Dr Andi


Dr Andi

Dr Andi Horvath can’t resist prowling through MV’s collections to link history, science and culture. As a curator and science enthusiast her motto has been 'I ponder therefore I podcast' but now it seems she blogs too. Enjoy her series 'Five things...'

Podcast Episode 28: Be My Guest in Mesopotamia

by Dr Andi
Publish date
5 June 2012
Comments (2)

To gatecrash the opening of The Wonders of Ancient Mesopotamia exhibition at Melbourne Museum, we disguised ourselves as archaeologists and dug our way into the museum, like a reverse jailbreak.We interviewed the passionate archaeologist and curator Sarah Collins from the British Museum who was part the team that created this superb travelling exhibition. We also hitched a ride on a VIP tour with Patrick Greene, CEO of Museum Victoria.

Ancient civilisations are fascinating, and the Mesopotamian, Assyrian and Babylonian civilisations is where it all began when it comes to bureaucracy, law, government, Zodiac sign readings, writing lists, 60 seconds in the minute and what I might call a mild obsession with lions.

Bronze lion weight Bronze lion weight. One of a set made for King Shalmaneser V (726-722 BC). Inscribed on it is ‘Five mina of the king’ in both Assyrian cuneiform and Aramaic.
Source: The Trustees of The British Museum

Inside the exhibition I saw evidence of people tapping away on clay tablets; outside the exhibition I saw evidence of people tapping away on their digital tablets. So nothing has really changed in thousands of years.

Please enjoy listening to us babble on about the ancient wonders of Mesopotamia.


Podcast credits

Interviewees and voices:

  • Sarah Collins, British Museum
  • Patrick Greene, CEO Museum Victoria
  • A visitor at the exhibition opening
  • And a cast of ancient lions 

Interviews and production by:

  • Dr Andi Horvath – Senior curator, Museum Victoria
  • Arch Cuthbertson – Podcast Recording Services

Visit the Podcast Adventures page to listen to the archive, or subscribe to Access All Areas in iTunes.

Five things about goats

by Dr Andi
Publish date
6 March 2012
Comments (8)

Like many organisations, MV has an internal website where staff can post information and notices about various things. Recently I saw this wonderful posting on the museum's intranet:

Anyone want a free goat?

I need to find a good home for my pet goat Sebastian. He is a 7yr old desexed male Toggenburg with horns.

He loves to go jogging, nibble on the neighbours' roses, sleep all day & then bleat & bash things in the evening. He'd make a great pet. Not suitable for small children.

Sebastian the goat Hi, I am Sebastian the Goat, and I have my own Facebook page.
Image: Shane Hughes
Source: Shane Hughes

I would love to go jogging with Sebastian and watch his evening Hulk moments, but alas, my flat's balcony is too small for even my pot plants. But it did get me thinking that goats are amazing animals. Here are five reasons why.


1. You can eat them, drink them, wear them... and wash, and knit with them.

Evidence suggests goats were domesticated in Eastern Turkey around 10,000 years ago. They were kept for their meat, their hide, milk and wool. Think luxurious cashmere, smooth goat's cheese, and gentle goat's milk soap.

I found some stylish kid (young goat) leather shoes in the MV collection. No doubt the collection managers handle them with kid gloves: figuratively and perhaps literally speaking.

blue women's shoes Pair of shoes, blue kid leather with Louis heel, circa 1905-1910. (SH 880814.)
Source: Museum Victoria


2. You can take a goat ride or use a goat freight service.

Historical images from the MV collection show harnessed goats at work and at play.

lantern slide of man and goats Lantern slide labelled ‘Old Ned and goats, hands blown off’. (MM 034986)
Source: Museum Victoria

boys with goat and cart Glass negative, circa 1900.
Image: A.J. Campbell
Source: Museum Victoria


3. Mythology combines goats with humans to become devilishly naughty characters.

Mythological depictions of the half-human, half-goat are often naughty types. Among the Greek gods was Pan the faun who was into partying with nymphs. Puck was mischievous fairy from English folklore. On the other hand, Satyrs, which are human-like beasts with goat bits, were often evil creatures.

This faun from the collection is a horse brass , which is a decoration, souvenir or amulet hung on a horse's harness. This faun appears to be seated in a lotus position!

Horse brass with faun motif Horse Brass - Faun, 1825-1939 (ST 034497)
Source: Museum Victoria


4. Goats are great for playtime.

People often kept goats to keep the grass down and for a bit of milk. That's why Mitzy the goat (pictured below) lived at Janet's place in Springvale in 1957.

