Guests

DISPLAYING POSTS BY: Guests (145)

Guests

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

From LaserDisc to high-res Hasselblad

Author
by John Broomfield
Publish date
4 April 2014
Comments
Comments (0)

John manages the museum's Media Production and Copyright Department.

Recently a group of aero engines, usually stored high in the storage racks at Scienceworks, was lowered to allow visitors a closer look. This allowed me to photograph them for Collections Online and revisit a job I did at the museum some 20 years ago.

aero engine, side view New photograph of an Austro-Daimler Beardmore aero engine, circa 1914. The design was used by combatant nations on opposing sides during the First World War. (ST 17925).
Image: John Broomfield
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The first time I photographed the aero engines, I was an Image Capture Officer and Museum Victoria was one of the first institutions to link electronic images of collection objects to a database. I say electronic because these images were analogue, not digital. This period represented the transition between traditional silver-based photography and digital photography as we know it today.

Back then, we captured the objects using a video camera (Super VHS), then transferred video stills onto a WORM (Write Once Read Many) drive LaserDisc. These discs were then sent to the USA to be pressed into LaserDiscs that could be played in domestic machines. The players were attached to computers and search results displayed collection images on a separate monitor.

Although this technique was cutting edge at the time, the starting resolution was only 560x480 pixels, or in today’s terms 0.27 megapixel (a new iPhone has an 8 megapixel camera). Analogue signals suffer deterioration or generational loss each time they are migrated to a new format and our involved multiple transfers – from videotape, to WORM drive and then onto LaserDisc. You can see why some of our legacy images are not quite to the standard we expect today.

grainy photo of aero engine Old LaserDisc image of a Benz IVa circa 1918 230 horsepower aero engine. (ST 034859).
Image: John Broomfield
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Fast forward to 2014: digital photography has evolved to the point where, at the high end, the resolution surpasses what was possible with film-based photography. The equipment I used this time was a Hasselblad H5D, capable of 50 megapixel resolution, which is almost 200 times the resolution of the video/laserdisc system employed first time around.

aero engine, side view 2014 photograph of the same Benz 230 horsepower aero engine. (ST 034859).
Image: John Broomfield
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Detail of an aero engine Zoom in on the Austro-Daimler Beardmore aero engine photograph. The high resolution captures tiny details like individual stamps on the cylinders. (ST 17925).
Image: John Broomfield
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Photographing the aero engines presented some interesting lighting challenges. There wasn’t a lot of room to place stands for studio lighting or maneuver the heavy engines with a pallet jack. A large skylight overhead meant I would be struggling to control the natural light coming in from above.

inside collection store The photo setup showing the aero engine on a pallet, the skylight, and the foam reflectors.
Image: John Broomfield
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The solution was to adopt the skylight as my main light source and use a series of lightweight foam reflectors to bounce the light back onto the engines. I found something appealing in adopting 18th century studio lighting methods in conjunction with modern digital camera equipment. That must be the museum worker in the photographer coming through…

An Aztec pterosaur?

Author
by Erich Fitzgerald
Publish date
3 April 2014
Comments
Comments (2)

Dr Erich Fitzgerald is our Senior Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology.

Next time you visit the Dinosaur Walk exhibition at Melbourne Museum, look up, and prepare to be gob-smacked. Behold, Quetzalcoatlus, largest of those magnificent Mesozoic aeronauts; the pterosaurs! With a 10-metre wingspan, Quetzalcoatlus was perhaps the largest flying animal ever…or perhaps not. But before delving into that palaeontological puzzle, another question will no doubt be on your lips: how do you pronounce “Quetzalcoatlus” and what does it mean anyway?! The answer lies in Mexico, about 1,000 years ago, at the dawn of the civilization that would eventually become the Aztec Empire.

The Nahua people, who gave rise to Aztec culture, believed in a feathered serpent god of the sky called Quetzalcoatl (pronounced ‘ket-sal-ko-ah-tell’). Aztecs inherited the worship of Quetzalcoatl as one of their chief deities: a dragon-like god that linked the earth with the heavens and created humans.

Aztec god Quetzalcoatl The Aztec god Quetzalcoatl as depicted in the Codex Telleriano-Remensis (16th century).
Source: via Wikimedia Commons
 

The feathered serpent god returned in 1971 with the discovery in Texas of the fossilized wing bones of a truly colossal pterosaur of late Cretaceous age (about 65 to 70 million years ago). In light of their location near Mexico and their suggestion of a reptile that dominated the skies, these extraordinary fossils were named Quetzalcoatlus (pronounced ‘ket-sal-ko-atlas’) after the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl.

