MV Blog


Beyond Bunjilaka

by Katrina
Publish date
9 April 2012
Comments (0)

Your Question: Now that the Jumbunna exhibition space in Bunjilaka has closed, what Aboriginal cultural experiences can I have?

The exhibition space 'Jumbunna', part of the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at the Melbourne Museum has closed for an exciting redevelopment of the space.

Former exhibitions in Jumbunna include Koori Voices, Belonging to Country and Two Laws. The redevelopment will see a stronger focus on the vibrant and living Victorian Aboriginal culture and will provide dynamic and contemporary experiences as well as showcasing items from the incredible Aboriginal cultural material collection held in trust by Museum Victoria. The gallery will remain closed for redevelopment until mid-2013; however, Bunjilaka remains open, hosting a range of Aboriginal experiences.

Birrarung Birrarung
Image: James Henry
Source: Museum Victoria

Birrarung Gallery, located in the Bunjilaka, is a space dedicated to Victorian Aboriginal artists and is where you can experience some of the best Aboriginal artists in Australia, showcasing their culture and talent through various art forms, from painting and photography to 3D installation and audio visual. This space has three exhibitions a year and is currently exhibiting River Woman by Aunty Barb Egan, which explores her connection to her home of Robinvale, in the northwest of Victoria, and to the Murray River through a series of lino prints, embossing and painting.

‘River Woman’ exhibition in Birrarung River Woman exhibition in Birrarung
Image: James Henry
Source: Museum Victoria

Aunty Barb Aunty Barb
Image: James Henry
Source: Museum Victoria

Bunjilaka also has an indigenous plant garden called Milarri. This will remain open for visitors to learn about the natural resources important to Aboriginal people of southeastern Australia and about their traditional uses. Melbourne Museum's Forest Gallery, also displaying indigenous plants and animals, is another space where you can learn creation stories of Melbourne and about the seasons of the Kulin calendar, traditionally used by the Aboriginal people of Melbourne and surrounds.

Aunty Barb in her studio Aunty Barb in her studio
Image: Kimberley Moulton
Source: Museum Victoria

The Koori Voices exhibition is currently being de-installed and will be re-installed within the museum for visitors to experience by July 2012. Bunjilaka's weekend and holiday programs will be run throughout the year and can be viewed on the Melbourne Museum and Bunjilaka websites.

The education sessions 'Our Shared History' is still available and can be booked through the museum booking office. Our Shared History is an opportunity for visitors to learn about the history and diversity of Australia's Aboriginal cultures, with a strong focus on Victoria and southeastern Australia. Learn about Victoria's 38 language groups, Aboriginal usage of both indigenous flora and fauna, and many other facets of Victoria's vibrant Aboriginal cultures.

From April 21 through to June 24, Bunjilaka will be hosting a fun weekend activity for children called 'Bunjil's Bullroarers'. Children and their families will have an opportunity to learn about, make and decorate their very own bullroarer. The bullroarer is a traditional musical instrument used by Aboriginal people for communication and ceremonial purposes.

Got a question? Ask us!


River Woman exhibition

Google Art Project

by Ely Wallis
Publish date
4 April 2012
Comments (2)

Ely is responsible for publishing information about the museum’s collections online – on our own website and on websites run by others. Originally trained as a zoologist, she dropped into the relatively new field of museum informatics several years ago and has never looked back.

We are very excited to announce our participation in the Google Art Project.

At Museum Victoria we aim to give as many people as possible access to our rich and wonderful collections. The internet provides ways to do that far beyond the walls of our public exhibition venues. We provide access to over 72,000 items from our History and Technology Collections through our own Collections Online site. But we also contribute to other projects, which might attract new visitors to our collections; people who come with different interests – or even just different search terms.

Google Art Project Museum Victoria's collection on Google Art Project.
Source: Google / Museum Victoria

Originally launched in February 2011, the Art Project has now expanded its reach and scope to include 151 institutions across 40 different countries. Museum Victoria has contributed 185 high resolution images into the site, along with detailed descriptive information about each work and biographies of the artists where they are known. The items range from Aboriginal bark paintings, beautiful pencil illustrations, historic photographs depicting early Victorian history, to scientific illustrations and works on display at Melbourne Museum.

