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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 Sydney soon after the arrival of the First Fleet, while the Old New Land gallery holds English bone china beautifully decorated with the blossoms and leaves of Australian wattle (see pictures below).

Recently I inspected one of the Museum’s tree collections that is not on display, with our artist-in-residence Vic McEwan. The collection comprises seeds of trees, shrubs and grasses gathered a decade ago by Rosie Smith, a farmer in the Birrego district of southern NSW. At the time, Rosie was working on major revegetation projects with the Strong family, pioneers in ecological systems of agriculture. She harvested seed from roadside remnants and state forests to propagate local trees like Kurrajong (Brachychiton populneus) and Yellow Box (Eucalyptus melliodora) for sowing into paddock plantations of diverse species.

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Vic and I were inspecting the collection to consider if the sample jars of seeds could be woven into an ambitious artwork now under development at the Museum. In the cold hours before dawn, Vic is planning to project images of Museum objects into fog rising from the Murrumbidgee River at the location below, on a farm near Canberra. Here in the 1890s, on fertile river flats, farmer William Farrer developed wheat varieties that played a powerful role in the transformation of grassy woodlands into modern farmland, across inland plains downstream from the trial plots on the Murrumbidgee.

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Like many wheat farmers in the 1980s and 1990s, the Strong family helped form a Landcare group to find strategic ways of reversing worrying trends like dryland salinisation, soil erosion, tree decline and other unexpected consequences of industrialised agriculture. Replanting of trees and other deep-rooted perennial species cleared by past generations to grow crops and pastures has helped counter many of these problems.

As Vic casts images of Rosie’s seeds into the winter darkness, the shifting fog will carry and rework our visions of trees, people, crops, ploughs, stone tools and other components of the human and ecological systems to which our pasts and futures are tied. The haunting spectacle will give new opportunities to celebrate and honour the nourishing capacities of trees and their lively communities.

If you’d like to share any tree stories of your own, feel free to reply to this post. Stay tuned for National Tree Day, when Museum curators will be tweeting links and photos that feature their favourite tree objects. Follow the Museum on Twitter.

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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Faith in Australia after the accident with the tide advancing, Irish Police lifting the wrecked aircraft, 1933. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

Charles Ulm pilots ‘Faith in Australia': Wakefield Oil and airmail

Charles Ulm and Charles Kingsford Smith ended their partnership after the final closure of Australian National Airways in 1933. Both men continued to promote the future possibilities of air services in separate ventures. Ulm purchased ANA’s ‘Southern Moon’ aircraft, rebuilding it and renaming it ‘Faith in Australia’, with a view to securing new airmail contracts. In 1933, he piloted ‘Faith in Australia’ from Sydney, with GU ‘Scotty’ Allan and PG ‘Bill’ Taylor as crew, with the intention of flying around the world.

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The 'Southern Cross' arrives in Canberra, 15 June 1928. Australian War Memorial (P00448.111)

‘Southern Cross’ lands in Canberra: aerial politics

As the crew of the ‘Southern Cross’ celebrated their trans-Pacific flight in June 1928, aviation was changing Australia’s environmental and political landscapes. On 15 June, they flew from Melbourne to Canberra, arriving at the recently established aerodrome during the early afternoon and receiving an enthusiastic reception by locals, government officials and returned servicemen. Riding the wave of their success and popularity, Charles Ulm and Charles Kingsford Smith had big plans, and this and their future visits to Canberra would be strategic.

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The Half Way Point… and Fog

How time flies.

It’s nearly six months into my year long residency at the National Museum and there’s still so much to think about, explore, uncover and reflect upon.

I started my time here by creating a performance on the Paddle Steamer Enterprise, one of the world’s oldest paddle steamers, moored on the banks of Lake Burley Griffin. Researching its many different histories lead to a series of video projections onto the Continue reading

Southern Cross taxiing at Brisbane

‘Southern Cross’ arrives in Brisbane: the nation celebrates

When the ‘Southern Cross’ touched down at Eagle Farm aerodrome in Brisbane on 9 June 1928, tens of thousands of people turned out to greet the triumphant aviators after their trans-Pacific journey. Throughout the flight, the crew had maintained continuous radio contact with the world, assisting their safe passage, but also allowing the public to share in their endeavours. By the time they arrived in Australia, the feats of Charles Ulm and Charles Kingsford Smith were well-known and the nation celebrated their achievements. Challenges and criticisms came quickly, however, and some of the shine was soon taken off their glowing success.

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Utilitarian to spiritual

While it’s usually dangerous to make claims about universality, making them about water is relatively safe.  The first way in which water is universal is its utility to human beings.  The second is that almost every version of spirituality or religion references water, either by actually using it within its rites or by employing imagery of it.  This page explores the Continue reading

‘Southern Cross’ lands in Honolulu: Crossing the Pacific

At 12:17 pm on 1 June 1928, the ‘Southern Cross’ landed safely at Wheelers Field, Honolulu, with her crew – Charles Ulm, Charles Kingsford Smith, Harry Lyon and James Warner. They received a warm welcome and shared a sense of relief in completing only the fifth successful aerial crossing from California to Hawaii. Celebrations were short-lived as they prepared for the next leg of their journey across the Pacific Ocean.

Two objects celebrating the flights of Charles Ulm are now on display in the National Museum’s new acquisitions showcase. This is the first in a series of blog posts to come during June, remembering Ulm’s flights above oceans and continents from 1927 to 1934.

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Post-traumatic stress and the long Shadow of Ebola

After 42 days without a new case of Ebola, Liberia is officially now ‘free’ of the disease, as of 9 May 2015, according to the World Health Organization. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-09/liberia-declared-free-of-ebola-disease/6457992 On-going vigilance is urged; there are still new cases in neighbouring Sierra Leone and Guinea, and diseases do not respect national jurisdictions. Continue reading

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To the curious observers of natural phenomena

One of the Museum’s latest acquisitions is this late 18th century halfpenny token which features images of three exotic animals, ‘The Kanguroo, The Armadillo and
The Rhinoceros’. Thomas Hall, a taxidermist and curiosity dealer, produced these tokens to advertise his ‘house of curiosity’, otherwise known as the Finsbury Museum, which he operated from his home at 10 City Road, London. The token illustrates the fascination and curiosity shown by the British public in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to view exhibits of exotic animals, in particular the kangaroo from New
South Wales. Continue reading