Girl playing with a goat in a field, Girl Playing with Goat, in Field, Springvale South, 1957MM 110927).
Source: Museum Victoria

I remember as a kid I used to love to play jacks; mine were coloured plastic. I remember being quite grossed out when I learnt that real jacks were actually knuckle bones from a sheep or a goat.

goat knuckle bones Knuckle bones found during the Casselden Place archaeological dig, circa 1880 (LL 32184 2)
Source: Museum Victoria


5. Goats are not only sure-footed rock climbers but you can take them jogging.

billy goat flick book Flick book with a climbing billy goat by 'Cinematograph Living Pictures', circa 1920 (HT 25043.
Source: Museum Victoria

Flick books were a popular optical toys created in the 19th century. See our goat-inspired flick book in action in this video:


Sebastian the Goat's present owner Shane says Sebastian enjoys a bit of a jog and meeting new people. We wish him all the best in becoming an 'old goat' in his new home.

Cheers and bleats, Dr Andi

Five things about dragons

by Dr Andi
Publish date
23 January 2012
Comments (2)

Happy Chinese New Year! In 2012 it's the Year of the Dragon. I've been stalking Wally the Gippsland Water Dragon in the Forest Gallery for days but couldn't get decent photo. I figured he should be the notional poster boy for this year's Chinese horoscope. Alas I am hopeless paparazzo because every time a customer service officer called me to say he was out and about and ready for his close-up, he would flee at the sight of me.

So I wandered down to the Live Exhibits lab to try get some tips on reptile whispering or to see if Wally had a stunt double, dead or alive. The staff responded by saying things like "oh, here I have a picture of Wally on my phone," and another said "here is a snap of another type of water dragon I took while bushwalking." You gotta love our museum staff.

1. Wally the Water Dragon only poses for visitors and Live Exhibits staff.

Wally's scientific name, Phisygnathus lesueurii howittii, has a connection to Museum Victoria. Our founding director Frederick McCoy named this species after "that excellent geologist, magistrate, and bushman, my accomplished friend Mr. A. Howitt... willing to aid in any scientific investigation of the natural products of Gippsland, and who with infinite difficulty succeeded in procuring three specimens for me of this River-Lizard."

McCoy also reported that that these lizards must have given rise to the rumours of crocodiles in Gippsland.

Wally the Gippsland Water Dragon Wally the Gippsland Water Dragon.
Image: Caitlyn Henderson
Source: Caitlyn Henderson

Eastern Water Dragon Wally's stunt double cousin, Eastern Water Dragon Physignathus lesueurii lesueurii.
Image: David Holmes
Source: David Holmes

2. Chinese dragons have four claws and Japanese dragons have three.

Next time you find yourself in a dragon-slaying situation, take a moment to count the claws on the foot of the dragon. That way you will know the its origin; if it has four claws it is Chinese but if it has three claws it is characteristically Japanese.

Japanese wood carving of dragon Japanese dragon carving in wood with articulated body, limbs and tongue. (ST 018385)
Source: Museum Victoria

3. Some dragons have fire in their bellies that sounds the passage of time.

Some dragons may breathe fire, but this Chinese dragon has fire in its belly; it's a reproduction of a Chinese fire clock. The dragon is boat-shaped with wires that support a burning incense stick or taper. This gradually ignites cords that then drop metal balls into a brass dish below.

Chinese fire clock replica Chinese fire clock replica, made by J. Bishop, Melbourne, 1959. (ST 024869)
Source: Museum Victoria

4. Dragon's blood was once used to stain violins and treat diarrhoea.

Dragon's blood is a red resin prepared from the fruits of a climbing palm (Daemonorops draco). It is used for colouring mahogany, varnishes, for staining marble and in the preparation of lacquers and dentifrices. It was also used medicinally for the treatment of diarrhoea and severe syphilis!

Dragon's blood Glass jar containing Dragon's Blood used in the pharmacy of a mental health hospital, Victoria, Australia, circa 1900 (SH 850502).
Source: Museum Victoria

5. Dragons are from mythical lands and Victorian coastlines.

The Victorian marine emblem is the Weedy Sea Dragon (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus). These wonderful fish are residents of Westernport and Hobsons Bays as well as Geelong and Portland.

Like most fish, sea dragons swim horizontally rather than in a vertical position, like seahorses. However, like seahorses, male seal dragons do the egg-carrying duty.

  Seagrass habitat with Sea Dragons. Seagrass habitat with two sea dragons.
Image: Mark Norman
Source: Museum Victoria

So in the tradition of Chinese New Year, forget all grudges, wish peace and happiness to all, and sweep away ill fortune to make way for incoming good luck.


Gippsland Water Dragon

Frederick McCoy's debunking of the Gippsland crocodile myth

Question of the Week: Dragon's den

Five things about summer

by Dr Andi
Publish date
18 January 2012
Comments (2)

1. Summer means getting to a century... in cricket, in the old Fahrenheit, and for a beer break.

As a little kid, I remember summer was celebrated by the number 100. It was a big deal when cricketers hit a century (as it still is) and being able to say "it's going to be (or was) 100 today!" to whomever you met that day. I also remember some outdoor workers used to stop work if it got to a hundred.