Quetzalcoatlus illustration Life restoration of a group of giant azhdarchids, Quetzalcoatlus northropi, foraging on a Cretaceous fern prairie. A juvenile titanosaur has been caught by one pterosaur, while the others stalk through the scrub in search of small vertebrates and other food.
Image: Mark Witton and Darren Naish
Source: CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
 

As impossible as it may seem, Quetzalcoatlus and its kin (collectively dubbed azhdarchids) were capable of getting airborne, then sustaining flight through long-distance gliding on thermal air columns. Yet recent research on the skeleton of azhdarchid pterosaurs has suggested that they actually spent a substantial amount of time on the ground, stalking prey while walking stilt-like on all fours. For now, the feathered serpent god of the Aztecs may have been brought down to earth, but in a twist of the serpent’s tale, its legacy continues thanks to fossils from an even more ancient world, long ago.

Links

Aztecs opens at Melbourne Museum on 9 April 2014

Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History 

Smoky mouse update

Author
by Phoebe Burns
Publish date
25 February 2014
Comments
Comments (3)

Phoebe is a University of Melbourne Masters student supervised by Dr. Kevin Rowe at MV. She is studying post-fire distribution and ecology of the Smoky Mouse in the Grampians National Park.

In September 2013, I moved to the Grampians, pitched a tent and set out to see how the endangered Smoky Mouse, Pseudomys fumeus, was faring in the aftermath of the February 2013 Victoria Valley fire. After three soot-covered months, I’m back in Melbourne enjoying modern comforts like showers and instant boiling water.

Grampians landscape Grampians landscape
Image: Phoebe Burns
Source: Museum Victoria
 

I began my surveys at the site where, prior to the fire, we found a healthy population of Smoky Mice in the November 2012 Museum Victoria Bioscan. By September regrowing bracken ferns and eucalypts added a splash of green to the blackened landscape. In spite of the devastation, I caught several healthy Smoky Mice including some of the same individuals we’d caught the previous November! The ecological significance of this discovery alone was cause to celebrate.

Adult Smoky Mouse Adult Smoky Mouse on a burnt log
Image: Phoebe Burns
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Between my first capture in September and my final trapping night in December, I surveyed 46 sites in and out of the burn scar across the Victoria Range in the Grampians. At six of those sites, all within the burn scar, I found Smoky Mice living in the rocky habitats. The mice in these populations were not just surviving, they were healthy and breeding. I caught adults weighing as much as 70 grams but I also found tiny juveniles newly emerged from the nest weighing only 12 grams.  

Juvenile Smoky Mouse Juvenile Smoky Mouse
Image: Phoebe Burns
Source: Museum Victoria
 

While I was looking to find Smoky Mice, my trapping methods meant I also caught a number of other small mammal species (and a few reptiles). I was lucky enough to encounter Swamp Rats, Rattus lutreolus, Heath Mice, Pseudomys shortridgei, Agile Antechinus, Antechinus agilis, and Dusky Antechinus, Antechinus swainsonii. The highlights of my small mammal by-catch were two tiny Eastern Pygmy Possums, Cercatus nanus, that found their way into my traps.

Eastern Pygmy Possum Adult female Eastern Pygmy Possum
Image: Phoebe Burns
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The last three months were physically and mentally challenging, hiking up mountainsides in the rain and hail, being snowed on one day and sweating in the heat the next, but it was worth every unpredictable minute. I feel so privileged to explore the beautiful, rugged wilderness of the Grampians National Park and to have encountered so many remarkable species. The Parks Victoria staff provided a wealth of logistical and emotional support. It’s great to know that our parks are in such capable hands and that the Smoky Mice of the Victoria Range are thriving in spite of the fires.

Links:

MV Blog: Smoky Mice in the Grampians

Big weekend for the bells

Author
by Susan Bamford-Caleo
Publish date
20 February 2014
Comments
Comments (1)

Susan manages the Federation Handbells lending program.

8 and 9 February will be remembered as a grand weekend for the Federation Handbells with their participation in two very important events in Melbourne.
 
The Federation Handbells and Museum Victoria have an exciting partnership with the Melbourne Recital Centre this year. The first part of this project took place last week with two composition workshops leading to a performance that opened the Melbourne Recital Centre’s 5th Birthday Celebrations on Saturday 8 February. The performance was called Birthday Bells.

Federation Handbells procession The Federation Handbells, after a procession down St Kilda Road to launch the festivities at the Melbourne Recital Centre, lead the way to the Elizabeth Murdoch Hall.
Source: Melbourne Recital Centre
 

The workshops were led by composer Steve Falk and me, with participation from percussionists Eugene Ughetti and Leah Scholes. Those enrolled in the workshops had responded to a general call-out and included people ranging widely in age and background. Over the days that we spent together, playing and creating with the Federation Handbells, a genuine sense of group identity was created, so much so that the participants have asked if we can form a Federation Handbells Players group and suggested that we call it Clang!

The excitement and enthusiasm of the participants and the connection that developed with each other and with the bells was a perfect example of the Federation Handbells fulfilling their commission. Wonderful! 

