bogong moths by jim williams and matthew harding

The Path of the Bogong – The Landscape

My name is Patrick Bailey. As an intern at the National Museum of Australia (and as part of the Australian National Internship Program), it has been my privilege to research and compile a report on interactions between human and non-human forces in the alpine region of Southern NSW and the ACT, and how they combine to form continual and changing expressions of community identity across time. This research is designed to contribute in part to the development of one component of a new gallery of environmental history at the Museum. This research explores key alpine areas in order to communicate Continue reading

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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

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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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Hughenden, Queensland. Rob and Stephanie Levy: Wikimedia Commons

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

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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

Giant Clam Tridacna Gigas. Photographed by Rick Hankinson. Wikimedia Commons.

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

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A fur coat for Flora

One of the most beautiful objects in the National Museum’s rabbit collections is a woman’s fur coat from the 1940s. Made from the pelts of about sixty strikingly dark-furred rabbits caught near Robe in South Australia, this coat shows how a ‘noxious pest’ could also be valued. Whilst live rabbits continued to devastate the land, during the first half of the twentieth century their skins Continue reading

Wikimedia Commons: Bluedawe

“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

Detail of panel from rabbit packing case, National Museum of Australia

Bunnies by the boxful

Long before chocolate foiled-covered versions, the bunny was a familiar food to many Australians. Wild rabbits, the introduced European species Oryctolagus cuniculus, were plentiful and could be tastily cooked in a wide variety of ways. During peak periods of Australia’s ‘rabbit problem’ from the late 1800s through into the twentieth century, rabbit-dinners sustained many families, published recipes explained how cooks could get the best out of bunny, and associated Continue reading