Partnership between Macquarie University and Parramatta City Council is using cutting-edge digital techniques to showcase precious artefacts to a global audience

Partnership between Macquarie University and Parramatta City Council is using cutting-edge digital techniques to showcase precious artefacts to a global audience

Thanks to 3D imaging technology developed at Macquarie University, Australian historical artefacts that otherwise would rarely if ever be seen can now be closely inspected – and enjoyed – online.

They range across archaeological treasures from the earliest years of the convict colony in NSW, to 20th century items that tell engaging stories about the social history of Parramatta in Sydney’s greater west.

Among them is a convict cup made of Sydney clay, dating to just two years after the First Fleet arrived, and a 1920s hand-made watering can used by a well-known family of local market gardeners.

A convict-made Wellington jug scanned in all its 1820s glory is thought to have belonged to John Hodges, an emancipated convict-cum-sly grog trader, who built Parramatta’s historic ‘Brislington’  – where the jug was found – using money he won in a card game.

Beyond bringing items into view, the technology allows people to see more of the object than they ever could in a museum. 

Image makers: Macquarie university students with artefacts they are scanning for Parramatta City Council (from left) Mylee Jones, Louis Anderson, Stephanie McFarlane, Amy Tanswell and Jasmin Wagner and (front from left) Cr Bob Dwyer, Lord Mayor of Parramatta; Janelle Blucher, Parramatta's Collection Services Co-ordinator; and from Macquarie's Faculty of Arts, Senior Learning Designer Michael Rampe and Executive Dean Professor Martina Mollering. Photo credit: Michael Amendolia
Image makers: Macquarie university students with artefacts they are scanning for Parramatta City Council (from left) Mylee Jones, Louis Anderson, Stephanie McFarlane, Amy Tanswell and Jasmin Wagner and (front from left) Cr Bob Dwyer, Lord Mayor of Parramatta; Janelle Blucher, Parramatta’s Collection Services Co-ordinator; and from Macquarie’s Faculty of Arts, Senior Learning Designer Michael Rampe and Executive Dean Professor Martina Mollering. Photo credit: Michael Amendolia

“With any museum or institution, there are collections kept in boxes for years that are never seen, and we want to bring our heritage items that otherwise sit in storage to life, and make them accessible,” says Janelle Blucher, Research and Collection Services Coordinator at Parramatta City Council.

“Parramatta has a rich Indigenous history and behind Sydney is the second oldest colonial city in Australia.

“One of the key focuses for us is to celebrate and share our cultural heritage assets that  assist us in telling our stories – and this project really does provide the ideal way for us to achieve this objective.”

Michael Rampe, Senior Learning Designer in Macquarie’s Faculty of Arts, points out that beyond bringing items into view, the technology allows people to see more of the object than they ever could in a museum, where visitors are typically not permitted to touch objects let alone inspect them.

In contrast, the 3D digitising technology means users can look closely at the object from every perspective, manoeuvring it to magnify it, see inside it, to spin it around, and even to turn it upside down.

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the value of being able to access artefacts online, Rampe says. Academics, students, historians and interested members of the public are among those who are expected to take advantage of Parramatta Council’s expanding 3D collection of heritage items.

Students in the vanguard

Macquarie University students have been digitising the objects on 13-week PACE (Professional and Community Engagement) internships under the direction of Michael Rampe, a pioneer in 3D digitising technology.

Real-world work: Students Amy Tanswell and Jasmin Wagner use a structured light scanner to 3D scan an artefact. Photo credit: Michael Amendolia
Real-world work: Students Amy Tanswell and Jasmin Wagner use a structured light scanner to 3D scan an artefact. Photo credit: Michael Amendolia