One hundred degrees Fahrenheit is 38° Celsius; it's marked as 'blood heat' (body temperature) on this old thermometer from our collection. According to Mr Myles Whelan, this advertising thermometer "had hung inside the office of Whelan the Wrecker since the 1920s." He donated the sign to Museum Victoria after the company went into receivership in 1991. I wonder... did they go for beers when it got to 100°F?

Thermometer Sign - 'Stephens Inks', Thermometer, Metal & Enamel, 1920s. (SH 930886)
Source: Museum Victoria

2. Summer means water worship... sun worship is too dangerous.

Mr Hogan from the council pool was a fit muscular chap like the Roman god Neptune; he was god of water, sea and master of the chlorinated pond. For summer after summer, Mr Hogan tried to teach me to swim. He eventually got me to swim half the length of the pool but I was never able to repeat it. Swimming is a skill that still eludes me.

Nevertheless summertime does call for a bit of water worship and don't we all miss the days of wonderful garden sprinkler action.

These floatation aids were used by Margaret Daws at the beach around 1930 when she was about four years old. The Daws family lived in Coburg and rented the same Aspendale house every year for their annual two-month summer holiday at Mordialloc and Aspendale (Long Beach).

floation aids from 1930 Water Wings - Father Neptune's Safe Float, circa 1930 (HT 21431).
Source: Museum Victoria

Here's Gerald Brocklesby jumping over the sprinkler in the back garden of his family home at Blackburn, on 17 January 1953. The Brocklesby children often played in the sprinkler in the backyard for relief from the summer heat.

Photo of boy playing in sprinkler Digital Photograph - Boy Jumping Over Rotating Sprinkler, Backyard, Blackburn, 1953 (MM 110316).
Source: Museum Victoria

3. Summer cool is a short queue at the Gelato van.

When I saw this toy ice-cream truck I thought I could hear the distant sound of a slow paced, slightly off tune - the electronic xylophone version of Für Elise. It is part of the William Boyd Childhood Collection of post-World War II country Victorian toys that belonged to Bill Boyd.

Toy ice cream truck Toy Ice Cream Truck - Metal, circa 1950s (HT 18771)
Source: Museum Victoria

4. Summer is all thanks to 23.5. The answer to the universe and everything is not 42, it is 23.5. The seasons of the year are a consequence of the 23.5° tilt of the Earth's axis and its orbital alignment with the Sun. The summer solstice (longest day) has been celebrated in a myriad of pagan, religious, humanitarian, commercial, and family rituals.

This orrery was made by Benjamin Martin in London, England circa 1770. An orrery is a mechanical model of the Solar System. Generally they were intended to be schematic representations for educational purposes rather than strictly accurate ones. This orrery contains a mechanism that can actually produce elliptical orbits around the Sun and is pictured in the winter position for Australia.

  Orrery circa 1770 Orrery, Tellurium & Lunarium - Benjamin Martin, London, circa 1770. (ST 023770).
Source: Museum Victoria

5. Summer in Melbourne is parasol one day, umbrella the next. When I started writing this blog it was a hot 35°C day. The day I was checking the final draft, it was 19°C and a hailstorm had just subsided. By the time I went for lunch the skies were clear and the sun was out.

Many years ago an overseas friend emailed me and asked me what the weather was like; instead of taking a photo outside my office window I saw this t-shirt in a souvenir shop – so I sent her a photo of that instead.

souvenir t-shirt Photo of a Melbourne 'Four Seasons in One Day' souvenir t-shirt taken many years ago at a city souvenir store.  

Oh by the way... at the moment our award-winning Planetarium at Scienceworks is running a great show about the reasons for the seasons called Tilt.

And...if you visit Melbourne Museum in the next month don't forget to check out the Summer Holiday Snaps display in the foyer. It features 40 images from our image collection depicting summer holidays around 100 years ago. We are so used to looking at people from the early 20th century in austere portraits that it's wonderful to see these relaxed, leisure-time snaps with their candid, smiling faces. Some things haven't changed so much in 100 years, after all.

Summer Holiday Snaps display Summer Holiday Snaps display in the Melbourne Museum foyer.
Image: Andi Horvath
Source: Museum Victoria

Meet Me at the Museum episode 3

by Dr Andi
Publish date
5 January 2012
Comments (2)

Welcome to another episode of 'Meet Me at the Museum', the video series about our collection.

In episode three we return to House Secrets to take a fascinating look at the little-known past of a common domestic object.

Let us know what you think in the comments section. And be sure to catch up on the whole series if you haven't already.


Watch this video with a transcript.

Meet Me at the Museum episode 2

by Dr Andi
Publish date
12 December 2011
Comments (3)

Here is episode two of 'Meet Me at the Museum', a video series about our collection.

We marvel at how particular specimens made it into our collection.

Let us know what you think in the comments section. And be sure to see our previous episodes if you haven't already.


Watch this video with a transcript.

About this blog

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