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NEWS & VIEWS FROM MUSEUM VICTORIA

Predator vs predator

Author
by Patrick
Publish date
9 February 2015
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Museum Victoria Bioscans and other biodiversity surveys tend to focus on the bigger and more spectacular Victorian animals, such as Gippsland Water Dragons and Wedge-tailed Eagles, but some of the most interesting stories come from the little creatures. 

Spider wasp nest A partially opened nest of a spider wasp (Fabriogenia sp.). The spider prey in two of the cells have been replaced with wasp pupae.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

One such highlight of the recent Gippsland Lakes Bioscan was a mud nest of a spider wasp (Fabriogenia sp.). The nest comprised six cells, each built to house a Mountain Huntsman (Isopeda montana). The cells are made from dried mud, probably mixed with eucalyptus resin to harden them. The female wasp takes about one day to construct each cell, then heads off to find a live huntsman and undertakes a life-or-death battle. Upon seeing an approaching spider wasp, a huntsman’s behaviour—excuse the anthropomorphism—is best described as a ‘mad panic’.

black wasp Adult female spider wasp, Fabriogenia sp.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The wasp is swift and deadly accurate, stinging the huntsman to immobilise it, then removing each of its legs at the first joint. She carries the spider back to her nest, lays an egg on its defenceless body, then seals it in. The egg hatches into a fat wasp grub, feeding on the internal juices of the spider until nothing but a shrivelled husk remains. The grub then forms a pupa and eventually emerges from its cell as an adult wasp, ready to continue the cycle.

Huntsman spider with no legs A dismembered huntsman removed from the mud nest. The pedipalps remain intact and the fangs are in working order.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 
 
Most members of this wasp family, the Pompilidae, leave the spider intact and paralyse it permanently. In this case, not only does the wasp cut off its prey’s legs, but the venom seems to immobilise the huntsman only temporarily and the spider wakes up after the cell is sealed. 

 

On a personal note, having handled spiders for more than 30 years and never being bitten, one of the spiders latched on to my finger while I was examining the nest. Like most huntsman bites there were no symptoms other than a sharp nip, and given its situation I couldn’t really blame it.

Spider wasp, spider, and spider-wasp mimicking beetle Left: Another member of the Pompilidae, the Zebra Spider Wasp (Turneromyia sp.) battles a huntsman on a gum tree in Royal Park, Melbourne. | Right: Wasp-mimicking Beetle (Trogodendron fasciculatum), also photographed in Royal Park, Melbourne.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Patrick Honan
 

And as a side note, spider wasps are ferocious enough to have their own mimics. The Wasp-mimicking Beetle (Trogodendron fasciculatum) looks roughly like a spider wasp, with its black and white body and orange antennae, but its behaviour is almost identical. Moving rapidly over tree trunks with twitching antennae it would, at least, be safe from roaming huntsmans.

Love is in the air

Author
by Blaire Dobiecki
Publish date
2 February 2015
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Blaire is a Presenter at Melbourne Museum and self-professed dog enthusiast. She specialises in having fun and doing science, often simultaneously.

My opening question when presenting education programs to eager students is 'what’s the best thing you’ve seen today?' The range of answers always astounds me. From the Mamenchisaurus to the Marn Grook, sometimes kids name things that I didn’t even know we had. 

Museum love letter from Tui A love letter from visitor Tui reads 'Dear Dinosaurs, I love your big bones and srong teeth. You are soooo cool. Love Tui'
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Inspired by their answers, I’ve helped develop a weekend program called Museum Love Letters. From 31 January to 22 March, we invite everyone and anyone to write a love letter to their favourite museum object.

Museum love letter from Christine Love letter from Christine reads 'Dear pretty, groovy Luna Park roller coaster carriage, You make me happy just by still existing! Christine xo'
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Perhaps you’d like to tell Phar Lap that you remember visiting him as a child? Maybe you find the Federation Tapestry particularly touching? Is it time to tell the crystalline gypsum how beautiful it is? Now’s your chance!

