MV Blog


Who do you love?

by Blaire Dobiecki
Publish date
15 April 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.

Melbourne Museum’s term one weekend activity, Museum Love Letters, has come to an end, which means the results are in! Which museum objects received the most love?

Bar chart of love letters Bar graph showing the number of love letters sent to particular museum objects or exhibitions.
Source: Museum Victoria

The dinosaurs are by far the most loved exhibits at Melbourne Museum, receiving a whopping 273 letters. In particular, 29 love letters were addressed directly to the T-Rex, a dinosaur that was nowhere to be found within the museum. The authors may have meant to send their regards to our lovable Tarbosaurus.

Unsurprisingly, Phar Lap was the next in line with 88 letters, followed by the entire Forest Gallery with 70 letters. The butterflies and bugs, Pygmy Blue Whale and 3D volcano movie were also highly admired.

Love letter to Little Lon house A love letter to the Little Lonsdale House in The Melbourne Story reads “Dear House, I like learning from the olden days. I like you. From Zali."  

But these letters revealed far more than just a numbers game. The activity was designed to allow visitors to reflect upon the significance of Melbourne Museum’s collection. Many stories of personal meaning for objects emerged.

Love letter to Sam Koala A love letter from Casey to Sam the Koala reads “I love the fact you were so brave and now you’re here.”
Source: Museum Victoria

Greg expressed his gratitude to the Cole’s Funny Picture Book for teaching him how to read. Jess thanked the meteorites for reminding her that there is so much more than just us in this universe. Lana appreciated the Love & Sorrow exhibition for reminding her that we are lucky today to live in a safe and free country.

Love letter to Cole's Funny Picture Book Love letter from Greg reads “Funny Picture Book of Edward Cole: When I was a boy you gave me countless hours of joy. Now I declare my thanks that will never end. For teaching me to read. My dear, dear friend.”
Source: Museum Victoria

The objects and exhibitions in Melbourne Museum carry many levels of meaning and significance. They uncover stories about history, science and society that are then shared with the public. This activity turned the tables and gave the public the opportunity to share their personal stories of object significance with the museum. It was a wonderful opportunity for staff to hear what objects visitors treasure the most and why.

Staff members were also encouraged to share their stories. John Patten, Senior Programs Officer in Bunjilaka, shared a story of very close personal significance to an object that is not currently on display. A breastplate worn by his great, great, great, great grandfather, a leader among the Dhulenyagen clan of the Yorta Yorta people.

King Billy's breastplate King Billy's breastplate
Source: Museum Victoria

John's love letter John's letter to the breastplate.
Source: Museum Victoria

First Machines in Action Day for 2015

by Matilda Vaughan
Publish date
10 April 2015
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Matilda swapped a life working as an engineer for a life curating the museum’s historical Engineering collection. She’s very curious about how stuff works, how it’s made and why. If a machine’s got a switch, she’ll definitely flick it.

This is not the most awkward photograph I’ve ever taken, but definitely uncomfortable. I am lying under our Cowley Steam Roller, having just put back the fire grate bars, one by one. A great workout for the upper arms and the muscles around the belly.

Beneath the Cowley roller. Beneath the Cowley roller.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria

Every two years some of us are lucky enough to get this view.  Our restored and working steam vehicles, the Cowley Traction Engine, the Cowley Road Roller and the Sentinel Steam Wagon, were due for their biennial boiler inspections. So back in February, the crew removed all the boiler fixtures and cleaned the firebox and fire tubes, ready for inspection. The cleaning is a dirty job but it is a great way to get a closer look at how they are made.

All three boilers passed their inspection and last month we put them back together again, steamed them up and checked that there were no leaks. All clear and ready to roll this Sunday at our first Machines in Action Family Day for the year.

Cowley traction engine and the Sentinel steam wagon The Cowley traction engine and the Sentinel steam wagon, ready for action on the Scienceworks arena.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria

Invisible Farmer Project

by Catherine Forge
Publish date
8 April 2015
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Catherine Forge is Curator of the Invisible Farmer Project at Museum Victoria. She grew up in regional Victoria (Gippsland), which is where she developed her love for cheese, the outdoors and rural Australian history.

