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

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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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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

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‘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

Winifred Curtis at work in the Tasmanian Herbarium, 1969. University of Tasmania.

Among the plants

Last week, we installed nine objects from the Museum’s collections in an exhibition at CSIRO Discovery in Canberra. These objects – including microscopes, a vasculum, and a billy-can – tell us much about the careers of the women scientists that used them, and about women’s participation in scientific endeavour in the last 150 years.

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A small car with a big story

Since the introduction of motor vehicles during the early twentieth century, exploring the Australian landscape by car has become a national pastime for locals and tourists alike. This week, the National Museum has hosted Citroën Australia, as it launches its new C4 model and celebrates the 90th anniversary of the first drive around Australia, completed by Nevill Westwood in a Citroën 5CV. Westwood left Perth on 4 August 1925, returning after 148 days of driving on 30 December. His 1923 Citroën 5CV, affectionately known as ‘Bubsie’, was acquired by the National Museum in 2005 and is on display in the Hall.

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Projections & the Past

On Sunday 9th August at 3 pm, National Museum curator George Main and I will be giving a free public presentation at Hotel Hotel in Canberra, exploring my role as an artist-in-residence at the Museum and how our common interest in people and place is leading to fascinating collaborations unfolding through 2015.

I have just delivered the second public outcome of my residency, as part of an event called ‘Night at the Museum‘. For this adults-only event I created an installation, ‘Tunnel of Anatomy’. Having explored the Australian Institute of Anatomy collection (which is part of the Museum’s National Continue reading

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Trees & Time

National Tree Day, on Sunday the 26th of July, is an opportunity to celebrate the value of trees in our lives, a value that arises from the historical and ecological networks to which trees, and people, are inextricably bound. A range of collections held here at the National Museum of Australia record the respect and love felt by generations of Australians towards trees and their varied qualities. On display in the Landmarks gallery is a well-worn tree planting device and a specimen of the original timber panelling installed into Old Parliament House. Inside the Journeys gallery is a finely crafted table with a veneer of beefwood (Grevillea sp.), harvested near Continue reading

Ulm’s trans-Pacific airline

In July 1934, Charles Ulm piloted his eighth crossing of the Tasman Sea from New Zealand to Australia, and then delivered the first official airmail between Australia and Papua New Guinea. Firm in his resolution to establish regular air services between Australia, New Zealand and north America, Ulm then began planning his second flight across the Pacific Ocean – this time, with the aim of having the effort recognised as a commercial enterprise rather than an act of daring.

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