Guest posts are written by a variety of people from Museum Victoria and beyond.

Hawks vs. Eagles: who will win … according to SCIENCE?!

You’ve all heard of the big match taking place this weekend between the Hawthorn Hawks and the West Coast Eagles. The speculation is rampant – who is going to take home the Cup in 2015? 

Hawks vs. Eagles Hawks vs. Eagles...who will win?

At Museum Victoria we can’t tell the future but we do know our native animals. So we began to wonder – who would win if the match ascended from the grassy green of the MCG and took place between their mascots in the sky?

Firstly, because we’re scientists we need to establish the facts.

What species are we talking about?

There are three species of eagle in Australia – the Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax), White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) and the Little Eagle (Aquila morphnoides). The first two are the largest raptors (birds of prey) in Australia. They all belong to the Accipitridae family, along with the other fifteen bird of prey species, except for owls, falcons and kestrels.

Within the same Accipitridae family Australia also has buzzards, kites, goshawks, sparrowhawks, osprey, bazas and harriers, but no species that actually goes by the common name ‘Hawk’. The colloquial term hawk can refer to many of these birds but is often also used to refer to birds outside this group.

We’re working with some loose definitions here (not ideal for scientists, as I’m sure you can imagine) but let’s presume that the goshawks and sparrowhawks are what qualifies as Australian hawks.

Thus our Grand Final showdown is set to take place between the largest eagle – the Wedge-tailed Eagle and the largest hawk – the Red Goshawk.

Big game strategy:
Eagles will spend hours circling at a distance before moving in for the kill. Hawks tend to hunt from concealed hiding places, attacking by stealth and finishing with a high speed chase.

Size and speed:
In this particularly case our Eagle is about five times the size of our Hawk. Eagles are also marathon flyers and can keep going for hours. Hawks are fast over short distances but will tire easily.

Hawks are very intelligent birds, second only to the Adelaide Crows. This has been established by Dr Louis Lefebvre of McGill University in Canada who developed the world’s only comprehensive avian IQ index. Eagles are also very intelligent…but not as intelligent as a Hawk.

Unlike umpires, Hawks also have excellent eyesight. They have five times as many photoreceptors as humans and ten times better eyesight, partly due to an indented fovea that magnifies their centre of vision. This superior intelligence and eyesight means that they are favoured over eagles by falconers. Eagles also have excellent eyesight, and are known to soar 2km above the ground searching for carrion or prey. But…their eyesight is not as good a Hawks.

Flexibility and adaptability:
Eagles are very large and their weight and power works against their flexibility in close quarters. But with a good run-up they are almost unstoppable. Hawks are more readily able to change strategy to reflect changing circumstances, to start and stop quickly, and to win against their opponents in tight struggles.

Game tactics:
Eagles consume a large part of their diet as carrion, which doesn’t require much intelligence. They also feed on large animals such as North Melbourne Kangaroos, which they overcome through brute force … and dubious umpiring decisions. Hawks feed mostly on birds, especially parrots, which are smart in their own right and require more intelligence to overcome.

So who’s going to win? We’ll have to wait and see, but rest assured that feathers will fly!

Talking Difference at the Yarra Ranges Regional Museum

by Sam Boivin
Publish date
16 September 2015
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Friday 28 August - Monday 23 November 2015

Back in August 2014, I gave a presentation on Talking Difference at a forum called Just Encounters: Bringing Together Education, Arts and Research. This forum was presented by the Minutes of Evidence (MoE) project.

Also at the forum, and hearing me talk, were staff members from the Yarra Ranges Regional Museum, who were planning an upcoming exhibition, Oil Paint and Ochre: The incredible story of William Barak and the de Purys, which explores the complexity of first-generation negotiation between Aboriginal and European people in Australia.

As part of the exhibition's complementary public programming, researchers were looking for an engaging and interactive way to bring the story right into the present – to show and remind visitors that the exchange and negotiation across cultures is ongoing in Australia, and to allow any issues or thoughts raised by the exhibition to be voiced and explored. They remembered my presentation at the Just Encounters forum and contacted me about a possible residency for the Talking Difference Portable Studio, for the duration of the exhibition.