Cartoon of statue of female farmer labelled 'The Unknown Farmer' Unknown Farmer Cartoon
Source: Sea Lake Women on Farms Gathering Proceedings, 1991

Women in Australia play a vital role in farming and agriculture, contributing at least 48 per cent of real farm income through their on and off-farm work. Sadly, however, women’s contributions to agriculture have continued to be ignored, unrecognised and rendered invisible. Farming women have been excluded from censuses and official documentation, stereotyped as ‘housewives’ or ‘domestics’ despite their significant contributions to the farm economy and blindsided by a popularist vision of Australian agriculture that idealises masculinity and posits rural Australia as a ‘male domain.’ As a 1992 Government Report argued, rural women have too often been relegated to the position of the ‘Invisible Farmer.’

Liza Dale-Hallett at lectern Liza Dale-Hallett delivering keynote address at the Yarra Ranges Women on Farms Gathering.
Image: Alison Griffiths-Hoelzer
Source: YRWOFG Committee

On 21 March 2015 Senior Curator Liza Dale-Hallett (Sustainable Futures) launched Museum Victoria’s Invisible Farmer Project during a keynote address, Making Women Count, at the Yarra Ranges Women on Farms Gathering. Presenting in a panel alongside Federal Member for Indi Cathy McGowan and Victorian Rural Woman of the Year Julie Aldous, Liza introduced the main aims of The Invisible Farmer Project:  

  • To interview some of the 24 remaining women who were part of the first cohort of female agricultural graduates from the University of Melbourne.
  • To work alongside other institutions such as the State Library of Victoria to establish strategic collecting processes to document the Rural Women’s Movement and to uncover the stories of rural women.
  • To identify, as a matter of urgency, those that were pivotal in shaping the Australian Rural Women’s Movement.

Highlighting the fact that the stories of farming women are often intangible and undocumented – existing instead in living memory – Liza articulated an ‘urgent plea to move beyond the unknown farmer and to catch this history before it is lost.’

audience in lecture theater Delegates at the Yarra Ranges Women on Farms Gathering, March 2015.
Image: Alison Griffiths-Hoelzer
Source: YRWOFG Committee

It is significant that the Invisible Farmer Project was launched at a Victorian Women on Farms Gathering. These Gatherings have been occurring annually throughout rural Victoria since 1990 and were one of the major seedbeds for the Rural Women’s Movement that occurred in Australia during the 1980s-1990s. Senior Curator Liza Dale-Hallett first attended a Gathering in 1993 and has since had a long association with them that has included the establishment of Museum Victoria’s Victorian Women on Farms Gathering Collection. This innovative and award-winning collection has paved the way for the institutional recognition and preservation of rural women’s stories. Liza hopes that the Invisible Farmer Project will go one step further by inviting cultural institutions to collaborate in recognising, collecting and preserving the history of the Australian Rural Women’s Movement, before it’s too late.

The Invisible Farmer Project is funded by the McCoy Seed Fund and involves a partnership with the University of Melbourne as well as involvement from other collecting institutions (e.g. State Library of Victoria). If you would like to hear more about the Invisible Farmer Project, please get in contact with Catherine Forge (Curator) via email: or phone: 03 8341 7729.  

Look who's back

by Jessie
Publish date
7 April 2015
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Near the end of March, we made few staff members and visitors smile—we returned Murray, the museum’s resident Murray-Darling Carpet Python (Morelia spilota metcalfei) to the Discovery Centre at Melbourne Museum. He had lived next to the Discovery Centre desk for several years but was removed from display in 2012 due to lack of resources. Since then he was kept in our back of house lab and only taken out for short public programs when we had time.

Detail of python Murray, the museum's Murray-Darling Carpet Python (Morelia spilota metcalfei)
Source: Museum Victoria

Murray is an important animal to showcase at the museum as these carpet pythons are now listed as endangered in Victoria. They were once common in the northern regions of the state, but are now restricted to small localised populations. In Victoria, they are mainly found in rocky country, riverine forests, redgum forests and Black Box forests of the Murray Darling Basin to the north.

The major threat to their survival is habitat destruction, particularly the collection of wood from their habitat for firewood. They are also killed by cats, foxes and humans. Sadly, many people still believe that if you see a snake, you should kill it. This has a devastating effect on an already endangered species where every individual is precious to the survival of the species. It is important to be aware as firewood consumers that we may be burning up important resources for these members of the Victorian ecosystem.

In the wild, Murray Darling Carpet Pythons eat birds and small mammals. In captivity they are generally fed on mice and rats. Murray receives frozen thawed mice once a month, given to him by one of the Live Exhibits staff. Live Exhibits looks after Murray as well as a whole array of other animals across the Museum including other reptiles, birds, frogs and invertebrates. 

Total Lunar Eclipse

by Tanya
Publish date
2 April 2015
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A total lunar eclipse will be visible from across all Australia this Saturday, April 4. But it will be a quick one. Rather than passing deep into the Earth’s shadow, the moon is skimming close to the shadow’s edge, as seen in this animation.

