This week Ray Gurney began the detailed work of stripping, repairing and refinishing the outside of the crocodile display case on Level 2.

It has been fascinating to watch his painstaking and detailed work as he removes the layers of painted accreted over the past 150 years to bring the case back to its original wood surface. Visitors are also enjoying watching the work and the chance to ask Ray questions about what he is doing and why.

Working at one of the ends of the case, this week the first step has been to strip the layers of paint off the wood (kauri pine apparently) and remove the remaining brass fittings. The case has 3 main paint layers -- the original black japan, a white enamel layer and a later black acrylic paint on top.

Restoring the crocodile case from the ground up
The size and position of the case are making work very difficult. Image: Vanessa Finney
© Australian Museum

Ray strips the paint with a citrus-based stripper which he applies to the wood and then wraps in glad wrap (which slows down evaporation of the stripper). He leaves the stripper on the paintwork for up to 14 hours before scraping it off. If he had more space and wasn't in a public gallery he might have been able to use stronger chemical strippers to do the same job, but our space and OH&S restrictions are making this job a real challenge (and very slow).

For most of the case woodwork, this stripping process will have to be repeated and the wood then washed with enthanol. By now, the wood will be back to a state where it can be assessed for more detailed work. We do not plan to fully restore the case and we want it to continue to reflect its age and history, so whilst repairs will be made, not every sign of wear and tear will be removed.