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Objects in place: the Springfield collection

How might a place inform our understandings of historical objects? The National Museum of Australia yesterday launched The Springfield Collection, a new online feature that illuminates an extraordinary set of objects with intimate ties to a particular locale near the inland city of Goulburn in southern New South Wales.

About ten years ago the National Museum of Australia began negotiating the acquisition of a collection generated by the establishment and operation of Springfield, one of Australia’s oldest and most influential merino studs. Most of the donated items were stored for generations inside the grand Springfield homestead and its many Continue reading

Rushworth Heritage Easter Festival. Image: Blake Rosenberg.

Working horses showcased at Rushworth Heritage Easter Festival

Within the last two decades, the fortunes of Australia’s working draught horses have undergone something of a revival. Once the nineteenth and early twentieth century’s most abundant source of haulage muscle, the use of larger breeds declined during the 1950s as Australians embraced motorised power. However, as our team found out during a recent jaunt to Woo back, held in Yass, NSW, Australian heavy horse owners have been quietly nurturing a growing public interest in these magnificent animals. Every season, many community events featuring draught horses take place across the country.

After hearing about our Spirited: Australia’s Horse Story exhibition from a friend, Blake Rosenberg, the official photographer for the Rushworth Heritage Easter Festival got in touch to let us know about one such example, the Moora Working Draught Horse Muster. This event was held during the festival in Rushworth, Vic., on 19th and 20th April this year. In this guest post, Blake shares some of his beautiful photographs, as well as his thoughts on documenting the significant relationships between people, animals and localities despite the accelerated pace of our twenty-first century lives. Continue reading

Halfway along the walk to Duck Reach.  (Photo by Suzanne Brown)

Politics and water power

Recently, in one of those happy accidents of timing, I went on holiday to Tasmania where I was able to visit one of the places I had recently been researching. I have been working on some artefacts from Tasmania, all drawn from the Bob Brown collection.  There are 3000 items in this very large collection, and it remains an ongoing challenge to decide which to choose.

Given that this collection is about political activism against the ongoing development of hydropower in the latter half of the twentieth century, part of the research necessarily includes establishing the historical context of hydroelectricity. I decided to find out, just Continue reading

Children and ponies making use of a Bills horse trough, around 1947. Courtesy George Gemmell.

‘For the relief of horses’: a gift from Annis and George Bills

‘I empower my said Trustees…to construct and erect and pay for Horse-Troughs wherever they may be of opinion that such horse troughs are necessary or desirable for the relief of horses or other dumb animals either in Australasia in the British Islands or in any other part of the World’.

George Bills’ last Will, 1925

If Melbourne wire mattress manufacturer George ‘Joe’ Bills had his posthumous way, no horse would ever again go short of a drink. Continue reading

Off the mark: Participants begin their ploughing record attempt at Woo Back, 'Willovale' near Yass, 4 May 2014.

Ploughing for the record

On a cold and windy day, the National Museum’s ‘Horse team’ were amongst thousands of people gathered to witness history in a paddock at ‘Willow Vale’, just outside of Yass, New South Wales. An initiative of the Yass Antique Farm Machinery Club Inc, ‘Woo back!’ hosted 28 horses and their humans to set a Guiness World Record for the most heavy horses ploughing in one field. It was an enthusiastic celebration of the contribution of equine muscle to Australia’s agricultural history, allowing a new generation to see horse drawn ploughs in action.

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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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The dark side

The darkside: endurance cycling in Australia

It’s 11pm on a Saturday night and I’ve arrived at Eaglehawk Service Station (about 10 kilometers to the north of Canberra) a little worse for wear. Desperately hungry, I devoured a giant sausage roll and a number of the other “healthy” options on offer. No, this wasn’t the end of a day-long pub crawl or buck’s night. I had, in fact, just spent the day cycling over 300 kilometers with two mates from my cycling club, Audax Australia. One of my more experienced riding companions, Pete Heal, shook my hand: ‘Congratulations’, he said, ‘welcome to the darkside’.

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Costume of the General of Military Forces

The Chinese in Bendigo – processioning towards acceptance

A spectacular Chinese ceremonial costume was recently installed in the Museum’s Landmarks: People and Places across Australia gallery and it got me thinking about the lives of all those who for over a century wore this intricate creation – proudly and somewhat defiantly – as part of the annual Bendigo Easter Fair. You see, before this costume and many like it joined the extensive regalia collection at the Golden Dragon Museum, they played a functional and public role in the life of Bendigo’s prominent Chinese community and, by extension, the town’s general population. Yet the costume’s most important role, I suspect, was as a powerful emblem of cultural identity for the Chinese residents, who faced prejudice and discrimination both on and off the goldfields.

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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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