Total Lunar Eclipse - December 2011 The moon moves out of totality as seen from Sydney during the December 2011 eclipse.
Image: Neerav Bhatt
Source: Neerav Bhatt/flicr

The period of totality, when the moon is fully enclosed in the Earth’s umbral shadow, will last just five minutes or so. This makes it the shortest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century.

In fact, this eclipse has the shortest period of totality for almost 500 years. Back in 1529, on October 17, there was an eclipse where totality lasted for just 1 minute and 42 seconds.

The moon's passage through the Earth's shadow The moon skims the edge of the Earth’s umbral shadow. Note: this graphic is oriented for the southern hemisphere.
Source: Museum Victoria

How to see it?

The great thing about lunar eclipses is that no special equipment is required to view them. Just look for the moon, which will be visible in the north-eastern sky, weather permitting.

Eclipse timings Local circumstances for the eclipse.
Source: Museum Victoria

From Western Australia, the eclipse begins shortly after sunset with the moon low to the eastern horizon. However, by the time of totality the moon will have risen to a great vantage point.

For the rest of Australia, the eclipse occurs an hour or two after sunset.

The whole event will last for three-and-a-half hours – it’s only the moment of totality that will be very short.

Total Lunar Eclipse - April 2014 The moon disappears into shadow during the total lunar eclipse of April 2014.
Image: Phil Hart
Source: Phil Hart

Watching the moon slowly enter into the Earth’s shadow is always an amazing sight. And it’s during this partial phase of the eclipse that the shadow appears lovely and dark – seen in sharp contrast to the part of the moon which is still in sunlight.

Because totality is very brief and the moon sits so close to the shadow’s edge, this eclipse will not give us a deep red moon. Instead, we will likely see a variation in tone across the face of the moon.

The southern region of the moon – the topmost part as viewed from Australia – travels deeper through the shadow and should take on a reddish-orange glow. Whereas the northern part (or the bottom of the moon) that skims the shadow’s edge, will remain fairly bright.

Total Lunar Eclipse - October 2014 The moment the moon enters totality during the October 2014 lunar eclipse. A similar variation in colour across the moon is expected for this upcoming eclipse.
Image: Martin George
Source: Martin George

Where the shadows lie

What’s interesting to note about this eclipse, is that it’s a great test for eclipse modellers. It’s not surprising, that there is no sharp edge to the Earth’s shadow and therefore the timings of this eclipse are highly dependent on the model used to estimate the shadow’s size.

This was first recorded in the early 18th century when the French astronomer and mathematician Philippe de La Hire realised that to match the timings of a lunar eclipse, it was necessary to increase the predicted radius of the Earth’s shadow by 2.4%.

In fact, observations of lunar eclipses over the next 200 years showed that the size of the Earth’s shadow varied slightly from one eclipse to another.

By the late 19th century a standard value of 2% was adopted as the most effective increase to be made to the Earth’s shadow size to produce the best predictions for an eclipse.

The ‘fuzziness’ of the Earth’s shadow is due to a number of factors such as the sun’s apparent size and the transparency of the Earth’s atmosphere. Eclipse models also have to take into account the fact that the Earth isn’t completely round, but flattened slightly towards the poles. And even the Earth’s axial tilt can add a small variation in the size of the Earth’s shadow depending on what season it is on Earth.

But for most lunar eclipses, these variations have a small effect on the eclipse timings, amounting to differences of the order of 20 seconds or so. But because this eclipse occurs so close to the edge of the Earth’s shadow the model used is much more critical.

Timey wimey

For this article, I’ve sourced the eclipse timings from NASA’s eclipse website maintained by Fred Espanek, a retired astrophysicist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. His Earth shadow model is the smallest and gives the shortest period of totality at 4 minutes and 38 seconds.

But it’s not surprising that other reputable eclipse models are found to give different results. Australian David Herald is the author of the fantastic Occult program that predicts all types of occultation events (such as the Saturn occultations we saw last year), and it also predicts eclipses. The latest version of his program (Occult4), measures totality for this eclipse as lasting 7 minutes and 14 seconds.

While the longest measurement of totality is sourced from the U. S. Naval Observatory. Their lunar eclipse computer gives a prediction of 12 minutes and 18 seconds.

But what will we see?

What this highlights for me, is the beauty of nature. We can do our best to predict what will happen, but sometimes we just don’t know for certain until we see the event itself. And it’s one of the lovely things about lunar eclipses that each one is unique.