Visit Melbourne Museum on a weekend to write your message on heart-shaped cards and post them in our special love letter mailbox. Otherwise, post your letter to:

Museum Love Letters
Melbourne Museum
GPO Box 666
Melbourne VIC 3001

Outpourings of love from staff are already rolling in. Here’s part of the letter from Caz in our Humanities department, to Phar Lap:

Love letter to Phar Lap Caz's letter reads, 'I remember the time I walked past your glass stable in the old Swanston Walk Museum, to discover that an anonymous fan had left you some crepe paper carrots on your birthday. Now that is true love!'
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Megan, one of our volunteers, has written to an entire exhibition!

Love letter to Bugs Alive Megan's Ode to Bugs Alive! reads, 'Oh Bugs Alive! I love you so, with your shiny wings + feet. With your hairy, shedding carapaces, you're a creepy, knobbly treat.'
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We will be keeping track of which objects receive letters of love and we’ll update you with the results throughout the program. Don’t forget to share your love letters with us on social media using the hashtag #MelbourneMuseum.

We look forward to reading your letters. There are rumours that the objects themselves may write back! 

Vale Bill Woodward

Author
by Charlotte Smith
Publish date
23 January 2015
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Dr Charlotte Smith is MV's Senior Curator, Politics and Society.

This week, Museum Victoria volunteer Bill Woodward lost his fight with cancer. Bill was the quintessential quiet achiever; for almost 24 years he spent every Wednesday morning researching, cataloguing and filing documents relating to the history of the Royal Exhibition Building (REB).

Bill Woodward Bill Woodward next to Ivy Raadik. The photo was taken under the dome of the REB in 1996, at an REB Museum Volunteers dinner.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

It was around 1991 that Bill first began working on the ‘REB Museum’ project. At this time, the REB was managed by a government-appointed body of Trustees. While responsible for ensuring the financial viability of the REB’s event and conference business, the Trustees also recognised the need to document the building’s past. In 1988 the Trustees appointed museum professional Nina Stanton to develop a collection and archive. Nina’s call for volunteers in September 1990 attracted over 65 applicants. Not all made it through the intensive interview process!

Bill joined the team about a year later. Each team member had a role: some spent their days researching at the Public Record Office or State Library, another spent her time developing a chronological list of events, while others traced the history of pictures exhibited at Melbourne’s two International Exhibitions. Bill’s role at this time was to key all the information gathered by fellow volunteers into the computer. Other members of the team then filed the documents and images into filing cabinets.

In 1996, custodianship of the REB was transferred to Museum Victoria. As part of the transfer, the museum acquired a significant collection of objects, a growing archive, and a team of amazing volunteers.

Bill Woodward and woman Bill chatting with a fellow volunteer at a casual gathering in the REB, early 1990s.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

I joined the museum as Senior Curator responsible for the REB collections in 2007. At this time, the REB volunteer team had shrunk to two regulars: Deidre Barnett and Bill Woodward. Deidre retired at the end of 2008, so it was just Bill and I who used to get-together early on Wednesday mornings for a chat.

My first indication that Bill was not completely well was about four years ago, but in typical Bill style he refused to give in to his illness. Every Wednesday morning he would be at his desk, typing away with research he had done at the State Library. There were weeks when he’d go off for treatment, but he’d always return with enthusiasm and a wide smile.

Bill died surrounded by his family. His wife tells us he had a smile on his face; a wonderful and evocative image for those of us who knew Bill well. Many of us in the Humanities Department will miss Bill immensely; I will definitely miss my Wednesday morning chats, but find solace in the knowledge that Bill’s legacy will live on in the amazing archive he spent a quarter of a century developing.

Desperately Seeking Graham

Author
by Nick Crotty
Publish date
19 January 2015
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Nick is a Collections Manager at Scienceworks. He likes piña coladas, walks in the rain, Star Wars and hiding away from the light.

This radio recently came off display in The Melbourne Story. I was returning it to storage when I noticed that a conservator had bagged a small piece of paper while cleaning the radio in 2008, and had suggested that it be kept with the object. 

Radio from 1933 Broadcast Receiver (radio) made by Astor. This is the Mickey Mouse, model circa 1933 (ST 028290).
Image: Nick Crotty
Source: Museum Victoria
 

This torn slip of paper was not originally part of the radio, but tightly rolled and inserted inside a small hole on the side.

