Margaret Birtley's career began with a passion for the Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, and the medieval era. Formal studies in language and literature led her to an appreciation of the material culture of that period, as located by archaeologists and displayed in museums.
From academic posts teaching Old Norse and Old English she moved into the museum domain where she is committed to achieving high standards in all areas of practice. Her special interest is the creation of meaningful audience experiences through engagement with significant objects and collections.
As a museum practitioner Margaret has held management roles with the Museums Association of Australia (Victorian Branch), Scienceworks, and the Melbourne Cricket Club (including responsibility for the National Sports Museum and Melbourne Cricket Ground Tours). Among her past clients for museum-related consultancy projects are Airservices Australia, the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria, Deakin University, Carrick Hill Historic House and the Victorian Young Farmers.
As a leader Margaret served as CEO and Company Secretary for the Collections Council of Australia Ltd (archived website). With this organisation she established a secretariat, helped inaugurate Blue Shield Australia (an equivalent of the Red Cross for cultural heritage), and oversaw a Summit on digital heritage collections plus many other projects, events and publications (including Significance 2.0: a guide to assessing the significance of collections [archived webpage]).
As an educator, Margaret has taught at three universities: first as a medievalist at Monash and Melbourne, and later as Course Director of Museum Studies at Deakin, where she introduced distance-learning programs to reach students across Australia and overseas. She has also trained museum personnel through short courses for clients such as Australia's Army History Unit, the National Wool Museum, the Military Museum of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces, and ASEAN.
As a researcher Margaret directed A Study into the Key Needs of Collecting Institutions in the Heritage Sector (2002) for the Cultural Ministers' Council. Through the Collections Council of Australia she contributed to Conservation Survey 2006 and the National Standards for Australian Museums and Galleries (2008-) (Version 1.4, October 2014, available as a download here). She is an expert assessor for the Australian Research Council. She has completed consultancies for the Western Australian Government and the National Trust of South Australia.
During Margaret's 35 years of service in the not-for-profit cultural sector she has undertaken many voluntary roles with museums, boards, and committees, including leadership roles with professional associations in Australia and internationally. She has provided advice to government through appointment to state and national advisory committees. She helped Museums Australia to shape a new definition of 'museum', and to write its pioneering guidelines on sustainability - a topic of enduring relevance to the operation of all heritage organisations.
Margaret Birtley is the principal of Margaret Birtley Consulting. She joined Significance International as an Associate in 2013 and was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the 2017 Australia Day Honours for 'significant service to cultural heritage, particularly to the museums sector, to education, and to historical preservation'.
Click here to read a bibliography of Margaret's publications.
Click here to read more about Margaret's projects, qualifications, memberships and employment.
Centre right: Margaret as Collections Council of Australia CEO, facilitating discussion
Bottom: Margaret visiting a Taiwanese sculpture park