The Talking Difference Portable Studio The Talking Difference Portable Studio at the Yarra Ranges Regional Museum
Image: Museum Victoria
Source: Museum Victoria

On Friday 28 August I travelled east to the Yarra Ranges Regional Museum and set up the studio. A workshop was then held with fifteen local year 8 students. Many of the themes Talking Difference addresses were discussed, including personal identity, judging people based on outward appearances, and why making jokes about another person’s race or skin colour is not okay. The students demonstrated a good grasp of the workshop ideas and a lot of empathy. At the end of the workshop, students came up with some questions that were then recorded in the Talking Difference Portable Studio for members of the public to respond to:

  • How do you identify yourself?
  • Have you ever felt like you had to change part of your identity? Why?
  • How do you feel if someone tells you that they are a different religion to you? Why?
  • Have you ever been ashamed of your culture or race? What happened? How did it make you feel?
  • Have you ever stereotyped someone? How do you think it made them feel?
  • Have you ever been teased because of who you are? How did it make you feel?
  • Is it okay to tell a joke about someone’s race or skin colour? Who gets to decide if the joke is funny?

Talking Difference Talking Difference as viewed from the Yarra Ranges Regional Museum exhibition galleries.
Image: Museum Victoria
Source: Museum Victoria

The Oil Paint and Ochre exhibition presents objects and stories from the de Pury family collection, including diaries, letters and artefacts. I was lucky enough to be given a walk-through preview of the exhibition, and found the stories and content quite moving, especially in the use of intimate snippets of the forty year exchange between two cultures. The exhibition represents a great opportunity for Talking Difference to reach a historically rich part of Victoria and to add to its growing collection of community responses to questions about identity, belonging, racism, and the other themes that Talking Difference seeks to address.

Oil Paint and Ochre: The incredible story of William Barak and the de Purys, is running from Saturday 29 August - Sunday 22 November, 2015 at the Yarra Ranges Regional Museum: 33 Castella St, Lilydale VIC 3140. The Talking Difference Portable Studio will be in residence for the duration of the exhibition.

Two fathers from WW1

by Shane Salmon
Publish date
3 September 2015
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Shane works on touring exhibitions at Museum Victoria.

The impact of World War One took a particularly tragic toll on families, as great numbers of fathers and sons failed to return home from the front line. The worry and grief of fathers and mothers knew no boundaries, whether in Australia, England, Germany, or elsewhere. 

Melbourne Museum is currently hosting two exhibitions on the subject of the First World War. Both contain powerful stories about those who served in the war, and the impact their loss had on families. With Fathers’ Day approaching this weekend, we reflect on two fathers who fought in the war, and tip our hat to all absent fathers this Sunday.

'My three kids'

Robert Stewart Smylie, a 42-year old father of three, died on the Somme with a photograph of his wife and three children in his shrapnel-damaged wallet.

Roberts Stewart Smylie's wallet. Family photos in Roberts Smylie's wallet.
Source: Imperial War Museums

Smylie was a school headmaster who had taught English, Latin and Mathematics for 20 years. Despite his age and responsibilities, on the outbreak of war he joined the army and eventually travelled with the 1st Battalion in Flanders.

While stationed in Flanders, he wrote a long poem about his experiences to his three children, ending with the hope that they would all soon be together again. A full transcript of the poem appears at the end of this post.

Poem in notebook Smylie's poem for his children.
Source: Imperial War Museums

Smylie's sketchbook appears in The WW1 Centenary Exhibition

A scrapbook of grief

Frank Roberts was recently married when he arrived at the Belgian battlefields in 1917. His first daughter Nancy was born soon after. He kept in close correspondence with his family, including his father Garry, until his death in a fierce battle at Mont St Quentin on 1 September 1918.

The loss of his son Frank cast a shadow over the rest of Garry Roberts’s life. He spent countless hours contacting soldiers who served with Frank, meeting them, trying to piece together what had happened.