The project has been interesting and challenging for museum staff as we have had to think about objects in the collection through the lens of 'art'. Our collections are made for their scientific, cultural or personal significance, so it has been fascinating to look again at the items we hold and to tell their story through art.

To go along with the Art Project website, the Museum has also made thirteen videos about the stories of the objects we've included. These videos are all available in a special playlist at Museum Victoria's YouTube channel. One of the videos, about photographer and naturalist A J Campbell can be seen below, as a taster to explore the others.


We are very excited to join just a handful of other galleries and museums in Australia, including our friends at the NGV, but many others around the world, to showcase extraordinary and beautiful works of art. We hope you will enjoy exploring some our rich treasures in this quite new light.


Museum Victoria's collection on Google Art Project

Google Art Project playlist on YouTube

Rare scene of first European contact

by Kate C
Publish date
3 April 2012
Comments (4)

Significant objects in our collections can remain more or less anonymous simply because they have been detached from their stories. They sit there, quietly waiting for someone to spend some time with them and join the dots.

Two researchers working with the Indigenous Cultures collections recently made an exciting discovery that returns two objects with incomplete provenance to a very important body of work. It began with Rosemary Wrench, curator of the Many Nations section in First Peoples, the new exhibition that is under development for Bunjilaka. While the exhibition focuses on south-eastern Australian Aboriginal nations, the Many Nations section celebrates Indigenous culture from across the country. Rosemary's task is to curate over 600 examples of Indigenous artworks, tools and artefacts that tell the stories of the people who made them, used them, and continue to do so today.

"When I started looking for suitable items, I eliminated all the restricted material first," explains Rosemary. "Then I wanted objects we hadn't put on display before. I considered 14,000 to 15,000 objects and systematically started going through the collection stores because there was no other way to do it."

Last year she opened a cabinet full of boomerangs. One of them was carved with an extraordinary scene of two Aboriginal men hiding behind a tree, watching Europeans and their horses. She showed it to Jason Gibson, an Australian National University researcher working on the Spencer and Gillen Australian Research Council project. "Straight away, Jason said 'I think that's by Jim Kite'." Jim Kite Erlikilyika [from Alyelkelhayeka, meaning "he slipped" or "glided away"] Penangke (1865-1930) was a Lower Arrernte man from the Charlotte Waters area. He joined Spencer and Gillen's 1901-02 expedition as an interpreter and is recognised as an accomplished artist.

Boomerang made by Jim Kite Boomerang made by Jim Kite, or Erlikilyika. Above: Upper side decorated with images of two stockmen and their packhorses and two Aboriginal men watching on. Below: Line art of the carved boomerang.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria

The boomerang was purchased by the museum in 1946 from the estate of Herbert Basedow, a geologist, explorer and medical practitioner who worked in Central Australia and known collector of Aboriginal art. It came with no documentation at all. "It was clear to me from the style that it was Jim Kite's work but I had nothing to prove it," says Jason. Last month, he began searching for the proof for the artist behind this boomerang and another, exquisitely carved with hopping mice, from the Basedow collection.

Boomerang carved with two hopping-mice Boomerang carved by Jim Kite Erlikilyika with two Spinifex Hopping-mice (Notomys alexis).
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum victoria

In a newspaper article in the South Australian Register, Jason found a detailed interview about Jim Kite's 1913 art exhibition. "In the interview, he described this boomerang with two men hiding behind a tree." Not only was the creator of the boomerang identified, but the story behind the scene.

Detail of carved boomerang Detail of boomerang showing the explorers of John McDouall Stuart's expedition.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria

Detail of boomerang Detail of boomerang showing two men hiding behind a tree.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria

"According to Jim, these were Aboriginal people watching the first European explorer, John McDouall Stuart. When they saw a man dismount from his horse they were shocked because they thought the man and the horse were one entity. They'd never seen a horse and definitely never seen a white person." Jim Kite had captured a moment of 'first contact' from an Aboriginal point of view, making it an incredibly significant object. Erlikilyika was born five years after Stuart's arrival; the story he carved was told to him by people who saw it, whether they were members of his own family, or the people he interviewed when travelling with Spencer and Gillen. "Some people have described Erlikilyika as the first Aboriginal ethnographer because he was actively engaged with the interview process with Aboriginal people and made his own pictorial notes - markings to explain the Dreaming stories to Spencer and Gillen," continues Jason.

This discovery links previously unprovenanced objects back to Jim Kite Erlikilyika Penangke's story. Rosemary and Jason have also identified a whip handle and walking stick in the collection that they think could be the work of Jim Kite. Rosemary concludes, "it's very rewarding work, reconnecting these objects with their story."


Erlikilyika (1865–1930) in the Australian Dictionary of Biography

The expedition photographs of Herbert Basedow, National Museum of Australia

Arrrggghhh, PIRATES!

by Jareen
Publish date
2 April 2012
Comments (31)

When I heard Gideon Defoe’s book, The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists, was being adapted into a stop-motion animation film by the highly revered Aardman Animations, I was extremely excited.

The claymation character, The Pirate Captain from the movie, The Pirates! Band of Misfits. The Pirate Captain from The Pirates! Band of Misfits movie.
Image: Aardman Animations and Sony Pictures
Source: Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Australia.

After almost a year of anticipation, The Pirates! Band of Misfits opens in cinemas today in Victoria and Queensland, 5 April nationally, and I can’t wait! Why am I so excited? Well, for two main reasons:

1. The Pirates! is an Aardman Animations studio film

Wallace and Gromit Wallace and Gromit - the world's most famous inventors.
Image: Aardman Animations
Source: (C) Aardman Animations Ltd 2012

Aardman are famous for creating two of the world’s greatest inventors, Wallace and Gromit. At Scienceworks, we’re not only busy preparing the jumbo crates to send the animatronic dinosaurs from our Explore-a-saurus exhibition to Scitech, Perth, we’re also busy preparing for our next exhibition, Wallace & Gromit’s World of Invention. More about that exhibition another time, lad.

While researching for this blog post, I was fascinated to learn that The Pirates! movie took Aardman over five years to create - two years of scripting, one and a half years of storyboarding, designing and building puppets and sets, one and a half years of shooting and a final thre months of post-production to stick it all together. Phew! That’s about the same amount of time it takes to develop some of Museum Victoria’s major exhibitions.

2. My love for stop motion animation film

I adore stop motion animation film. I love the attention to detail. The little figures in their little costumes holding little props standing in little sets, all meticulously handmade and painstakingly moved a fraction of a centimetre at a time, that magically culminates in living, breathing characters acting out wonderful and moving storylines.

For The Pirates! it took 70 talented model makers to make over 250 puppets, including 23 background pirates, 18 background scientist characters and 55 special characters. Check out this behind the scenes video from Aardman on ‘Puppet Maintenance’ during the making of The Pirates! movie.


Arrrrggghhh, now for the fun part - the giveaway. And it's just for you, me hearties!

WIN The Pirates! Booty Pack

Promotional image of The Pirates! Band of Misfits movie From the creators of Wallace and Gromit, The Pirates! Band of Misfits film opens in cinemas this Thursday 5 April.
Image: Aardman Animations and Sony Pictures
Source: Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Australia.

To celebrate the movie coming to Australia (and really, to start the ‘Wallace & Gromit are moving in to Scienceworks in May’ celebrations), we’re giving away ten The Pirates! Booty Packs to MV Blog readers.

Each Booty Pack is packed with cool The Pirates! treasure including a digital watch, activity kit, stationery set and a copy of the The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists (a book more suitable for big kids).

To be in the running to win, simply leave a comment on this post telling us which scientist (or historian) would you love to go on an adventure with and why. Submit your comment before 9am, Friday 6 April. We’ll select 10 of our favourite scurvy dog answers.  

So get cracking and tell us about your dream adventure!

P.S. A big thank you to Sony Pictures Australia for providing us with this awesome Booty Pack of The Pirates! treasure to giveaway to you! And, if you want to win tickets to see the film, make sure you follow Scienceworks on Facebook and Twitter.

P.S.S. Don't miss hearing David Tennant as Charles Darwin in the film too! Swoon!


The Pirates! website

Wallace & Gromit’s World of Invention exhibition at Scienceworks - buy your tickets online now!

Aardman Animations on YouTube

Southern Grasstree

by Brendan
Publish date
1 April 2012
Comments (7)

Exhibition horticulturalist Brendan Fleming is turning April's Bug of the Month post into Plant of the Month. He is one of the Live Exhibits staff that tend the plants in the Forest Gallery and Milarri Garden.

From an early age I have enjoyed bushwalking within the Grampian Ranges in western Victoria. One particular plant species found there that fascinates me is Xanthorrhoea australis, the Southern Grasstree. X. australis is the most widespread of the genus of 30 odd species and subspecies. It is found down the eastern coast of Australia.

Southern Grasstrees A spectacular display of Southern Grasstrees following a bushfire in the Grampians.
Image: Brendan Fleming
Source: Brendan Fleming

Its appearance is unlike any other indigenous plant. Older grasstrees have a blackened, sometimes gnarled elevated trunk, with bluish-green whorled leaves that seem to explode from the crown and drape down to skirt the stem.

The Southern Grasstree is very slow-growing. It grows approximately one to three centimetres per year, reaching a height of three metres in about 100 years. It has a shallow root system and is found in even the poorest of soils. Whilst not generally occurring in areas with less than 250mm rainfall, it does best in areas exceeding 500mm per year. Southern Grasstrees are found in the understorey of woodlands, heaths, swamps, and rocky hillsides.

Grasstree species are mostly distinguished by the shape of their leaves in cross-section. X.australis has a diamond shape, and with the leaves being softer than other species.

apex of a Southern Grasstree Close up of the apex of a Southern Grasstree in Milarri, showing a single diamond-shaped leaf in cross section.
Image: Brendan Fleming
Source: Museum Victoria

From germination it takes about seven years to reach maturity, and although sporadic flowering and fruiting can occur thereafter, X.australis generally flower following fire. It is not well understood why fire stimulates reproduction, but cutting off the leaves can also initiate flowering. Application of ethylene, which is present in smoke, has a similar effect, indicating that flowering is stimulated from a hormonal response to leaf removal.

I found an extraordinary scene following bushfires several years ago in the Grampians National Park. Thousands of flower spikes up to 3m high as far as the eye can see, even curly ones, evoking some Leunig illustration!

Grasstree flower spikes Although most flower spikes are perfectly vertical, I occasionally see odd shapes at the Grampians.
Image: Brendan Fleming
Source: Brendan Fleming

The flowers are highly scented and produce much nectar, prized by birds, mammals and insects which pollinate the flowers. Each stalk can produce up to 10,000 seeds.

Southern Grasstree flower spike Close-up of the Southern Grasstree flower spike showing individual flowers.
Image: Brendan Fleming
Source: Brendan Fleming

Southern Grasstrees are quite susceptible to Phytopthora cinnamomi (root rot), often being the first plants to show symptoms. Hence they are a good indicator of the presence of the disease.

Drenching Southern Grasstree roots with Phosphonate Drenching with Phosphonate is a good way to boost the Southern Grasstree's defences against the Cinnamon Fungus Phytopthora.
Image: Chloe Miller
Source: Museum Victoria

Xanthorrhoea australis is not difficult to propagate. Seed germinate readily in just a few weeks, with no pre-sowing treatment required. Just be patient though - growth is very slow. A grasstree I germinated from seed was well-established but still trunkless after 10 years, and made a handsome addition to my garden.

Grasstrees feature heavily in Indigenous culture. Uses include weapons and fire sticks from flower stalks, sweet drinks from flower nectar, and edible leaf bases.

I don't have to go to the Grampians to enjoy grasstrees. The Milarri Garden at Melbourne Museum displays these remarkable plants right in the heart of Melbourne. Exit the Forest gallery to the North terrace and meet Milarri from its western end. It really is a dramatic entrance to the Museum's Indigenous garden.

Grasstrees at the entrance to Milarri Walk Grasstrees at the entrance to Milarri Walk from the North Terrace during autumn.
Image: Brendan Fleming
Source: Museum Victoria


Flora of Tasmania

Wrigley, J. & Fagg, M., 1983, Australian Native Plants, William Collins, Sydney, 512pp.

About this blog

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