Michael Bull

 

As I interviewed Mike, he assumed the position that the rest of the IMPERO Team knew him best in—reclined, legs crossed, with a glass of wine balanced in-between his fingers. Although reluctant to be interviewed at first, the seventy-four-year-old University of Queensland employee warmed up to the idea by pouring both me and himself a glass of red wine just as, when he first began to warm up to me, he offered me a glass of white in companionship. With his beloved dry, witty remarks and a laugh full of stories, Mike is deeply respected by our team’s directors and students, and he likewise cites the importance of confidence and staying true to himself while being professionally and personally civil with all. In this spirit, Mike’s favorite aspect of being a part of the IMPERO Project Team was “the hospitality from Luca and the people who live and work [at Monteverdi].”

Despite his dry humor, Mike’s appreciation of the joy of others and his kindness were made clear every time that he welcomed students into his apartment to watch soccer and poured us bowls of chips without being asked or every time he captured our candid laughter in the frame of his camera lens. Even with the age gap between Mike and the majority of his peers, he was open to friendships and good conversations with those of all ages; he was just as friendly with those whom he freshly met as he was with his companion from the University of Queensland, Marc. To my surprise, even this comfortable companionship was rather newly formed. Marc was involved with the same museum for the last ten years, but they got to know each other in that context only within the last four years. Mike marks their ability to live amicably in close quarters after two field schools together, one in Grosseto in 2016 and another in Florence, to be a testament to their relationship. They have both been working on the collections as well, “rehousing a lot of the smaller material” that is not often displayed and making Greek and Roman ceramics presentable. In the field, at the museum, and in shared quarters, Mike and Marc are able to connect with one another on a personal level as well as share in their love of their work.

Mike originally came to Australia at twenty-five to follow the woman that he loved, who was Australian but working overseas in London when they met. Before getting married, Mike traveled half-way across the world to meet her parents and remained there with her; they have now been married nearly fifty years. After retiring at sixty-three in the country he came to claim as his own, the University of Queensland accepted Mike based on work experience and allowed him to pursue an Arts degree, ending up, “more by accident than design,” with a degree in Ancient History and Art History. Volunteering at the Antiquities Museum at the time, working with interns and post-graduate students, Mike expanded both his knowledge and his web of connections in his newfound field. Following this path, he took post-graduate courses himself on museum studies, and “along the way…managed to get tangentially involved with the university.” Due to his personable nature while undertaking this work and meeting these new people, Mike forged a relationship with the University of Queensland that allowed him to take seven overseas trips (so far)—He has toured the ruins of Ancient Greece, gazed at Renaissance art in Venice, travelled to Italy for field schools three times, and has studied the museums of Vietnam. All of these experiences have lent him a unique perspective and helpful knowledge-base for the materials discovered on site with the IMPERO Project.

Even though Mike did not have to employ his trained eye often—the team at Castellaraccio, where Mike labored the most, found very little material due to the time spent removing thick collapse from these barely-touched ruins—“that wasn’t the point of coming” for him. He came to “experience seeing the opposite of what [he and Marc have] been doing before,” but this perpetual learner appreciates both being present in the cataloguing of finds as well as being behind the scenes interacting with their contexts, since “the whole idea of the ancient world still being here is intriguing [and he has] always been interested in history.” Mike laments the storerooms full of shards of unwashed pottery and other materials that cannot be put on display within Italy or abroad due to the political climate, and hopes that, one day, it will be easier to display these artifacts in places such as his own country where material culture is not as abundant in the land. At the same time, Mike is able to experience ample material in Australia and tap into larger intellectual communities through the cross-disciplinary and grassroots-level work of another museum that he volunteers for, the Queensland Museum, that helps to preserve study, excavations, and exhibitions. Mike discussed all of this under the backdrop of a larger international conversation of museum studies that is debating how museums should function, whether they should exist in their current form, and how to make museums relevant to local communities. With this broad perspective and gaze set on the future, this calm and deeply intelligent man stands as a crucial voice for both our IMPERO Team in the field and for the larger fate of material culture within communities and internationally.

Text by: Elisabeth Woldeyohannes

Photo by: Riley James