Side of old radio The side of the radio showing the hole with a piece of paper rolled inside.
Image: Rebecca Dallwitz
Source: Museum Victoria
 

On one side of the paper was typed 'TAKE A PAIR OF SPARKLING EYE...' (the paper was torn here), and on the other, was beautifully handwritten in pen 'I put on the paper “Do you like Graham” and she said “Of course I do”!!!'

Detail of hand-written note The two sides of the note found inside the radio.
Image: Nick Crotty
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Well, this is interesting! Immediately I started wondering; who wrote the note? And why did they place it inside the radio? Were they trying to hide it, or save it for reading later? Or were they just using it to stop excess noise coming out of the radio (or bugs getting in?!). 

Who is the 'she'? Who was 'Graham'? His name was written with the H underlined three times. Was there another Graeme without an H? What made Graham special? Did it refer to Graham Kennedy? He was on the radio in the early 1950s and on In Melbourne Tonight from 1957 to 1970.

Graham Kennedy A signed photo of Melbourne television personality Graham Kennedy in 1957, sitting on the set of his live variety program In Melbourne Tonight which was filmed at the studios of GTV Channel 9 in Richmond, Victoria.
Image: Athol Shmith
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Was there meaning behind the typed piece of paper? A quick google search of the words brought up a Gilbert & Sullivan song called Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes from the operetta The Gondoliers. It’s a song sung in Act 2 by Marco Palmieri, a Venetian Gondolier, and is described by one critic as 'the most saccharine and chauvinistic ditty' of the Gilbert & Sullivan canon.

Two men in costume Rutland Barrington and Courtice Pounds as Marco and Giuseppe from the 1889 original production of The Gondoliers.
Source: The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive
 

Then I thought, was this a note passed in class? I wonder if school kids still do, or do they just text each other now? Of course this note was about another note ('I put on the paper'). Is this an old fashioned version of forwarding? Has anyone done anthropological research into the act of childhood note-passing during class?

I thought perhaps the source of this object might provide some clues. It was bought for the collection on 25 February 1972 from the Salvation Army Op Shop in Abbotsford, presumably by a curator. Our collection database says that during early January and February 1972, eight electronic valves were also purchased from the same shop.

Normally the museum acquires objects with a good provenance or story as that helps form exhibitions and captures the imagination of visitors. Sometimes, particularly in the Technology collections, we collect objects because of the part they played in technological development, especially if they are in good condition. The famous Astor Mickey Mouse was the biggest-selling radio in Australia during the 1930s.

Unfortunately I have reached a dead end. It might just be one of those mysteries that will never be solved. Nevertheless, the story of what could have happened has piqued my interest for a few days.

If you or a family member donated an old radio to the Abbotsford Salvation Army Op Shop in the early 1970s and knew a friend that had a liaison with someone called Graham (with an H) please leave a comment. I’d love to hear the full tale, especially if there is a happily ever after.

North South Feast West backyard blitz

Author
by Catherine Devery
Publish date
15 January 2015
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Catherine makes her living administrating and programming festivals at the Immigration Museum. She is yet to win the Museum Victoria annual end of year party costume competition but she never says never.

The Immigration Museum is getting a backyard blitz. For our upcoming North South Feast West series, we’re activating our iconic CBD courtyard and creating the perfect setting to feast on culture.

The key to the courtyard transformation is an outdoor built environment by architects Millie Cattlin and Joseph Norster. Millie and Joe form These are THE PROJECTS we do together, a design practice known for creative and thoughtful installations that occupy public space.

Courtyard with seating made from pallets Testing Grounds outdoor art space by “The Projects”.
Source: creativespaces.net.au
 

The installation is taking place this week in time for Sunday’s Chocolate Fest. The courtyard will be converted into a Chocolate Beer Garden featuring Choc Hops from Mildura Brewery and specialised Mörk Chocolate/Rooftop Honey “Mörktails”. The festival will feature chocolate stalls and tastings, talks and workshops and entertainment from a selection of Melbourne DJs and outfits.

