Margrete painting Waler [FEATURE CROP 2]

Painting horses

Horses have fascinated Australian artists for just on two centuries. The first locally produced work to feature a horse is thought to be a watercolour by an unknown artist who, in 1804, depicted mounted troopers confronting rebels at the Castle Hill uprising near Sydney. Since then, hundreds of painters, sketchers, illustrators, photographers and sculptors have set out to capture the character and charisma of horses and the meaning and nature of their relationships with people.

After hearing about the Museum’s Horses in Australia project, Hunter Valley artist and equestrian Margrete Erling wrote to me recently to tell me about a series of paintings she is  currently developing exploring horses’ roles in our national history. In this guest post, Margrete shares why she was inspired to take on this subject, and how it’s an integral part of her and her family’s life with horses.

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Wardrobe drawer containg bird eggs from the William Gibbs collection. Photograph by George Serras. National Museum of Australia.

What bird (egg) is that?

How many species of birds can you identify just by looking at the size, shape and colour of their eggs? For me, the answer is probably one or two, so I recently asked collection donor Bill Gibbs and ornithologist Dick Schodde to visit the Museum to help describe the species represented in some 276 bird eggs. For me, engaging with these beautiful eggs provoked complicated thoughts of loss and appreciation.

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Moore St Sydney postcard [CROP 2]

Horses and horsepower

In a few weeks time, on the 25th February, the Royal Automobile Club of Australia will be celebrating the Year of the Horse with its inaugural Horsepower Dinner. The club is generously donating to the National Museum $30 for each person booked for the event to help support our Horses in Australia project, and especially our exhibition which opens in September. You can find more details about the dinner, and how to purchase tickets, here.

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Christmas Tree

Under the tree this Christmas

The Museum’s People and the Environment team is heading off on holidays, but we’ve left you a few ‘gifts’ to enjoy over the summer holidays.

To help you pass those lovely lazy days we’ve just launched new pages on our People and the Environment website. If you’re following the Horses in Australia project, you’ll enjoy a glimpse of our forthcoming exhibition, opening in Canberra in September 2014. We’ve included some of our first ideas about what the show will look like, but we still need your help deciding on the exhibition’s title. If you’ve a few minutes to spare please do complete the name survey, open until the end of January.

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Curator Kirsten Wehner, vet Mark Ethell and Registration officer Sarah Streatfield (left to encyclpaedia of equine anatomy while identifying skeletal remains held by the National Museum, 2013. Photo by Jason McCarthy, National Museum of Australia.

Equine CSI

In every curator, there’s surely a bit of the forensic investigator and I’m currently playing sleuth in an excellent mystery – an equine ‘who-is-it’.

When the National Museum’s Horses in Australia curatorial team started work on the project earlier this year, one of our first tasks was to discover what the Museum already held in its collection’s relating to equine and equestrian history. We searched through our online collection database, read through some thick paper files and asked the curatorial ‘hive-mind’ – that is, our colleagues – what they knew about our horse related holdings.

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A Blue Starfish (Linckia laevigata) resting on hard Acropora coral. Lighthouse, Ribbon Reefs, Great Barrier Reef. Copyright © [2004] Richard Ling [www.rling.com]

The reef

How do we imagine the Great Barrier Reef? Does how we see this amazing marine environment decide whether or how we care for it?

The Great Barrier Reef stretches along the Queensland coast for over 3,000 kilometres, an intricate ecosystem including hundreds of kinds of corals, sponges, molluscs, rays, fish, birds, turtles, whales, dugongs, dolphins, plants, microscopic organisms, sea-water flows, sunshine and, of course, people.

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Racegoers at Flemington on Cup day, 2010. Photo by George Serras, National Museum of Australia

A visit with the ancestors

This afternoon, Australians around the country have once again take a few minutes to join in our nation’s annual bout of horseracing hijinks, known as the Melbourne Cup, and the winning owners have just happily taken possession of the elegant gold trophy. Here at the National Museum, Cup season has already been in full swing for a few weeks, kicked off in September when this year’s trophy stopped in for a brief visit with the 1866 and 1867 Melbourne Cups.

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crimson rosella nma.img-ci20112668-014-wm-vs1_o4[CROP 3]

Australia’s favourite birds

Have you seen a pennantian parrot lately? Do wattled bee-eaters live in your backyard? What about the crested goatsucker or the white vented crow?

This week is BirdLife Australia’s annual Bird Week, and, to celebrate, the conservation organisation is inviting Australians to vote for their favourite bird. This avian election prompted my colleague Martha Sear and I to wonder which species the first British settlers in Australia might have selected as their favourite local bird, so we looked at the National Museum’s copy of Surgeon-General John White’s Journal of a Voyage to new South Wales to see how he might have voted in the Bird Week survey.

It turns out that White was fascinated by a number of different birds that he found in the Sydney area, buts it’s tricky to figure out exactly which species caught his interest. His journal features birds with quite unusual names, like the pennantian parrot and the crested goatsucker, that I’ve certainly never heard of before.

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American Museum of Natural History, New York, October 2013. Photo by Jenny Newell.

Collecting the future

How should museums engage and respond to climate change? How can we use our collections, exhibitions and programs and our traditions of fostering conversation and debate to help communities make sense of this global challenge?

A few weeks ago, I travelled to the American Museum of Natural History in New York in the United States, to talk with other curators, educators, scientists and scholars about these complicated and challenging questions. The workshop was the first part of a project, called Collecting the Future: Museums, communities and climate change, that I’ve been developing over the past year with Libby Robin, a senior research fellow here at the National Museum, and with Jenny Newell and Jacklyn Lacey of the Department of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History.

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Blue sky with wisps of clouds

Skyscapes and heritage

How often do we look up and wonder ‘What’s the cultural value of a patch of blue sky?’

A few days ago, international urban conservation expert Dr Ron van Oers prompted me to consider this very question. Ron was at the National Museum to present a public lecture discussing the evolution and achievements of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre’s ‘Historic Urban Landscape Initiative’. This initiative, launched in 2005, aims to help urban planners resolve the complex interests shaping the management of many world heritage listed urban areas, monuments and buildings. It focuses particularly on the integration of conservation plans with agendas of socio-economic development. Continue reading