From his massive collection of articles, photographs, letters and other memorabilia, Garry compiled 27 huge scrapbooks documenting Frank’s life and the world in which he had lived. The scrapbooks are among the most poignant expressions of grief ever made.

big scrapbook of photos One of three Roberts’ Scrapbooks on display at in the WWI: Love & Sorrow exhibition at Melbourne Museum.
Source: Museum Victoria


You can see the scrapbook and other traces of Frank Roberts in WWI: Love and Sorrow.


Transcript of poem written by Robert Smylie, 19 November 1915

I am writing this tonight, My three kids
By a little candle-light, My three kids
And the candlestick’s a tin
With some dry tobacco in
And so that’s how I begin, To my kids

Now I wonder what you’re at, My three kids
Moll and Bids and little Pat, My three kids
Why of course there’s two asleep
But perhaps Moll’s thinking deep
Watching little stars that peep, At my kids

Since I left you long ago, My three kids
There’s a lot you’d like to know, My three kids
That has happened to your dad
In the varied luck he’s had
In adventures good and bad, My three kids

I have soldiered in a trench, My three kids
Serving under Marshall French, My three kids
Once a shell dropped with a thud
Quite close, covered me with mud
And it’s lucky ‘twas a dud, For my kids

And I’ve crossed the ground outside, My three kids
It’s at night that’s chiefly tried, My three kids
And the bullets sang all round
Overhead, or struck the ground
But your daddy none has found, No my kids

I have mapped our trenches new, My three kids
And some German trenches too, My three kids
I have sprinted past a wood
Counting steps, for so I could
Judge the distance as I should, My three kids

I have placed our snipers where, My three kids
On the Germans they could stare, My three kids
And they killed their share of men
Quite a lot for snipers ten
From their little hidden den, My three kids

And I’ve slept in bed quite warm, My three kids
But I haven’t taken harm, My three kids
When upon the ground I lay
Without even straw or hay
In the same clothes night and day, My three kids

When they sent us back to rest, My three kids
Then they seemed to think it best, My three kids
To send your dad ahead
To discover where a bed
Could be found, or some old shed, My three kids

And new officers were trained, My three kids
And the men we’ve lately gained, My three kids
And while that work was in hand
I was second in command
Of B Coy and that was grand, My three kids

But it didn’t last all through, My three kids
There was other work to do, My three kids
When they made me adjutant
I was busy as an ant
And it’s not much catch I grant, To my kids

I have ridden on a horse, My three kids
Captured from a German force, My three kids
And I’ve marched and crawled and run
Night and day in rain and sun
And shall do it till we’ve won, For my kids

And I’d rather be with you, My three kids
Let you know I’m lucky too, My three kids
Lots of men I used to know
Now are killed or wounded, though
I remain, and back I’ll go, To my kids

And I hope you’ll all keep well, My three kids
Just as sound as any bell, My three kids
And when this long war is done
We shall have some glorious fun
Moll and Bids and little son, My three kids.

Prehistoric marine life in Australia’s inland sea

by Melanie Raymond
Publish date
2 September 2015
Comments (1)
Cover of Prehistoric marine life in Australia’s inland sea
Cover of Prehistoric marine life in Australia’s inland sea
Source: Museum Victoria
One hundred million years ago, Australia was not so much a continent, as a series of islands interconnected by vast shallow waterways. In place of our central deserts, lay great expanses of water, the legendary ‘inland sea’ once sought by European explorers a hundred million years too late. The Eromanga Sea teemed with a rich and diverse fauna and flora which left their remains to fossilise on the bottom of the ancient sea floor.

We didn’t end up using this blurb but it did catch my interest. Danielle Clode, a science writer and previous Thomas Ramsay Fellow at Museum Victoria, sent it to me as part of her sales pitch for a new title. That title, now called Prehistoric marine life in Australia’s inland sea, has just been published. It is the third book in the Museum Victoria Nature series.

The first book was Tom Rich’s Polar Dinosaurs and the second, Danielle Clode’s Prehistoric giants. The megafauna of Australia. The latter was shortlisted in the prestigious CBCA awards in 2008 and continues to be a bestseller for Museum Victoria Publishing.

