The Museum’s section of Fence No.2 installed in the Old New Land gallery, with wire netting set into the ‘earth’ of the display case. Burying netting into the ground to prevent rabbits passing underneath was an important step in the process of fence-building. 
Photo by George Serras, National Museum of Australia.

Rabbit-proofing the West

The National Museum of Australia holds many different objects that together record the ecological and social significance of the feral European wild rabbit. Recently, curators in the People and the Environment team have looked again at these rabbit items and the fascinating stories they hold. This post is the first in a series co-written by several curators that explores Australians’ experiences with rabbits through objects in the National Museum’s collections.   

The European wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) has been a particularly successful, damaging and enduring coloniser of Australia’s landscapes. Purposefully released, most notably – though not exclusively – by Thomas Austin on his Victorian property in late 1859, rabbits quickly proved problematic and came to be recognised as a pest. Even with well over a century of attempts at Continue reading

Camel train with equipment for Edward Kidson's magnetic survey work in Western Australia, mid-1914.
His instruments included a theodolite-magnetometer similar to those now in the National Historical Collection.
Image: Carnegie Institution of Washington, Department of Terrestrial Magnetism

The ‘Magnetic Crusade’. An international scientific endeavour represented in Australia’s National Historical Collection


Almost 100 years ago, at the height of the First World War, a small party of scientists from the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM) in Washington, led by Wilfred Charles Parkinson and William Fisher Wallis, travelled across south-west Australia seeking a suitable location for a magnetic observatory. They finally settled on a site at Watheroo, about 225 kilometres north of Perth. The instrument they used in their search – theodolite-magnetometer CIW-18 – is now in Australia’s National Historical Collection (NHC), where it represents a significant part of Australia’s, and the world’s, scientific heritage. Continue reading


Prize winning potatoes

These three medals are some of the earliest agricultural medals in the Museum’s collection. They were awarded to Robert Laidlaw, Mr. Bostock and Jas (probably James) Bryden at the Victoria Agricultural Society show on the 21st April 1858. The medals were purchased by the Museum in 2014 and can be traced back to John Pascoe Fawkner who was the President of the society at the time.

During the nineteenth century, agricultural and industrial associations formed across rural and urban Australia to foster the development of modern farming systems by promoting new Continue reading

Poster, 1935 National Museum of Australia

Battles with Morpheus: Hubert Opperman and the 1931 Paris-Brest-Paris

In early September 1931, the cyclist Hubert Opperman developed a sore throat. This somewhat unremarkable fact might have otherwise passed unnoticed among the array of domestic and international issues that demanded the attention of Australian journalists. And yet, newspapers from the Melbourne Age to the Murrumbidgee Irrigator all commented earnestly the on the state of Opperman’s upper respiratory tract as he prepared for yet another gruelling endurance contest on the other side of world that most Australians had never heard of. The event in question was a non-stop race covering 1,200 kilometres from Paris to the west coast town of Brest and back again. It was then the longest race in the world and the winner was expected to complete the journey, without sleep, in a little over 50 hours. Continue reading


World Mosquito Day: microscopes and wedding dresses

World Mosquito Day commemorates the discovery that female Anopheles mosquitoes transmit malaria between humans, made by British medical researcher Sir Ronald Ross on 20 August 1897. Since that day, researchers across the world have sought to understand mosquitoes and their role as vectors, developing methods to prevent and control the spread of disease. The material culture created in response to the mosquito reflects the wide ranging interests of scientific endeavour, environmental adaptations and social paradigms in Australia and across the world.

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gilmore river smoke_cropped

Experimenting with Place

What meanings arise when we return historic objects to the active terrains that marked and shaped them? Over the past couple of weeks, during one of the coldest Canberra winters in a decade or more, I’ve been working at night with Vic McEwan on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River, where pioneering wheat breeder William Farrer undertook experiments that helped transform the grassy woodlands of southern Australia into modern farmland.  Continue reading

Annie and the Bomb feature image

‘Annie’ and The Bomb. An Australian contribution to monitoring nuclear weapons testing.

This month marks the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the commencement of a nuclear arms race that profoundly shaped the political and economic trajectory of the twentieth century. While the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States dominated the headlines, it is worth remembering Australia’s role in controlling the spread of nuclear weapons.  Continue reading