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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The Springfield Landau
(photograph by Chloe Bussenshutt, National Museum)

Springfield Cleaning

As an intern with the National Museum I’ve had the amazing opportunity to spend some time getting hands on with objects while the Horses in Australia project is being put together. It’s a mammoth task and takes a lot of work from people in a number of different sections of the museum. Most recently I worked with the National Museum Conservation Team on a landau horse drawn carriage that has spent a large chunk of the last 50 years stored in a shed on the ‘Springfield’ property south of Goulburn.

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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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