A museum curated pandemic memories. Here’s what the last two years look like
Over 200 people have submitted stories to the Momentous digital collection. Photo: TND
At the start of the pandemic, Karen Collard’s mother-in-law, Judy, moved into an aged care facility.
She’d had a bad fall and her mind was starting to muddle from Alzheimer’s.
“She used to spend one day a week with my boys, looking after them while I was working, and then she wasn’t able to come over anymore,” Ms Collard told The New Daily.
Her boys really missed seeing their grandma. They call her Nana Joode.
On her husband’s birthday, Ms Collard snapped a photo of her family celebrating at home.
Nana Joode Zoom’d in from her aged care facility and together they sang Happy Birthday.
Ms Collard titled her photo ‘Missing Nana Joode’. Photo: Karen Collard via National Museum Australia.
The picture is one of 237 submissions (and counting) to Momentous, a digital collection of stories from the past two years.
“I think it’s really important for the kids, and future generations as well, to understand what it was like during this time period and how people got by,” Ms Collard explained.
“Even though life was pretty awful, we could still communicate, you know?
“It’s the simple things that made the difference.”
The National Museum of Australia (NMA) started Momentous as a response to the 2019-2020 bushfire season. Staff personally affected by the fires knew they wanted to create a space for the public to express themselves.
They created a Facebook page where people could share messages, pictures, and videos. Despite the devastation, there was community.
“We didn’t have any kind of longer-term ambition in mind at that stage,” Libby Stewart, a senior curator at NMA, told The New Daily.
But when COVID-19 reared its ugly head, staff decided to create a second Facebook page for people to share their thoughts about the pandemic.
“That’s where the idea for Momentous came from – we would create this [separate] platform, which would be a form of digital collecting for us that would continue into the future,” she said.
Artist Nicole Kemp submitted pictures of an embroidered quilt she stitched together.
One week, the arts and crafts teacher tasked her students (over Zoom) to use a small piece of calico fabric to stitch their response to what was happening around the world.
“That’s how it started – as a challenge,” Ms Kemp told The New Daily. “In my case, though, I just kept doing it all the time.”
She did a lot of other things to keep herself busy, but always returned to the quilt. It was her way to cope when her brain was “freaking out” over daily case numbers in Victoria.
She worked on the quilt for almost a year, starting in March 2020 and completing it in January this year.
Artist Nicole Kemp stitched defining moments onto her COVID-19 quilt. Photo: Nicole Kemp via National Museum Australia.
For staff, the opening of Momentous was a first. They weren’t sure how it was going to turn out, or if they were emotionally prepared to work through people’s trauma while living with their own.
“But we’ve tapped into a community that’s all dealing with the same stuff,” Ms Stewart said. “We’re not just dealing with this on our own or doing this on our own. We’re doing it as a community and that’s really helpful.”
There’s one square on the quilt that captures an unmistakable sense of dread, one we are all familiar with.
“It’s very simple – black and white – my hands are up on my head, holding my ears on both sides, and there are numbers and words around me,” Ms Kemp explained.
Lockdown. Stay? Mask. News. 77 cases.
There’s also the choice between pizza or Thai for dinner … again.
Kemp stitched as a way to cope with the COVID-19 news cycle. Photo: Nicole Kemp via National Museum Australia
She said she stitched the square when cases numbers were back on the rise in Victoria.
“It got to about 60 [cases] and then three days after that, you just knew another lockdown was going to happen. That’s when I made that square,” Ms Kemp shared.
Like the quilt, Momentous is a timeline of the pandemic. Initially, staff received a lot of community-focused submissions, like pictures of Teddy bears in windows and people going on walks.
Then it was life in lockdown.
Dr Kate Fitz-Gibbon, associate professor of criminology at Monash University, submitted a picture of herself in a virtual meeting, along with her three young children.
The picture was taken in August 2021 by her husband.
Speaking to The New Daily, Dr Fitz-Gibbon explained it had been one of those long days in lockdown.
“[My husband] was looking after our trio and they all just came along and wanted to be involved in Mummy’s work, as little people often do,” she shared.
Despite the sudden arrival of her children, Dr Fitz-Gibbon said everybody in her meeting just got on with it.
“So many of my colleagues were so understanding of three little people popping up at random times during this period,” she said.
Her trio consists of four-year-old twins William and Matilda and her son Edward, who is two.
Dr Kate Fitz-Gibbon brought some plus ones to her meeting. Photo: Dr Kate Fitz-Gibbon via National Museum Australia.
Dr Fitz-Gibbon is deeply moved by the visual reminders of what the past two years have been like and the sense of community it inspires.
“I think so many parents have the daily juggle of children, but it just became really visible during this time because they were home and their kids were around,” she said.
“And that’s something I’m really grateful for.”