Map of Tasmania

Mapping a rugged landscape

In 2012 the Museum acquired a small collection associated with the distinguished career of the Surveyor-General of Hobart, James Sprent. The collection includes a large and very early map of Tasmania, Sprent’s degree certificate, a Reeves parallel ruler, three small certificates for short courses at the University of Glasgow and a wooden box which is likely to have held Sprent’s drawing instruments. The map was the first accurate map of the colony and the first to reflect the colony’s name change to ‘Tasmania’.

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JulieRyder crop

Introducing Julie Ryder, our artist-in-residence for 2016

I am excited to introduce Julie Ryder, our artist-in-residence for 2016. Julie is an accomplished textile artist who draws inspiration from the natural world, combining her scientific background and creativity to produce innovative artworks. Julie has started a six month residency at the National Museum of Australia and has received support for her project from the Australia Council for the Arts.

Our artist-in-residence program provides opportunities for artists to work with objects in the Museum’s National Historical Collection. This project will involve working with curators, accessing and researching our botanical collections and exploring the role played by women in early collecting practices in colonial Australia. Continue reading


A prickly invasion

The act of nurturing a single pot plant would appear to be a fairly benign activity. However, when Navy surgeon, Dr William Bell Carlyle, entrusted a prickly pear cutting to the care and protection of his servant, Mary Sutton, no one could have predicted the devastation which would result. In a period of less than 100 years the prickly pear multiplied and occupied over 60 million acres of Queensland and New South Wales, equivalent to the whole land area of the United Kingdom or New Zealand. Continue reading

Hunting Party (Barbeque area) 2014

Hunting Ground

The Museum acquired this triptych, Hunting Party (Barbeque Area), by Julie Gough in late 2014. The artwork was purchased along with an accompanying short film titled Hunting Ground incorporating Barbeque Area. Contemporary artworks like these challenge visitors to understand history from a different point of view, that of the artist’s perspective. Continue reading


Prize winning potatoes

These three medals are some of the earliest agricultural medals in the Museum’s collection. They were awarded to Robert Laidlaw, Mr. Bostock and Jas (probably James) Bryden at the Victoria Agricultural Society show on the 21st April 1858. The medals were purchased by the Museum in 2014 and can be traced back to John Pascoe Fawkner who was the President of the society at the time.

During the nineteenth century, agricultural and industrial associations formed across rural and urban Australia to foster the development of modern farming systems by promoting new Continue reading

token front and back

To the curious observers of natural phenomena

One of the Museum’s latest acquisitions is this late 18th century halfpenny token which features images of three exotic animals, ‘The Kanguroo, The Armadillo and
The Rhinoceros’. Thomas Hall, a taxidermist and curiosity dealer, produced these tokens to advertise his ‘house of curiosity’, otherwise known as the Finsbury Museum, which he operated from his home at 10 City Road, London. The token illustrates the fascination and curiosity shown by the British public in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to view exhibits of exotic animals, in particular the kangaroo from New
South Wales. Continue reading

An artistic interpretation

One of the most interesting aspects of working as a curator is observing how different people interpret objects in different ways. Some people may look at a writing box and see a functional object made to serve a specific purpose, others may view it as an object which tells the story of a person, place or event, and some may even experience an emotional response. Last week, I was privileged to gain an insight into how a contemporary artist is interpreting some of our collection through his camera lens. Continue reading

Essendon milk cart

A milkman’s Christmas memories

Christmas Day – before the daylight saving – it would be daylight at half past four in the morning and there’d be kids out on bikes and scooters and they’d all come to show the milkman what they’d got for Christmas …

Conway Tighe, owner of the Lincoln Park Dairy until 1987, remembers the excitement of the children early on Christmas morning, as he went about his daily business of delivering milk to homes in the Melbourne suburb of Essendon. The milkman and his horse and cart were a familiar sight in the suburb, at one stage delivering milk to over a thousand households. Continue reading

wakefield crop 2

The scandalous Mr Wakefield

Imagine yourself, for a minute, as a 15-year-old girl at boarding school in England in 1826. An urgent message arrives to inform you that your mother has taken ill and you must come to her at once.  The concern for your mother’s condition weighs heavily on your mind as you rush off in an awaiting carriage. When your carriage stops to change horses, you are informed by a charming gentleman that your mother is not actually ill at all, but you are to travel with him to meet your father in Kendal. You agree to travel with this man, who you had never met prior to this evening, and on arrival in Kendal there
is no sign of your father. The charming gentleman explains to you that your father is
on the verge of financial ruin and convinces you to marry him in order to save your family’s fortune. What choice do you have? It is a proposal you cannot refuse. Your journey continues to Gretna Green, Scotland where you are married by the blacksmith and become the wife of Edward Gibbon Wakefield. Continue reading