Tucked away in the backroom of the R.D. Milns Antiquities Museum, located on the University of Queensland’s St Lucia campus, is a group of four hardworking interns about to reveal their very first exhibition on October 30 – and you’re invited!

Every year the museum holds a Saturnalia celebration, named after and inspired by the ancient Roman festival of the same name, to celebrate the end of the academic year with costumes, wine and canapes. The celebration is also the time to unveil the new exhibition created by the interns of each year.

This year the exhibition is called ‘Roads to Rome’ and focuses on the relationship between the Roman Empire and its provinces through the lens of the extensive trade network that echoes even into the modern day.

The interns, Bethany Hawkins, Dominic Ragonesi, Sarah Dickinson and Linc Morse, brought the exhibition from concept to final display in only thirteen weeks under the watchful eyes of senior lecturer and museum director Dr Janette McWilliam and senior museum officer James Donaldson.

For Dickinson, the internship was the perfect opportunity to learn about the behind the scenes work that many museum visitors simply don’t get to see, as well as getting to experience a more practical side of her degree.

“In Ancient History you don’t really get as many opportunities to gain skills that you can apply practically,” Dickinson said. “You get to handle a lot of artefacts, but you also have to be tedious in getting everything just right. It was really, really fun.”

“You can’t just whack some objects in a cabinet, and by the time you get to the install stage there’s a plan of exactly which objects are going to be where.”

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One of the interns from 2014 in costume on the Saturnalia night.

Hawkins said that, for her, the best part of interning was having the opportunity to work with the artefacts.

“When you hold a china plate you think, ‘oh, this is expensive’, but when you hold a plate from the Greco-Roman period you think somebody has used this, it’s very old, and if it breaks there is no more of this plate,” Hawkins said. “It’s cool, but it’s also terrifying how much history is in your hands when you’re holding something.”

Ragonesi said that the hardest part of creating ‘Roads to Rome’ was trying to narrow down the concept of trade into a workable focus.

“It’s between luxury and staple goods, and how greatly Rome relied on places like Egypt and Gaul to fund everything within Rome itself,” Ragonesi said. “It’s about the importance of trade, what was traded, why it was traded, and was it purely for the item itself or was it for a connection or a peace treaty.”

“The worst part is trying to narrow things down because history is so broad. The Roman Empire has so much to offer in terms of information, and the museum in terms of artefacts.”

“It’s a labour of love for all of us,” added Morse. “We’ve all brought our own skills to it, and it’s definitely a team effort.”

Dr McWilliam said that she was happy with what the interns have achieved in so little time.

“I think they started off thinking, ‘oh my god, what do I do here?’, and what they’ve come up with is going to be a very good exhibition because they’ve worked together as a team,” Dr McWilliam said. “Learning about material culture makes the subject come alive, and I think it helps to contextualise some of the things you learn in books.”

The exhibition will be unveiled on October 30 at the R.D. Milns Antiquities Museum. Tickets, which include refreshments and canapes as part of the Saturnalia celebration, are available for purchase here.


Words by Shannon Coward/ Photography supplied by R.D. Milns Antiquities Museum