Platypterygius australis: Ichthyosaur Platypterygius australis skull and rostrum specimen. An extinct ichthyosaur from the Cretaceous period.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria

Prehistoric marine conjures up the vanished world of the Aptian/Albian period. Written for a young audience who may never have heard of the Eromanga Sea, Prehistoric marine introduces us to a foreign landscape and its inhabitants. Monstrous Kronosaurus queenslandicus ruled the shallow inland seas, and other sharp-toothed predators, including sharks and ichthyosaurs, cruised around, looking for prey. On the sea floor, there was also an abundance of life, including the impressive Tropaeum imperator, an ammonite which measured up to 75 cm wide and was mistaken for a tractor tyre when first discovered.

Platypterygius australis cartilage muscle overlay Reconstruction of platypterygius australis, an ichthyosaur from the Cretaceous period with cartilage muscle overlay showing developmental process of drawings.
Image: Peter Trusler
Source: Peter Trusler

You can hear Danielle talk about her book with Robyn Williams on ABC Radio National's Science Show.

  Artist's interpretation of a Kronosaurus catching a pterosaur Prehistoric marine creature Kronosaurus (similar to a crocodile) leaping out of the ocean to catch a pterosaur
Image: Tor Sponga
Source: Bergens Tidende

Explore our collections 24/7

by Ely Wallis
Publish date
28 August 2015
Comments (1)

Over the past two years, a team of programmers, designers, curators, collection managers and database experts from across Museum Victoria have been working on a new, integrated website for our collections. We are excited to announce that the MV Collections website is now live.

The new site provides a single website to explore our Humanities (including history, technology and Indigenous collections) and Natural Sciences (including zoology, palaeontology and geology) records, with over 1.14 million item and specimen records from our collections, and over 3000 authored articles and species profiles, representing our research.

Museum Victoria Collections website homepage Museum Victoria Collections website homepage  

As well as providing lots of information, there are more than 150,000 images on the site. Over 80,000 were taken by our own MV photographers and staff. We have applied a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license to these images so that anyone can reuse them, as long as the image is credited back to MV. In addition, 31,000 more images are shown as being in the public domain, which means that there are no known copyright restrictions on their use.

The text is also all available for reuse and there’s a handy ‘Cite this page’ reference for students and teachers.

Use the site on your mobile device

The website has been designed to be used on whatever size screen suits you best. Desktops, laptops, tablets and mobile phones of all sizes will all work.

For programmers

For programmers and developers, the Our API section makes our data available for use by other institutions on their sites. You’ll already find MV data in DigitalNZ, the National Library of Australia’s Trove and the Atlas of Living Australia.

Also, the website code is available as open source on GitHub in Museum Victoria’s repository for any developers who wish to explore what’s under the hood.


The search function is powerful, and quick, but there are a few hints that are handy to know.

Firstly, you don’t need to enter any search term at all – and if you don’t, you’ll get back every record in the system. That’s over a million results!

Each word you type is searched separately. For example, a search for Melbourne fashion will give all records with Melbourne plus all records with fashion. Records with both words should come up high in the results.

Museum Victoria Collections search with search term of "Melbourne fashion"Museum Victoria Collections search with search term of "Melbourne fashion"

If you want to force the system to search on a phrase, use quote marks “” around the phrase. E.g., try “Port Phillip Bay”.

Search on a phrase: “Port Phillip Bay”Search on a phrase: “Port Phillip Bay”

If you have already done a search, e.g. for the word tractor, you can add extra terms by typing in the additional word or phrase then click the “plus” button to the right of the search box. Adding an extra term will result in a smaller set of results. For example, the search below will give you results for all tractors in the collection that are associated with Shepparton.

Search which will give results for all tractors in the collection associated with SheppartonSearch which will give results for all tractors in the collection associated with Shepparton

Another way to refine your search results is to use the filters on the left of the screen. You can turn on or off as many filters as you want.