We very much appreciated the generous assistance and support of Kirsten and the Melbourne Recital Centre staff and can’t wait to get back there for the second part of our joint project, the Federation Handbells Residency (April to September, 2014). 

The other very significant event at which the Federation Handbells appeared that weekend was the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Fifth Anniversary Remembrance Event on Sunday 9 February. The handbells were played in a performance of Risen From The Flame by The Blacksmith’s Tree Youth Choir, a choir consisting of children from fire-affected communities. The children sang and played their composition led by Bridget Muir, a youth worker from Nillumbik Council. The piece was originally written by Bridget and the children for the launch of the Blacksmith’s Tree in Whittlesea in November, 2013.  You can view the performance in this YouTube video:

 

The Federation Handbells have contributed strongly to community involvement in a number of commemorations for the 2009 bushfires over the last five years and it highlights their importance as significant ceremonial instruments for Victorians.
 
We are looking forward to more big weekends with the Federation Handbells as they continue their important role in Victoria and beyond.

Sea anemone feast

Author
by Michela Mitchell
Publish date
7 February 2014
Comments
Comments (5)

Michela is the first resident taxonomist of Actiniaria (sea anemones) in Australia. This title doesn't come with a ceremonial sash, but it should.

Photographed by Dr Julian Finn on a recent dive trip to Nelson Bay, New South Wales, this sea anemone is taking on a shrimp feast to rival that of an Aussie BBQ. 

Sea anemone A sea anemone, Phlyctenanthus australis, chowing down on a Hinge-back Shrimp, Rhynchocinetes serratus. There's also a photobombing chiton in the background.
Image: Julian Finn
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Little has been documented about the diets of sea anemones, particularly in Australia. These chance encounters and images help us understand these predominately sedentary animals (although, they can set a cracking pace if they so desire) and what role they play in the marine ecosystem. 

Sea anemones are opportunistic feeders that catch whatever food passes by. Prey is ensnared and then immobilised with specialised stinging cells (nematocysts) found in the tissue of sea anemones.

There are many different types of nematocysts and each has its own function; some are sticky for catching prey, some poisonous, others are used in self-defence. When feeding, the anemone extrudes its mouth and throat (actinopharynx) over the prey, sometimes completely enclosing it. The sea anemone then crushes and digests the food in the throat, which also acts as the gullet. Food waste is then ejected back out the mouth, which doubles as the anus.

Not all sea anemones are totally reliant on eating; some have a symbiosis with zooxanthellae (microscopic algae) that live in their tissues, and the sea anemone can use nutrients created by the photosynthesising algae.

Classic Japanese James Bond car on show

Author
by Shane Salmon
Publish date
5 February 2014
Comments
Comments (0)

Shane works in the Exhibitions team, and stays interested in most things techy, as well as old and new music.

Melbourne Museum does not host many motor vehicles, but the Designing 007: Fifty Years of Bond Style exhibition has showcased three very special cars. An iconic 1964 Aston Martin DB5 used in Goldeneye and Skyfall travels with the exhibition and appears at the entrance. Another Aston Martin, a 1969 DBS from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, was on display in the museum foyer from mid-October until mid-December.

Currently in the main foyer of Melbourne Museum is a very rare car that appeared in the 1967 James Bond film You Only Live Twice — a 1966 Toyota 2000GT convertible. 

Toyota 2000GT Front view of the Toyota 2000GT now on display in the Melbourne Museum foyer.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

You Only Live Twice was shot predominantly in Japan and the film’s producers requested an exotic, locally-produced vehicle worthy of a James Bond production. They saw images of the yet-to-be released 2000GT, and knew they had found their car.

Two models of the vehicle were used for filming, and were made into convertibles to enable the crew to get better shots of the actors and the interior. A common misconception is that the cars were modified because Sean Connery was too tall to fit in them, but the request was made to Toyota before production commenced. The two vehicles used for production were the only 2000GT convertibles ever produced. 

Toyota 2000GT Interior of the Toyota 2000GT
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The 2000GT was one vehicle that James Bond did not get to drive, as his Japanese accomplice Aki (played by Akiko Wakabayashi), drove him firstly to meet his contact Mr Henderson, before twice rescuing him from inevitable danger. The car is memorably introduced when Bond greets Aki at a sumo wrestling tournament with the code phrase “I love you”, and she responds with “I have a car” — lines written by Roald Dahl.

Only 337 models of the 2000GT were ever produced, making it a very rare and desirable car for collectors around the world. This particular model is a popular attraction at the Toyota Automobile Museum in Aichi, Japan and is on loan to Melbourne Museum until the exhibition closes.

Designing 007: Fifty Years of Bond Style runs until 23 February 2014.

Toyota 2000GT Museum CEO Dr Patrick Green checking out the Toyota 2000GT.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

About this blog

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

Categories