Manager James Donaldson in the new “atmospheric” and accessible RD Milns Antiquities Museum.
Manager James Donaldson in the new “atmospheric” and accessible RD Milns Antiquities Museum.
23 March 2012

A more “atmospheric” museum space in a busy part of campus is expected to attract more visitors than ever to the university’s collection of ancient relics.

After a successful operation to transport the 5000 priceless delicate relics, the RD Milns Antiquities Museum has reopened to the public on Level 2 of the iconic Michie Building at The University of Queensland.

From Persian weaponry to Egyptian pottery, the museum houses one of the largest collections of ancient treasures in Australia, attracting thousands of visitors every year and scholars from around the world.

The new high-volume position on campus is likely to attract even more public interest, says Museum Director Janette McWilliam.

“Now we have thousands of students walk past every day,” she says.

“It’s a much better space in terms of visibility and we have a workroom, so visiting scholars now have a place to work, we can prepare pieces for display, and invite small school groups inside,” she said.

A new focus will be on providing thematic educational displays, on topics such as death, daily life, religion and Egypt, while central cabinets will house more temporary displays.

Dr McWilliam says the pressure was on to re-open the museum early in the semester, with school groups booked to visit, classes starting up, as well as an upcoming Olympics conference for the classics discipline and the celebration of ancient Halloween or “Lemuria” in May.

“The museum is used on a daily basis by students, for example the Introduction to Greek course. As a teaching collection it is a major part of Ancient History and Classical Civilization courses, as well as the Museum Studies program,” she said.

Museum Manager James Donaldson said much effort and many long hours had been devoted to relocating the priceless cargo, by both paid staff and enthusiastic volunteers.

“There were about half a dozen people working for about four days moving all of the objects. We put in a lot of effort beforehand, with most of the smaller pieces packed in boxes.”

Though the collection moved less than a kilometre, a van was required to transport the priceless cargo safely.

Some pieces were more difficult to transport including a massive ‘transport amphora’ for carrying wine around the Mediterranean and a tombstone carved from limestone.

“It is completely falling to pieces and we had to drive it. All the small vibrations have the potential to do it damage. Luckily we packed it well,” he said.

The benefits of making such a museum available and accessible on campus were enormous, he said.

“There is nothing like seeing the real thing. You can spend your whole career looking at these things in books and seeing them on TV but to be only a few centimetres away, or to handle these objects that have been touched by Romans or Greeks thousands of years ago.

The museum also features such treasures as a Persian dagger, an inscribed tombstone for a girl who died 2000 years ago, and vases with the potter’s fingerprints immortalized in the clay.

“You can’t get much closer to history than that. I still get a kick out of it,” said Mr Donaldson.

He said the new dark-toned space was more “atmospheric”, a big change from the old stark white museum.

Along with UV lighting and special paint, it will undergo a conservation audit to ensure the preservation of delicate pieces.

The Michie Building is still undergoing renovations to become a teaching and learning hub and will be officially opened in June.

Media: Janelle Kirkland (07) 3346 60561 or