Museum Victoria Collections website search filters Museum Victoria Collections website search filters  

Features coming soon

We’re still working on a few features. Next up to be added is the ability to download images.

In the meantime, we hope you enjoy exploring MV Collections, any time of the day or night.

“Your PhD is on dragons?!”

by Kirilee Chaplin
Publish date
12 August 2015
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People often give me startled looks when I tell them I am doing a three year zoology doctoral study on dragons. After a few Game of Thrones references and Harry Potter-esque jokes, I remind them that not all dragons breathe fire. My PhD is, of course, on dragon lizards, also known in Australia as agamids.

Thorny devil (left) and common central bearded dragon (right) Australia – a land of dragons. Left: the highly unique thorny devil (Moloch horridus). Right: the common central bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps).
Image: K. Chaplin
Source: K. Chaplin

Australia, with more than 80 species of agamids, is one of the most dragon-diverse regions in the world. We have dragons of all shapes and sizes, ranging from 10cm to 1m, and include iconic species like the frill-neck lizard and thorny devil, and common species such as bearded dragons and water dragons. The family I am studying are called earless dragons (Tympanocryptis spp.): a group of small (10cm), ground-dwelling native dragons. There are currently about 12 species of earless dragons spread throughout Australia, and we are discovering or distinguishing new species more frequently than you might think. In the last couple of years, researchers at Museum Victoria have described three new species of earless dragons (T. pentalineata, T. wilsoni and T. condaminensis), and know of at least five more which are currently under assessment and yet to be named.

Earless dragons in Australia Earless dragons can be found throughout most of Australia, with some common species distributed widely across the country, and other rare species restricted to small regions of habitat. Top left: Roma earless dragon (Tympanocryptis wilsoni). Bottom left: Darling Downs earless dragon (Tympanocryptis condaminensis). Right: distribution map of Queensland grassland earless dragons.
Image: K. Chaplin
Source: K. Chaplin

This is where my PhD study comes in. As part of my doctoral research, I am looking at the three recently described species of earless dragons, as well as a couple of potentially new species, all of which are habitat specialists and live only in grasslands of Queensland. We know very little about these earless dragons, except that they are relatively rare and are each restricted to small grassland pockets across Queensland. My focus is on improving our limited knowledge of the evolution, ecology and taxonomy of these earless dragons, and using this data for conservation of these little lizards. These species are all of conservation concern, as their native grassland habitat has suffered extreme degradation and fragmentation in recent decades due to agriculture, mining and other anthropogenic impacts. Less than 15% of native grasslands remain in Queensland, with less than 5% in some regions. The continued decline in available habitat has prompted these earless dragons to be a research priority, and for their suitability for conservation status under legislative protection to be assessed.

Grassland habitats Left: open-cut coal mining and CSG fracking are the two most common mining practices in the grassland habitat of earless dragons. Right: agriculture, including farming and mono-culture cropping, has cleared and destroyed much of Queensland’s native grasslands.
Image: K. Chaplin
Source: K. Chaplin

However, conservation legislation requires taxonomic recognition of a species. That is, for something to be considered endangered and have appropriate legal protection in place, it needs to have a name and be formally accepted as a distinct species. One of the major problems with the earless dragon group, and many other taxa worldwide, is that multiple species can look very similar, but are actually very different in terms of their evolutionary and genetic history. These are called cryptic species, and are a taxonomist’s and conservation biologist’s worst nightmare, as they cannot be easily distinguished without complicated physiology and genetic analyses. Unfortunately, due to cryptic species within the earless dragon group, the taxonomy is still unresolved. Conservation protection cannot occur until this is sorted out.

Earless dragons Can you see the difference? Cryptic species look almost identical, but are evolutionarily very different. Left: a new species of earless dragon found near Emerald (Tympanocryptis sp. nov.). Right: Darling Downs earless dragon (Tympanocryptis condaminensis).
Image: K. Chaplin
Source: K. Chaplin

Follow my earless dragon adventures on Twitter (@KirileeChaplin) and watch out for my next MV blog where I continue my quest to untangle the Tympanocryptis taxonomy.

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