehoused into polypropylene enclosures and placed into cool storage to inhibit further deterioration. With original labels such as ‘Colombo’, ‘deck sports’, ‘Wimbledon’, ‘Menzies’ and ‘Princess Elizabeth’, we determined the films contained a sundry mix of holiday memories and special events. The funding received with the collection meant we were able to identify a small selection for external digitisation. We were excited at the prospect of capturing a glimpse of Marion in motion after becoming so closely acquainted with her through her mountains of letters, notes and photographs.

16mm film reels in original yellow cardboard boxes and metal film cans
16mm cellulose acetate film reels in their original packaging
Blue-gloved hand placing 16mm film reel into green polypropylene enclosure
Rehousing 16mm cellulose acetate film reel into polypropylene enclosure

The collection also includes a large amount of photographic material spanning over 100 years, including prints, negatives, mounted slides and a few early cartes de visite and cabinet cards. Photographic material belonging to Marion’s mother offers a glimpse into Marion’s childhood and schooling during the 1920s and 1930s, right through to her service in the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force in the 1940s.

Two little girls in dresses holding hands
Marion as a young girl (left) c 1920s (YMS 16147, Box 74)
Five children in a canoe
Marion (far right) canoeing with friends, late 1920s – early 1930s (YMS 16147, Box 74)
Three teenaged girls in school uniform standing in front of a wire fence
Marion (right) with Toorak College friends c 1930s (YMS 16147, Box 74)
Two young women in Air Force uniform smiling and standing in front of a car
Marion (left) with WAAAF friend c 1940s (YMS 16147, Box 76)

Marion was also a keen photographer, documenting social events, overseas holidays, her many animals and visits to the beloved family homestead, Tarramia. She was photographed by the media on numerous occasions, particularly between the 1930s and 1960s, at various significant social and cultural events in Melbourne and in the company of important and well-connected people.

Three women with hats facing slightly away from the camera
Marion (left), Merlyn Myer (middle) and unidentified woman c 1950s (YMS 16147, Box 80)
Group of people seated at table in restaurant
Marion (2nd from right) with friends at Mario’s Restaurant in Melbourne c 1950s
(YMS 16147, Box 80)

The collection also includes some wonderfully candid and personal portraits that evoke a sense of the private Marion.

Young woman taking a self-portrait in mirror
Marion taking a self-portrait c late 1930s – early 1940s (YMS 16147, Box 76)
Woman lying on stomach on grass with dog
Marion with one of her dogs c 1950s (YMS 16147, Box 79)
Woman with red lipstick and brown coat facing the camera
Marion at Tarramia, photographed by her first husband, 1961 (YMS 16147, Box 81)

Preservation uses a range of materials for the long-term storage and protection of photographic material including polypropylene sleeves that fit snugly into standard albums and archival flat boxes for oversized items.

Photographic material in archival albums
Photographic material housed in archival polypropylene sleeves and albums
Colourful, original Kodak developing envelopes
Original Kodak envelopes from the collection (YMS 16147, Box 63)
Mounted black and white photograph of four young women in tennis outfilts placed in archival sleeve and box
Oversized photographic material housed in archival polypropylene sleeves and flat boxes (YMS 16147, Box 97)

The bulk of the collection is paper-based material, including correspondence, diaries, financial and legal documents, university lecture notes, publications and ephemera.  Papers were housed in standard archival folders and manuscript boxes, oversized items were placed in large flat boxes and various housing solutions were designed to support some of the smaller non-standard items. Ephemera boxes, designed to fit snugly inside standard manuscript boxes, provide added protection for small objects and allow related material to be housed together, with custom phase boxes also offering additional support and protection for fragile bound items.

Passports and ephemera in archival sleeves and boxes
Various archival housing solutions for passports and ephemera
Archival boxes and enclosures
Various archival housing solutions

Custom boxes were designed for a range of objects and textiles, including Marion’s complete service uniform. Standard flat boxes were custom fitted for smaller items to be housed together, minimising the overall footprint of the collection.

Miscellaneous small objects in archival box
Custom boxing of miscellaneous small, personal objects (YMS 16147, Box 93)

As work progressed over the weeks and months, we were able to glean more and more about Marion’s interests and achievements. She attended Toorak College in Frankston where she was a Prefect, Games Secretary and goal-keeper for the hockey team.

Papers, photographs and ribbons from schooling arranged for viewing
Collection items relating to Marion’s time as a student at Toorak College
(YMS 16147, Box 22/3 and 61/1)

She achieved high results across the board at University, with the exception of Statistical Method. Lecture notes containing song lyrics, RSVPs and catering lists for parties suggest she was not unlike today’s students, distracted by the promise of social connections and friends. She loved to travel and she did so in style. She also liked to shop – at Myer Emporium like her father, and Georges on Collins was also a favourite.

Receipts for various clothing stores and jewellers
Receipts for various clothing and jewellery stores in Melbourne, 1960s
(YMS 16147, Box 20–21)

After the death of her mother in 1945 she became a supportive companion to her father and took on a significant role in the management of the family pastoral properties, a role she maintained throughout her life.

Finished!

Fully rehoused and listed, the collection is contained within 64 manuscript boxes, 15 photograph albums, 2 stamp albums, 19 flat boxes, 17 custom boxes and 23 polypropylene film enclosures. With storage at a premium, the final sequencing of the boxes also ensured efficient storage and accessibility for years to come.

Shelving unit containing labelled archival boxes
Rehoused collection material

This was an incredibly rewarding project, from both a preservation and a social history perspective. We discovered that Marion Page was a fascinating woman, not least because of her archiving techniques, but because of where she came from and who she became, growing up at a time when women faced some serious social and cultural constraints. She was a successful businesswoman in her own right, a generous philanthropist and a considerate friend to many.

And now that it’s done, this incredible woman’s archive joins the State Collection, enriching the diversity of stories held by the Library and deepening our understanding of women’s contributions to history.

Older woman with cropped grey hair and white collared shirt
Marion Page, 2000s

Digitisation of the 16mm film was a success! We were granted only a short glimpse of Marion in motion (at the end of the clip), but it was a special moment nonetheless. We leave you with a small taste of the world through Marion’s eyes.

Edited footage from digitised 16mm film

See more of the digitised collection

Marion Page’s service record was recently digitised by the National Archives of Australia. To view this substantial record, visit: http://RecordSearch.naa.gov.au/scripts/AutoSearch.asp?Number=5242382&O=I

This post was written by Kate Holloway and Leah Williams from Preservation


You may also like

This article has 4 comments

  1. Marion was very active with the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

    She was also a keen supporter of the Sir Robert Menzies Lecture.

    She maintained her close friendship with Heather Henderson (Menzies).

    A lady with strong opinions.

    • Library Author

      Thank you for your comments Alan. The blog has now been updated with a link to the catalogue record. The Finding Aid contains information regarding the subjects you mention and will soon be available online. We did suspect that Marion was quite a formidable character, while also revealing a generosity of spirit and a considerate nature. Her relationship with Heather Henderson was clearly very important to her as evidenced by their life-long correspondence.

  2. We are so blessed to have such talented people and to live in an era where past history can be preserved for future generations. Congratulations on all your hard work. I find it all fascinating.

    • Library Author

      We are so glad you enjoyed reading about the work we do in Preservation at the Library. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to delve into fascinating collections such as the Marion Page Archive while also preserving the stories that make up our shared history.

Leave a Reply to Library Author Cancel

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

Terms & Conditions