Costume of the General of Military Forces

The Chinese in Bendigo – processioning towards acceptance

A spectacular Chinese ceremonial costume was recently installed in the Museum’s Landmarks: People and Places across Australia gallery and it got me thinking about the lives of all those who for over a century wore this intricate creation – proudly and somewhat defiantly – as part of the annual Bendigo Easter Fair. You see, before this costume and many like it joined the extensive regalia collection at the Golden Dragon Museum, they played a functional and public role in the life of Bendigo’s prominent Chinese community and, by extension, the town’s general population. Yet the costume’s most important role, I suspect, was as a powerful emblem of cultural identity for the Chinese residents, who faced prejudice and discrimination both on and off the goldfields.

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Thylacinus

Thylacine close-up

One of the most significant, fragile, and haunting objects held in the National Historical Collection is an entire skinned carcass of a thylacine, commonly known as the Tasmanian tiger. No records exist of where or how the specimen was collected. It is part of the MacKenzie collection of wet specimens, which includes various other thylacine organs and parts. Orthopaedic surgeon Sir Colin MacKenzie was the director of the Australian Institute of Anatomy, where this specimen was previously held. In this blog post, Nicki Smith, one of the Museum’s senior conservators, describes the latest efforts to understand and conserve the creature’s delicate remains.

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Members of the Vintage Cycle Club of Victoria riding to Sydney, 1988. Photograph courtesy of Paul Farren.

Riding High: Adventures with ‘Black Bess’

High-wheelers, known later as penny-farthings, arrived in Melbourne in 1875, and soon confirmed the speed, excitement and potential of the bicycle. High-wheelers featured rubber ‘cushion’ tyres, so were more comfortable than the old ‘boneshakers’, but they were difficult and dangerous to manage. Riders sat more than two and a half metres off the ground, making it hard to mount and a long way to fall. On a high-wheeler, however, a fit cyclist could sustain speeds of between 16 and 25 kilometres an hour, meaning that, for the first time in history, a person moving under their own power could travel as fast as a trotting horse. Among athletic young men, in particular, the high-wheeler promised an exciting future of transport for work and recreation. The arrival of the low-mount ‘safety’ bicycle in the 1880s rendered the high-wheeler obsolete, although dedicated riders still flew around on them for a few more years. Then, they all but disappeared.

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mona bins

Worms on the roof

Yesterday I visited MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, on the banks of the Derwent River in Hobart, to meet with Reuben Parker-Greer. Reuben is employed by MONA to manage an inspiring initiative that helps local schools develop and maintain kitchen garden projects. MONA sits on the edge of a long established industrial and residential area, where fast-food outlets well outnumber community and school gardens. Moonah Primary School is one of the nearby schools that MONA supports, and also Continue reading

Colour photograph showing a row of nine small, toy horses on cardboard bases, lined up outside a hotel. A crowd of people has gathered in the background.

The show must go on!

There’s a new horsey face to be seen around our Mitchell repository this week. This champion racehorse is a bright chestnut with polished hooves, silky mane and tail and something of a beady-eyed stare. Though unrivalled on the track, he’s a diminutive fellow at not quite two hands high. ‘Jackson’ arrived recently from Birdsville, a small Queensland town some 1600km west of Brisbane and the scene of his trackside triumph. Continue reading

Hobart case in the Landmarks gallery with Forester kangaroo on loan from TMAG. Photo: National Museum of Australia

A crash course in taxidermy

WARNING: This blog post contains images which may be upsetting to some readers

The role of an assistant curator in a museum encompasses many different tasks, but one, which I had not envisaged is the procurement of taxidermy specimens. When asked to investigate the possibility of commissioning a specimen of a Forester kangaroo for our Landmarks gallery, I was slightly apprehensive. My knowledge of taxidermy, as I imagine for most people, was extremely limited.

As a child, I remember visiting museums and staring in wonder at exotic animals and birds, allowing my imagination to take me to places and dreaming of seeing these creatures in their natural environment. Continue reading

Images: Wikimedia Commons -
Horse: Johnownsuk
Cyclist:  Eric Van Balkum

Road Rage: Bike vs Horse

In December 1889, Dr G. A. Thorne from Melbourne found himself with a spare fortnight at his disposal. A keen bike rider, he decided to take his new ‘taut and trim’ safety bicycle (that he referred to as his ‘trusty little horse’) by train to Sale in Gippsland, Victoria. From there he would cycle to Sydney, following the coast as closely as possible.

On the first day of riding, when he approached Bairnsdale, a horse drawn buggy approached from the opposite direction. The horse appeared to grow restive. The woman driver yelled at Thorne to get off his bicycle. He dismounted and slowly approached the horse, leading it further along the way. As he did so, she blackguarded the good doctor in what he described as an ‘absurd manner’. ‘The Government’, she raged, ‘should not allow “those things” on the road’. Thorne retorted that she should learn to drive before taking charge of a horse. He then left the scene only to be ‘followed by a torrent of abuse’.

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Water objects in the collection

I’m a volunteer in the People and Environment curatorial team, and I’ve just started working on an online feature about water history.

Recently, on a bakingly hot day, I had my first visit to the Museum’s stores. It was a little bit Dr Who, frankly. Some of what I saw could easily have come off a set from the Tom Baker years. The Doctor, in whatever regeneration he’s in, has the capacity to produce from the bowels of the TARDIS some object that saves the day, or provides a vital clue to Continue reading

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Horse prose: Banjo Paterson’s legacy

Today marks 150 years since the birth of Australian poet Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson. Given that the talented horse rider took his pen name ‘Banjo’ after a racehorse owned by his family, it is not surprising that Paterson’s work was filled with lively descriptions of horses and riders in various settings, in particular the high country of New South Wales and Victoria. Paterson’s passion for his subjects can be found in each word of his poems, with a distinctive rhythm that brings their actions to life for his readers. It is perhaps those qualities that have given Paterson’s work its longevity, so that generations after his words were written, Banjo’s equestrian ballads are still a defining marker for the characters and lifestyles they have come to represent.

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feature image food stories

Food Stories — objects and resilience

It’s been a brutal Australian summer. Record temperatures, unprecedented heatwaves, fires. Those people who draw their living from the land, and the livestock and crops they tend, have suffered most. In the years to come, as the chaotic ecological effects of global warming and climate change intensify, one of our greatest challenges will be to ensure the Continue reading