Cycling revolution

Cycling revolution? Velo-City Global 2014: a personal view

There’s a scene in the 1999 blockbuster The Matrix that kept jumping into my mind during the annual international cycling conference Velo-City Global held in Adelaide in May. In a flash restaurant, one of Neo’s (Keanu Reeves’) collaborators is making a deal with the enemy, the machines. He bites into a piece of steak admitting that while he knows it is merely a virtual construction that makes it seem juicy and delicious, he would preferred to enjoy the meal and forget about the complex reality around him. In exchange for betraying Neo he will be given a virtual life full of everything he has ever wanted. His memory will be erased so he will never be aware of the awful truth that has befallen the planet: that humans have been enslaved and now exist as passive batteries, their lives played out in a virtual space, the matrix.

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Kangaroo closeup

A frosty reception

Hobart and Canberra rank as two of the coldest cities in Australia. As winter temperatures set in, spare a thought for our latest acquisition, the Forester kangaroo taxidermy specimen. In late 2013, this female kangaroo died of natural causes within the Boronong Wildlife Sanctuary in Brighton, Tasmania. The taxidermy was commissioned by the National Museum of Australia and prepared by Tom Sloane from the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

The kangaroo has arrived from Hobart at the National Museum’s storage facilities at Mitchell, a suburb on the outskirts of Canberra. Unfortunately, the welcoming committee was far from warm. As soon as the kangaroo was removed from the packing crate, she was covered in calico and plastic wrappings and put into the freezer.

There she remained for a week, at a constant temperature of minus 21 degrees C. Continue reading

Thylacinus

Thylacine close-up

One of the most significant, fragile, and haunting objects held in the National Historical Collection is an entire skinned carcass of a thylacine, commonly known as the Tasmanian tiger. No records exist of where or how the specimen was collected. It is part of the MacKenzie collection of wet specimens, which includes various other thylacine organs and parts. Orthopaedic surgeon Sir Colin MacKenzie was the director of the Australian Institute of Anatomy, where this specimen was previously held. In this blog post, Nicki Smith, one of the Museum’s senior conservators, describes the latest efforts to understand and conserve the creature’s delicate remains.

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Hobart case in the Landmarks gallery with Forester kangaroo on loan from TMAG. Photo: National Museum of Australia

A crash course in taxidermy

WARNING: This blog post contains images which may be upsetting to some readers

The role of an assistant curator in a museum encompasses many different tasks, but one, which I had not envisaged is the procurement of taxidermy specimens. When asked to investigate the possibility of commissioning a specimen of a Forester kangaroo for our Landmarks gallery, I was slightly apprehensive. My knowledge of taxidermy, as I imagine for most people, was extremely limited.

As a child, I remember visiting museums and staring in wonder at exotic animals and birds, allowing my imagination to take me to places and dreaming of seeing these creatures in their natural environment. Continue reading

Photography by Peter Dameon, 2010

Riding with ‘Hernia': Biking Rottnest Island

I first met Darrell Hick on Rottnest Island in 2007 while I was doing some research with the island’s heritage officer, Patsy Vizents, for the National Museum of Australia’s Landmarks gallery. Darrell had just undertaken some conservation work on an historic firearm that had been on display in the Oliver Hill WWII gun battery. I was enjoying a pie from the ever-popular bakery. He asked me what kind of objects the Museum was hoping to display as part of a planned exhibit about Rottnest. The most obvious and important symbol of the Island, I said, was a bicycle: “Do you happen to have one that you used on the Island”, I asked hopefully.

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Not all horse play

Nowadays when you talk about a ‘work horse’, you are probably referring to a ute, truck or some other form of mechanised equipment.  In the not too distant past, a work horse was, as the phrase suggests, a heavy horse used for work and most likely for haulage.  In many museums (including the National Museum) you can view displays of machinery that these horses hauled or powered.  Rarely, however, do you see or think about the objects that helped to power the horses. Continue reading

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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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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