Bowls of chocolate things Delicious chocolately treats from Mörk.
Source: Mörk Chocolate
 

Every Friday night in February, the courtyard will become an inner city cantina. Presented in association with PBS FM, each Courtyard Cantina will feature a bar and food pop-up from a variety of vendors including the likes of Senor BBQ, Boss Man Food, Trailer Made, Shebeen and Kumo. Music will be provided by a line-up of DJs and the entire museum will be open after hours for the duration of the events.

Courtyard Cantina flyer Courtyard Cantina flyer
Source: Museum Victoria
 

In April, we’ll fire up the courtyard BBQ for Chilli Fest and Coffee Fest in June will explore the world’s take on the humble café.

The whole series of events compliment the permanent exhibitions at the Immigration Museum which explore the history and impact of immigration in Victoria as well as stories of real people and contemporary Melbourne culture. It’s also a great opportunity to see Freedom: Photographs by Andy Drewit, a photography exhibition that celebrates refugees and asylum seekers’ freedom to pursue interests and engage in hobbies once safe in Australia. Freedom is showing until 31 May.

For tickets and more information, please visit the North South Feast West page. You can also follow all the happenings on Facebook: facebook.com/NorthSouthFeastWest. 

#NSFeastW 

The bountiful Mallee

Author
by Patrick
Publish date
17 December 2014
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In Bugs Alive! you can see almost 50 displays of live invertebrates. Most of them from either tropical or arid parts of Australia, illustrating the adaptations needed for living in extreme environments.

Blue butterfly and bee fly resting on grass stems Sleeping beauties, clothed in condensation in the early hours of the morning. | Left: Common Grass Blue (Zizina labradus) Right: A bee fly (Family Bombyliidae)
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

So each year, when the weather conditions are right, we head out to the Mallee to boost our stocks of insects and spiders. The best time to visit is on a hot, humid night—which happened last week—just before or just after a thunderstorm. Like most desert species, Mallee insects wait months for the rain and then emerge from the spinifex in their thousands.

Two people in arid landscape Chloe Miller and Maik Fiedel searching through typical Mallee habitat.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

At night the desert resonates with the songs of katydids, the loudest of which come from Robust Fan-winged Katydids (Psacadonotus robustus). Unfortunately the fat abdomen of this dun-coloured species is often host to the larvae of tachinid flies (family Tachinidae). These parasites feed on the internal organs before emerging from the katydid which dies soon afterwards.

Brown katydid grasshopper A male Robust Fan-winged Katydid (Psacadonotus robustus).
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Most katydid species are surprisingly colourful, sporting bright greens, blues and reds.

Three katydid grasshoppers Left: Female Striped Polichne (Polichne argentata); Centre: The undescribed ‘Mystery Hump-backed Katydid’ (Elephantodea species); Right: The unfortunately-named Victorian Sluggish Katydid (Hemisaga lanceolata).
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

One of our prime targets is Mitchell’s Cockroach (Polyzosteria mitchelli) which we breed at Melbourne Museum off-display, perhaps the most beautiful cockroach in Australia. With its golden markings and eggshell-blue legs, this species is one of more than 500 native cockroaches that are rarely seen by the average Australian but which are extremely important in native ecosystems. They shouldn’t be confused with the five or so introduced cockroach species that infest our houses–native cockroaches are happy in the bush and almost never come inside.

colourful cockroach A female Mitchell’s Cockroach (Polyzosteria mitchelli)
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The desert seems to wake up after a rainstorm, with unexpected species such as snails and damselflies making an appearance.

Damselfly and group of snails Left: A female Metallic Ringtail damselfly (Austrolestes cingulatus). Right: Tiny desert snails (Microxeromagma lowei) living under bark.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria

Wolf spiders are the dominant ground species, their emerald eyes shining in the torchlight. This male wolf spider (below) was seen halfway down a burrow and was difficult to distract until we discovered the source of his interest—a large female wolf spider at the bottom of the burrow.

Wolf spider and burrow Left: A male wolf spider (LycosaRight: Close-up of the male.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The Little Desert, Big Desert, Sunset Country and Hattah-Kulkyne each have their own distinct habitats and faunas, just a few hours’ drive from Melbourne.

Landscape with blue sky The endless sky and flat horizon of the Mallee region.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.

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