Moth-Man prophecies: reflections from the field

On a mild evening in March, distinguished archaeologist Dr Josephine Flood spoke to a full house in the Museum’s Visions Theatre, at an event co-hosted by the Canberra Archaeological Society and the Museum Friends. Best known for her research regarding the region’s Moth Hunters and dating occupation in places like the Birrigai Rock Shelter to 25,000 years, Dr Flood’s work has bestowed significant scientific value on Aboriginal history in the region. Her work continues to influence contemporary archaeological understandings of Aboriginal occupation particularly of Australia’s High Country, triggered in part by annual feasting and ceremony relating to Bogong Moths. It has been this work in particular that has reconnected Dr Flood with the Museum and its collections; our new environmental history gallery will focus on the intersection between people and these magnificent pathways, such as the one forged and activated by the impressive Bogong Moth migration from southern Queensland into the rock crevices across the Australian High Country. The Museum holds an impressive collection of Dr Flood’s research materials, including archaeological samples associated with moth hunting and life in the High Country.

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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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Birth of an art movement

Today marks 114 years since the birth of famous Western Arrarnta artist Albert Namatjira. Born at Hermannsburg mission on 28 July 1902, Elea, later christened ‘Albert’, learnt to paint with watercolours during the early 1930s, and had his first solo exhibition in 1938. Within a decade, Namatjira had become famous and his sons and relatives also began painting watercolour landscapes, forming what became known as the Hermannsburg School of Art. He is now remembered as a grandfather, uncle, teacher, leader and founder of an art movement.

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Visitors to Ntaria

The landscape of Central Australia has attracted millions of visitors since the area was opened to tourism, most notably following the extension of the railway line to Alice Springs in 1929. Where the local Aboriginal communities were displaced and banned, they are now leading conversations about land management and tourism. The watercolour paintings of celebrated Western Arrarnta artist Albert Namatjira have transported generations of Australians into his country, west of Alice Springs across the West MacDonnell Ranges, and today Namatjira’s descendants and kin continue to use their art to create opportunities and keep their culture strong.

These stories are being remembered and shared in a new exhibit about Ntaria (Hermannsburg), as part of the Landmarks gallery at the National Museum of Australia, from 28 July 2016.

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Dinosaurs, whiteboards and curators: Making the ‘Life in Australia’ environmental history gallery

Museum and gallery curators have not been served well by popular representations of their craft. There are two primary archetypes. The first is an introverted, nerdy, lab coat-wearing boffin who prowls corridors of specimens, guarding them with singular and obsessive diligence. The second is a hyper-extrovert who petulantly and arrogantly pursues the realisation of their unimpeachable curatorial vision. 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

“If a tree falls in a forest…”: International Mother Earth Day

Friday 22nd April is International Mother Earth Day and the theme for this year is ‘Trees for the Earth’. Earth Day has been around since the 1970s, but since 2009 the day has been reconnected — somewhat quaintly — with the idea that planet earth is feminine. Interesting, but let’s leave that for another blog post. For this year’s Earth Day I decided to conduct an experiment, running a very simple search on the National Museum’s collection explorer, just to see what might pop up in relation to trees and forests. Continue reading

Rabbit-proofing the West

The National Museum of Australia holds many different objects that together record the ecological and social significance of the feral European wild rabbit. Recently, curators in the People and the Environment team have looked again at these rabbit items and the fascinating stories they hold. This post is the first in a series co-developed by Jono Lineen and other curators that explores Australians’ experiences with rabbits through objects in the National Museum’s collections.   

The European wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) has been a particularly successful, damaging and enduring coloniser of Australia’s landscapes. Purposefully released, most notably – though not exclusively – by Thomas Austin on his Victorian property in late 1859, rabbits quickly proved problematic and came to be recognised as a pest. Even with well over a century of attempts at 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.

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Museums as Places for Imagining the Future of Cities

Dr Steven Fleming has been poking the hornets nest that is urban planning for over a decade, with his mission to put cycling on the agendas of architects, politicians, designers and academics. Together with his colleague Professor Angelina Russo, he has been holding a series of provocative workshops around the country to get people thinking about the potential for bicycles to change the shape of our cities and the way we live.  What’s different about these workshops is that they are being hosted by museums and will be run in conjunction with the National Museum’s Freewheeling: Cycling in Australia exhibition.

So why are Museum’s the best place to re-imagine the physical and cultural fabric of our cities? I’ll hand over to Dr Fleming, for his point of view…….. Continue reading