Art and science under the microscope

In 1910, Miss Gladys Roberts became one of the first employees of the Australian Institute of Tropical Medicine in Townsville, Queensland. She was employed to illustrate publications and research papers by the institute staff on a casual basis until 1930, depicting parasites and micro organisms as seen through a microscope. Colour plates of her illustrations were published in the ‘Report of the Institute for 1911′, and a copy of that report, open to show one of Gladys’ works, is now on display in the Landmarks gallery at the National Museum.

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An epic journey revisited

On the 19th of December 1982, ‘The Quiet Achiever’, a solar powered car driven by Hans Tholstrup, departed Perth’s Scarborough Beach on a journey across the country. It arrived at the Sydney Opera House on the 7th of January 1983, becoming the first vehicle to be driven across a continent using nothing more than solar energy. Now, a Japanese team has begun a project to build a ‘Quiet Achiever II’. Continue reading

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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A passionate pursuit: The Lady Helen Blackburn collection

“Since the earliest times, man has collected shells for food, for adornment, for domestic utensils and for their beauty.” Lady Helen Blackburn (1918–2005).[1]

As part of the background work for the development of a new environmental history gallery, we’ve been searching the Museum’s holdings for collections that will help illustrate some of the themes we hope to explore. The Lady Helen Blackburn collection features more than five hundred seashells from Australian beaches, reefs and islands, making it a perfect fit for a gallery on environmental history. The significance of this collection, however, resides not just in its breadth and the beauty of the shells themselves, but in the stories it tells of how, where and by whom they were collected, and the insights it offers into a truly remarkable Australian woman: Lady Helen Blackburn. Continue reading

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

World Oceans Day, 8 June 2016

It is hard not to be impressed by giant clams. In the wild, their size and unique color patterns make them one of the most captivating of sea creatures. Even the shells from dead clams have a powerful impact, one that speaks to their prominent place in the popular imagination about our oceans and the place of humans in them. Sadly, the beauty and cultural power inherent in these animals has helped bring them close to extinction from their natural habitat. Continue reading

Cool it! The Jockey Club Museum of Climate Change, Hong Kong

The first thing I noticed about the Jockey Club Museum of Climate Change was the noise. When I arrived, a class of school students had just been released from formal proceedings for some “unstructured time” in the exhibition space, which prompted laughter, squealing and generally excitable tones from otherwise impeccably behaved students. My host and one of the creators of the museum, Dr Matthew Pang, paused at the cacophony. “That is my favorite sound to hear in the Museum…It always brings a smile to my face”. Continue reading

A ‘most wonderful piece of mechanism’: Dent Marine Chronometer No 53862

Friday 17 August 1906. The Galilee, once the fastest clipper on the Pacific Ocean and now a research vessel for the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM) on its second scientific voyage, lies on its side in Yokohama Harbour, the victim of a savage typhoon. On board is some of the latest scientific and navigational equipment, including four marine chronometers. By Saturday evening, the vessel was righted and all the equipment saved. One of the chronometers – Dent two-day marine chronometer No 53862 – is now in the collection of the National Museum of Australia. How did it get there? Continue reading