Camel train with equipment for Edward Kidson's magnetic survey work in Western Australia, mid-1914.
His instruments included a theodolite-magnetometer similar to those now in the National Historical Collection.
Image: Carnegie Institution of Washington, Department of Terrestrial Magnetism

The ‘Magnetic Crusade’. An international scientific endeavour represented in Australia’s National Historical Collection


Almost 100 years ago, at the height of the First World War, a small party of scientists from the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM) in Washington, led by Wilfred Charles Parkinson and William Fisher Wallis, travelled across south-west Australia seeking a suitable location for a magnetic observatory. They finally settled on a site at Watheroo, about 225 kilometres north of Perth. The instrument they used in their search – theodolite-magnetometer CIW-18 – is now in Australia’s National Historical Collection (NHC), where it represents a significant part of Australia’s, and the world’s, scientific heritage. Continue reading


World Mosquito Day: microscopes and wedding dresses

World Mosquito Day commemorates the discovery that female Anopheles mosquitoes transmit malaria between humans, made by British medical researcher Sir Ronald Ross on 20 August 1897. Since that day, researchers across the world have sought to understand mosquitoes and their role as vectors, developing methods to prevent and control the spread of disease. The material culture created in response to the mosquito reflects the wide ranging interests of scientific endeavour, environmental adaptations and social paradigms in Australia and across the world.

Continue reading

gilmore river smoke_cropped

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

Annie and the Bomb feature image

‘Annie’ and The Bomb. An Australian contribution to monitoring nuclear weapons testing.

This month marks the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the commencement of a nuclear arms race that profoundly shaped the political and economic trajectory of the twentieth century. While the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States dominated the headlines, it is worth remembering Australia’s role in controlling the spread of nuclear weapons.  Continue reading

A small car with a big story

Since the introduction of motor vehicles during the early twentieth century, exploring the Australian landscape by car has become a national pastime for locals and tourists alike. This week, the National Museum has hosted Citroën Australia, as it launches its new C4 model and celebrates the 90th anniversary of the first drive around Australia, completed by Nevill Westwood in a Citroën 5CV. Westwood left Perth on 4 August 1925, returning after 148 days of driving on 30 December. His 1923 Citroën 5CV, affectionately known as ‘Bubsie’, was acquired by the National Museum in 2005 and is on display in the Hall.

Continue reading

gilmore on bank

Projections & the Past

On Sunday 9th August at 3 pm, National Museum curator George Main and I will be giving a free public presentation at Hotel Hotel in Canberra, exploring my role as an artist-in-residence at the Museum and how our common interest in people and place is leading to fascinating collaborations unfolding through 2015.

I have just delivered the second public outcome of my residency, as part of an event called ‘Night at the Museum‘. For this adults-only event I created an installation, ‘Tunnel of Anatomy’. Having explored the Australian Institute of Anatomy collection (which is part of the Museum’s National Continue reading

national tree day_cropped

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

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading