Aug 2011

DISPLAYING POSTS FROM: Aug 2011 (15)

Strehlow’s egg

Author
by Craig Robertson
Publish date
26 August 2011
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Comments (5)
Craig is a Melbourne writer with an interest in natural history. He has been a museum volunteer in Birds and Mammals for several years.

Amongst the greatest treasures of the museum are its bird egg collections; their delicate beauty is outstanding. A number of the collections were made privately before the practice was ended by government in the 1950s, one the best of them by Norman J. Favaloro. He was a solicitor in Mildura and a leading field ornithologist. He published many papers on his work and was appointed an Honorary Associate in the Ornithology Department in the then National Museum of Victoria. His position enabled him to continue collecting, and towards the end of his life he presented his collection to the museum, complete with detailed documentation. It is one of the largest collections with 1500 clutches nestled in boxes neatly aligned within finely crafted glass-topped drawers in a cedar cabinet, one of the most beautiful in the bird room.

Favaloro's cabinet Favaloro's cabinet.
Image: Craig Robertson
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Amongst the thousands of specimens I find one particular treasure that draws my eye. Set marks were used by collectors to identify clutches. On this one is pencilled: "C.A. Red-tail Cockatoo, 17.5.1919, C.S." The Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, Calyptorhynchus banksii (once known as Banks' Cockatoo for Joseph Banks) is one of the most magnificent of the cockatoo family. It is under threat in parts of Australia, especially Victoria, but central Australia is one of its strongholds, where it is associated with rain in Indigenous culture.

  Calyptorhynchus banksii macrorhynchus Mounted specimen of Calyptorhynchus banksii macrorhynchus, one of five sub-species of the Red-tailed Black Cockatoo.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Like most collectors Favaloro swapped items with others to build his collection. In this case he has acquired an egg originally collected by one "C.S.". The data slip states: "Chas. Strehlow. Egg rested on wood dust in a hollow spout of a Red Gum at height of 20 feet up. Bird seen leaving nest." In 1919 Strehlow, a tall, strong man was 47 years old. But without doubt the egg would have been collected by an Aboriginal companion.

Strehlow's egg Strehlow's egg.
Image: Craig Robertson
Source: Museum Victoria
 

'Charles' was the Reverend Carl Strehlow, a German missionary who ran the Lutheran mission at Hermannsburg from 1894 until his death in 1922. He was also an ethnologist, and has been a rather forgotten figure in the broader discipline of anthropology in Australia. Strehlow's mission was among the central Australian tribes, in particular the Arrernte (or 'Aranda' to use his own spelling). They were the same people studied by Walter Baldwin Spencer, a long serving (1899 to 1928) and perhaps the most famous of Museum Victoria's former directors, and his colleague Frank Gillen.

Strehlow published the results of his ethnological fieldwork in German only, in a series of tomes from 1907 to 1920. They were a major resource for such luminaries of the time as Emile Durkheim, Sigmund Freud and Bronislaw Malinowski. But continental schools of thought were rejected by British-oriented social anthropologists who saw themselves as supporters of Darwinian science.

In the early years of the 20th century there was much controversy over the nature and origin of  religion among tribal peoples. Strehlow became embroiled in it. His reputation suffered from a clash with Spencer. Then World War I came. He was shocked by the outbreak of anti-German sentiment. Alhough a naturalized citizen, he found himself obliged to register as an enemy alien. By the time he collected the egg near the mission in 1919, he was hardly even a footnote in the literature of Australian anthropology.

Spencer continued on his illustrious and productive career until his death at Tierra Del Fuego in 1929. Strehlow's fate was not just obscurity, but a painful end. Just three years after collecting the egg, in October 1922 the strains of his work and life in general brought on an attack of the condition then known as dropsy, a massive swelling of the body due to accumulation of fluid. Strehlow needed hospitalisation urgently. His body was so bloated he could only travel strapped in a chair perched in the back of the old horse-drawn mission cart.

He left the mission for the last time with an Arrernte choir singing a hymn derived from J. S. Bach. As he was taken down the dry bed of the Finke River every bump on the track caused pain in his body, every thought the torments of Job. His family and their Arrernte friends were trying to get him to Oodnadatta and the train down to Adelaide. But when they reached Horseshoe Bend he died. The episode is recounted by his son Ted Strehlow in a great memoir, Journey to Horseshoe Bend. The story has what may be thought of as an operatic tragedy about it, and indeed a cantata of the same name was written by the Australian composer Andrew Schultz with the librettist Gordon Kalton Williams, and performed at the Sydney Opera House in 2003.

It is a rich and fascinating part of Australia's history, all there in one little egg in that beautiful Favaloro cabinet.

Links:

Spencer and Gillen Project

Ornithology Collection

MV loans at the MCG

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
24 August 2011
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Comments (2)

Just a quick jaunt from Melbourne Museum is the hallowed Melbourne Cricket Ground, spiritual home of sport in this city, Since 2008 it has also housed the National Sports Museum. I dropped in to the NSM last week to visit several Museum Victoria collection objects borrowed for their displays.

In the Champions gallery, the Australian Racing Museum tells the story of thoroughbred horseracing in Australia through objects, pictures and sound. The skeleton of the racehorse Carbine is on loan from MV but more recently, one of Prue Acton's amazing Melbourne Cup Day outfits joined a display of race day fashions across the eras. At one end there is a full-length white dress worn by Florence Martha Cullen in 1890 when she watched Carbine win the cup; at the other end is an outfit worn by Gai Waterhouse just a few years ago. There's also an outfit worn by Fashions on the Field judge Beatrice Sneddon in 1965.

Jacket & Skirt - Prue Acton, `Concorde', Melbourne Cup, 1984 Jacket & Skirt - Prue Acton, `Concorde', Melbourne Cup, 1984 (SH 942111). The ensemble also includes a matching belt, hat, gloves and bag. Just the jacket, skirt and belt are displayed at the National Sports Museum.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Prue Acton's 'Concorde' ensemble from 1984 was based on a Cubist or Geometric design. Lorinda Cramer, Collection Manager at the Australian Racing Museum, chose the outfit for display. "It's an amazing piece and I loved the lines in it," she said. "It's so perfectly constructed with pinstripes that match beautifully. It's an engineering feat!"

The jacket's shoulders are spectacularly wide in classic 1980s style. "It really speaks of the era," said Jackie Fraser, Assistant Curator at the National Sports Museum. MV conservators helped with the installation and according to Lorinda, "it was great fun padding out the shoulders! It surprised us all... there was so much fabric in them." Textiles age rapidly under bright light and require special care to protect and support them. "The conservators spent a lot of time getting it just perfect," said Jackie. "The cases have low lighting so that some textiles can be on display for up to a year."

Concorde ensemble installation Lorinda (left) and Jackie putting the Concorde ensemble back in place in the Champions gallery showcase after changing the ensemble behind it.
Source: National Sports Museum
 

Downstairs from the Champions gallery, curator Helen Walpole was working to finish installing a new temporary exhibition. Now open, Hidden History of the MCG tells the story of the Melbourne icon with treasures from the collections managed by the Melbourne Cricket Club. Did you know that a brass ship's bell announced the end of the football before the siren was introduced? Or that the first architect's sketches of the Great Southern Stand were doodled on a paper napkin?

In one showcase, two seagull specimens borrowed from MV and photographs illustrate birdlife interrupting play. When seagulls aren't begging for chips in the MCG stands, they're "being hit by cricketers and getting in the way of footballers," said Helen. She clearly has a soft spot for the specimens, explaining "we've named them – JL, or Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and Steven – Steven Seagal. JL looks a lot more calm and Steven looks like an aggressive action hero."

Helen Walpole with seagulls Curator Helen Walpole with seagull specimens nicknamed Steven Seagal (left) and JL (right).
Source: Museum Victoria

The two mounts were prepared by MV's Dean Smith and Jim Couzens with their usual care. "There is so much detail in them. Where the feathers meet the beak is just astonishing; beautifully done," Helen admired.

The National Sports Museum is open 10.00am – 5.00pm daily. It is closed Christmas Day and Good Friday.

Links:

Video of Carbine's assembly on the National Sports Museum's Facebook page

'Concorde' ensemble on Collections Online

MV News archive: Having a lend

MV News archive: From Melbourne to Maine

Putting Kodak’s pieces together

Author
by Joanna Wysocki
Publish date
22 August 2011
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Comments (0)

This guest post is by Joanna Wysocki, a public relations student from Victoria University, who has recently completed a work placement at MV.

Since the late 1800s, Kodak has been one of the world's leading companies responsible for developing photography and photographic equipment. It has also played a huge role in recording our personal histories – we all remember sending film off to be processed and waiting eagerly by an empty photo album in the days before digital cameras.

It was over 100 years ago that Eastman Kodak Company founder, George Eastman aimed to make photography accessible to everyone. His vision was to make the process of obtaining photos simple so that anyone could own a camera. The advertising campaign slogan at that time was “You press the button, we do the rest.” Significant time periods such as this one are represented in the Kodak Heritage Collection.

Kodak Brownie leaflet, HT 19963
Leaflet - 'Free Repairs to Your Kodak or Brownie', 1938 (HT 19963).
Image: Kodak Australasia Pty Ltd
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Since 2004, 1200 of the collection's 3100 registered items have been photographed and over 600 items from the Kodak Heritage Collection are on Collections Online. But there are still artefacts, stories and information yet to be discovered.

So, who looks after these Kodak moments?

Since the Volunteer Day in October 2010, former Kodak staff have helped Curator, Fiona Kinsey and Assistant Curator, Angela Jooste to enrich the Kodak Heritage Collection.

Angela, whose main duties are to manage both the collection and Kodak volunteers, says former staff and volunteers have added significant facts and information to the collection.

“From the early days, Kodak cared for the wellbeing of its staff. There is a real sense of loyalty and ownership of Kodak’s history with the former staff volunteering to preserve the collection at the Museum. It’s their knowledge and memories of Kodak that contributes to bringing the Kodak Heritage Collection to life,” said Angela.

Photograph - Kodak Australasia Pty Ltd, Dinner for Returned World War II Personnel, Photograph - Kodak Australasia Pty Ltd, Dinner for Returned World War II Personnel, Groups Seated at Tables, Sydney, New South Wales,1946-1947 (MM 96065).
Image: Kodak Australasia Pty Ltd
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Kodak employed many of its workers’ family members, some of whom spent most of their working lives at the former Coburg and Abbotsford Kodak plants. This has contributed to the community spirit of former staff, as they now want to look after the company that took in generations of their families.

Preserving Kodak’s history will allow future generations to see the significant role Kodak played in the social, cultural and corporate life of Melbourne and Australia, as well as the shift in eras, from analogue to digital.

Links:

MV News: Kodak Heritage Collection

Kodak Heritage Collection on Collections Online

History of Kodak

Melbourne Museum’s high prune

Author
by Patrick
Publish date
18 August 2011
Comments
Comments (1)

The Forest Gallery is one of the icons of Melbourne Museum – a cool temperate rainforest merging into drier eucalypt forest complete with creek, ponds and waterfall, all in the heart of a major city.

The gallery is dominated by large gum trees, wattles and southern beech, which have been growing consistently under the close supervision of Live Exhibits horticulturalists for more than 10 years. This is a ‘Forest in a Box’, a museum gallery in which the living trees must be strategically pruned on a regular basis in order to maintain the desired effect.

A view from above the fire poles. A view from above the fire poles at the northern end of the Forest Gallery, giving some idea of the height of the pruning operation.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Last week arborists from ArborCo visited the Forest Gallery for an annual prune of the larger trees. The arborists must scale remarkable heights to reach the crowns of the trees, even before they commence their work.

Crew Leader Andrew Caldecott prepares to climb a Southern Beech for the annual trim. Crew Leader Andrew Caldecott prepares to climb a Southern Beech for the annual trim.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Great attention is paid by the arborists to the health and safety of both themselves and the trees. Much of the preparation is done on the ground, and the pruning operation is planned weeks in advance. It must be done in such a way that preserves the natural shape of the tree and promotes growth in the right directions.

Arborist Joel Creech makes his way up a gum tree towards the upper canopy. Arborist Joel Creech makes his way up a gum tree towards the upper canopy.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

During their visit, the arborists also apply their skills to climbing one of the poles which houses the Forest Gallery’s wind gauge. The gauge is used to monitor wind speeds, and Museum staff will occasionally close the gallery temporarily if the wind becomes too strong.

Malachi Ewan at the top of a fire pole cleaning the wind gauge. Malachi Ewan at the top of a fire pole cleaning the wind gauge.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Branches removed by the arborists are recycled on site into mulch, to be used on gardens throughout the Museum. When suitably aged, some of the mulch will be returned to the Forest Gallery to sustain the trees from which it came.

Mulching the prunings Left: ArborCo’s Gary Lambert feeds a steady stream of branches through the chipper. | Right: Brendan Fleming from the Live Exhibits Unit begins moving mulch back onto gardens around the museum.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

During the pruning operation, some of the branches cut from the Forest Gallery are tested to monitor the long term health of the trees. Foliage samples taken from new growth in the upper parts of the canopy can tell much about the trees’ nutrient content. Dr Peter Hopmans from Timberlands Research collects samples and uses them, in conjunction with soil samples and trunk diameters, in an ongoing review of plant health.

Collecting foliage samples Dr Peter Hopmans from Timberlands Research collecting foliage samples, watched by Brendan Fleming and Customer Service Officer Veronica Barnett.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The Forest Gallery combines ancient geology and the power of water with living birds, reptiles, fish and frogs. It also exemplifies indigenous and European use and management of forests, and the role and impact of fire. But the heart of the forest is the giant trees that stand above all else, and ongoing management should ensure their existence for many years to come.

Links:

MV News: Forest gets a haircut

Pruning saves the Forest from the storm 

Evolving the biggest mouth in history

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
17 August 2011
Comments
Comments (1)

Imagine that your face was articulated so that your jaw could split down the middle and expand sideways until the tips were out as wide as your ears. Imagine that you could move all the bones of your face... not just the soft tissue, but the bones themselves.

Sound bizarre? Alien, even? Yet this is exactly what happens every time a Blue Whale takes a gulp of water. The filter-feeding whales, otherwise known as baleen whales or mysticetes, have feeding adaptations that are unique among mammals. Their intriguing evolutionary history is the subject of Dr Erich Fitzgerald's research, and today he's published a paper that overturns a long-held belief about how the baleen whales evolved.

Blue Whale Illustration of the biggest mouth in history at work. The Blue Whale can expand its mouth to gulp huge volumes of krill-filled water.
Image: Carl Buell
Source: Museum Victoria
 

For several years, he has worked on an extraordinary 25 million-year-old species known from fossils that were found in the 1990s near Jan Juc on Victoria's west coast. Called Janjucetus, this early baleen whale predated the evolution of baleen – the hairy structure used by modern baleen whales to filter tiny crustaceans from the sea. Instead, Janjucetus had the large eyes and ferocious teeth of a hunter.

Erich Fitzgerald with Janjucetus Dr Erich Fitzgerald holding the jaws of Janjucetus with Melbourne Museum's massive Blue Whale skeleton in the background.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria
 

There are two key changes in the skull that permit the filter feeding of modern whales. The first is a lower jaw that can split down the middle. In humans, the seam (or symphysis) where the two halves of the jawbone meet at our chin is fused, thus our jaws are rigid. In contrast, baleen whales have greatly elongated jawbones that do not meet in the middle. The second change is in the width of the upper jaw; baleen whales have evolved a wide mouth, allowing them to engulf massive volumes of water.

"Previously it was thought that the origins of both features were intimately linked to filter-feeding and that's what differentiated baleen whales from toothed whales and dolphins," explains Erich. His research has just overturned this theory since Janjucetus had a wide upper jaw yet its lower jaw had a tightly connected, immobile symphysis. "So, the loose symphysis is not typical of all baleen whales, it's a later innovation. The earliest baleen whales could not expand and contract their lower jaws so were anatomically incapable of filter-feeding, yet they had these wide upper jaws."

Jaws of Janjucetus The fossilised jaws of Janjucetus, clearly showing the immobile symphysis at the tip.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria
 

What Erich describes is an elegant example of an exaptation, where a feature evolved to serve a particular function but was later co-opted into a new role. Erich believes that its wide jaw helped Janjucetus to suck in large singe prey items, such as squid or fish, and didn't evolve for filter-feeding at all.

Says Erich, "Charles Darwin reflected upon this in The Origin of Species. He wondered how you could go from a whale that has big teeth like Janjucetus does and catching fish and squid one at a time, to something like a modern Blue Whale that feeds en masse. This is the kind of fossil palaeontologists dream of finding because it shows a transitional form."

"It's an exciting discovery, but actually not as surprising as you might think," concludes Erich. "Evolution by natural selection implies that we should expect to find these kinds of fossils in the rocks." The next question he looks forward to answering is how whales shifted from suction feeding to filter-feeding. "I think we're really close to finding a transitional series of fossils that illuminate this."

Erich's paper about this discovery, 'Archaeocete-like jaws in a baleen whale', is published today in Biology Letters.

Links:

Video: Erich discusses whale evolution

MV News: Ferocious fossil

Dr Erich Fitzgerald

Baleen and toothed whales

Backyard Science at the Pub

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
16 August 2011
Comments
Comments (0)

Following Dr Mark Norman's Warrnambool pub chat about chemistry and communication in deep sea animals on 2 August, the second Backyard Science at the Pub rolls into Bendigo tonight.

Geologist Dermot Henry will explore the origins of crystals and minerals found in central Victoria. The geological processes that made central Victoria such a booming gold-mining area also produced all kinds of other fascinating minerals; studying these helps us understand the rich chemistry of the Earth.

  Fluorapatite, Dolomite and Quartz minerals Fluorapatite, Dolomite and Quartz minerals from 1,200', Diamond Hill area, Bendigo.
Image: Frank Coffa
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Dermot has worked at Museum Victoria since 1982 and has managed Museum Victoria’s Natural Science collections since 2001. He was responsible for the development of geological themes and content and the selection of specimens for the Dynamic Earth exhibition at Melbourne Museum.

Backyard Science at the Pub is part of National Science Week 2011 and will be held Tuesday 16 August 6pm – 8pm at The Foundry Hotel, 366 High Street, Bendigo. For enquiries or to register your interest, please email or telephone 0412 607 525.

 group of miners, Bendigo, Victoria, circa 1908. A group of miners at 'crib time', Bendigo, Victoria, circa 1908 (MM 6962).
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Links:

Backyard Science at the Pub event on Facebook

Super Science Month

Dermot Henry's staff biography

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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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