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

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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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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


Phar Lap was a horse

Isa Menzies is a PhD candidate at the Australian National University, where she is examining how museums in Australia and New Zealand have interpreted horse remains, particularly in relation to narratives of national identity. Before becoming a student again, Isa spent almost a decade working in museums across a variety of roles, including as the curator responsible for Phar Lap’s heart at the National Museum of Australia.

In this guest blog, Isa reflects on the recent rediscovery of tissue cut long ago from the heart of Phar Lap, and the potential offered by these two containers of organ parts and preserving fluid to reimagine the great Australian race horse.

The name ‘Phar Lap’ conjures all sorts of imagery: the Melbourne Cup, perhaps, or the nobly-posed figure on display in the Melbourne Museum, or the abnormally large heart, which inspired the phrase ‘a heart as big as Phar Lap’s’. While the name evokes all those things and more, it is unlikely that when people think of Phar Lap, they will call to mind Continue reading

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Machinery for Ecological Thinking

How might the particular features of a piece of agricultural machinery record profound ecological ideas? At the National Landcare Awards in September, former prime minister Bob Hawke presented farmer Colin Seis with the prestigious 2014 Bob Hawke Landcare Award. The award celebrates Colin’s revisioning of agriculture as an ecological activity, and recognises the significance of ‘pasture cropping’, a revolutionary new method of grain and pasture production developed by Colin on ‘Winona’, his farm on the central tablelands of New South Wales. Continue reading

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Riverina Rabbits: volunteers digging the dirt

Today, December 5, is International Volunteer Day. At the National Museum of Australia, curators collaborate with a wide range of people, including many volunteers, to research and develop collections and exhibitions. In People and the Environment team, we recently came across a wonderful example of the contribution volunteers made to a previous project at the National Museum, and we thought that effort deserved sharing. Continue reading


Working on Winnie

Chloe Bussenschutt works as an objects conservator at the National Museum of Australia. One of her recent tasks has been the stabilisation and revitalisation of a horse mannequin from a saddlery business in Cooma, a town on the high, windswept Monaro plains of southern New South Wales. The mannequin features in Spirited: Australia’s Horse Story, the Museum’s latest exhibition. In her writings below, Chloe reveals the artful, philosophical and technical dimensions of this particular conservation project, and her personal fascination in the object now called Winnie.

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Fuelling Horses, People & Futures

Harold Fife was born in 1919 at Wagga Wagga, a busy town among the wheat and sheep farms of southern New South Wales, and died in 2011. During his long life, Fife witnessed a dramatic transformation in methods of generating food and fibre. As a young man, he worked in his family’s chaff-cutting business, which operated across inland New South Continue reading

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Striking new horse portraits by Margrete Erling

A few months ago we introduced painter Margrete Erling and her works that powerfully convey the significance of horses within Australian history, see Painting horses. In the meantime, Margrete has finished two striking new paintings. ‘Brumby’ honours the contribution of stock horses to the Australian pastoral industry, and ‘Pit Pony’ records the lives of horses bred to work in the cold darkness of underground coal mines. Continue reading


The shelter of stringybark

Last week I had the great privilege of meeting Mrs Elma Pearsall, esteemed Ngunnawal elder, 93 going on 63, at her home in Boorowa, on the southern tablelands of New South Wales. Over coffee and sandwiches, she told stories about the long careers of her father and four brothers, all shearers with Leonard Brothers, a large contracting firm based in nearby Yass, which serviced sheds throughout New South Wales in the 1940s and 1950s.

Towards the end of our conversation, Elma showed me a small black and white photograph taken at her family’s farm at Pudman Creek, towards Crookwell. In the background stood Continue reading