With this eclipse, it is the path through the Earth’s shadow which makes it particularly different. But what can also affect eclipses is how dusty the Earth’s atmosphere is at the time. The dustier the atmosphere the more light is blocked.

That’s when the moon can turn a really deep red, like it did 2011 when the atmosphere was full of ash from the eruption of Chile’s Puyehue-Cordon Cualle volcano.

Even nonlocal weather conditions can affect the appearance of a lunar eclipse. Storm systems and poor weather in the part of the world where the sun ‘disappears’ as seen from the moon, will make the atmosphere less transparent. In particular, if it’s a very deep eclipse and the moon passes right through the centre of the Earth’s shadow, such weather systems can help to deepen the Earth’s shadow so that the eclipsed moon becomes almost impossible to see.

So why not try your hand at timing this eclipse event and see which model gives the best prediction for you?

And while you are watching the eclipse, the star to the right of the moon is called Spica, the brightest star in the constellation of Virgo. While in the east Saturn will be visible at the head of Scorpius and over in the north-west Jupiter can be found shining brightly.

But if the weather doesn’t cooperate in your local area, you can also follow the eclipse via live streaming by Sydney Observatory, Slooh or the Virtual Telescope.

Most importantly, this lunar eclipse is well worth a look because it will be a while before we get the chance to see another. The next lunar eclipse to be seen from Australia is a partial one on August 7, 2017 and only 25% of the Moon’s diameter will be in shadow. The next total lunar eclipse won’t occur until January 31, 2018.

Many thanks to Martin George, Curator of Astronomy and Assistant Director, Queen Victoria Museum, Launceston, for very useful discussions that improved this article.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Six generations of Satchells

by Kate C
Publish date
1 April 2015
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John Satchell grew up with a colour photograph of a model steam train hanging on his bedroom wall. Not uncommon for small boys, perhaps, but John's train had a direct link to his ingenious ancestors. His train—a perfect, working scale replica of a shunting engine from 1857—was built by his great grandfather, also John, and painted by his great-great grandfather James Satchell. The model train itself, eventually donated to Museum Victoria in 1990, is now on display in The Melbourne Story.

  Steam Locomotive Model Steam Locomotive Model - Hobsons Bay Railway Pier Shunting Engine, No.5. (ST 038379)
Source: Museum Victoria

John's father Tony hung the photo for his son and often told him the story of the train. "Dad's a genealogist, and he's researched both sides of the family. He just loves history," says John. "He's always made me more than aware that this train exists and took me to see it in the museum. I loved steam trains as a kid and still do."

With Tony's 80th birthday approaching at the end of March, John and his wife Danielle searched for a unique and meaningful gift for him. They thought of the 1868 photograph of the elder John and James Satchell with their magnificent model, and how they might replicate it with the youngest Satchell, their toddler James. Until young James was born, John explains, genealogist Tony was anxious that "the Satchell family name was running out."

James & John Satchell, 1868 Photograph from 1868 of the Hobson's Bay Railway Pier shunting engine model with modelmaker John Satchell, and his father James Satchell. (ST 037829).
Source: Museum Victoria

The Satchells recruited a friend to photograph John and James next to the train's exhibition showcase, but the tricky lighting and reflections meant no success. Danielle wrote a letter to the museum asking if there was any way we could open the showcase so they could get a perfect shot. It was an irresistible opportunity to link six generations of Satchell men, so last week before the museum opened, exhibition and collection management staff brought out the train. MV photographer Jon Augier captured the historic moment.

Child, man and model train Young James Satchell with father John posing with the model train built in the 1860s by their Satchell ancestors. Note the authentic Victorian-era gravitas.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria

The senior John and James both worked at Melbourne's first foundry, Langlands, originally established on Flinders lane. John was an apprentice there in the 1860s when he built the model, and his father James was a foreman. The model earned John a medal at the Intercolonial Exhibition of Victoria in 1866, and later, when he sold it, enough money to buy a block of land in Caulfield. The story is recorded in the Satchell family history written by Tony Satchell in 1988.

The surprise birthday gift is sure to delight this family historian. It might continue another family tradition, too. Says John of Tony, "he's brought up a couple of times that he thinks James should have a picture of the steam train in his bedroom. I've been saying 'oh yeah, that's a good idea' but leaving it at that because I don't want Dad to start thinking of getting a picture… it could ruin the surprise!"

Museum Victoria wishes Tony a very happy 80th birthday.

Satchell family The whole family: James Satchell with his mum Danielle and father John.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria

About this blog

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