Siobhan

DISPLAYING POSTS BY: Siobhan (4)

Siobhan

Siobhan has worked in the MV Discovery Centres since 2009. She’s into museum theory, singing and folk music, sewing, reptiles, parenting and getting her nerd on.

Fossilised Champignons

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by Siobhan
Publish date
15 September 2013
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Remember The X-Files? If you were a fan, you fell into one of two camps – you either liked the mythology arcs, or the Monster-of-the-Week episodes. I fell firmly into the latter camp. I liked one-off weirdness, lacking the attention span for conspiracy narratives. It is in this spirit that I present to you a short episode of "What on earth is THAT?!" from the Discovery Centre.

At the beginning of winter this year, a woman came into the Melbourne centre with some "mysterious objects". We get a lot of mystery items here, and they are normally fairly easy to identify – pieces of manufacturing slag, cicada cases, random pieces of urban archaeology that work their way up from old rubbish pits.

As she removed them from her bag, she said, "they look like fossilised champignons." An odd description, but entirely accurate. The items she unwrapped did indeed look like small mushrooms. They weren't fossils, as they were obviously made of a chalky substance; soft enough to flake and leave a slight powdery residue on one's fingertips. Our visitor said she had discovered them in the mud on the shores of a freshwater pond on Kangaroo Island, and mentioned, in an offhand manner, that they were amongst some crayfish carcasses, and perhaps they had something to do with local platypus? I was stumped. My colleague Wayne, a chap with a palaeontological background, was equally stumped.

Crayfish gastroliths Crayfish gastroliths, brought in to the Discovery Centre for identification.
Image: Siobhan Motherway
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Found in platypus territory, and made of chalky material? We did some preliminary research: were they dehydrated platypus eggs? Some weird botanical thing? A fungus? Yes, I did google "fossilised champignons". Getting nowhere, we turned to our various departmental experts in Mammalogy, Marine Invertebrates and Geosciences; even our pet Entomologist. No luck.

On the off-chance that our Live Exhibits manager had seen something similar on fieldwork, I emailed through the photographs to him, and he shared them round the office. Victory! Gentleman-and-scholar Adam Elliot knew immediately what they were. It turned out that our enquirer's by-the-by remark about the crayfish was the salient information – these "fossilised champignons" are freshwater crayfish gastroliths. When preparing to shed, the crayfish forms these stones to store the calcium they will need to help form their new exoskeleton. After they've shed (a process called ecdysis – remember that one for word games), they reabsorb this calcium to help create their new shell. These particular examples are very, very large.

Crayfish gastroliths Crayfish gastroliths, brought into the Discovery Centre for identification.
Image: Wayne Gerdtz
Source: Museum Victoria
 

This blog post from the WA Museum gives a great rundown on how the process works, and includes a photo of some smaller gastroliths from a similar identification request.

So there you have it, mystery solved. We'll keep an eye out for more oddities – I've always liked them best.

Amstrad on display during SmartBar

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by Siobhan
Publish date
12 May 2013
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So, it’s not as big or as flashy as CSIRAC (1949), but the real star of last week’s Smart Bar event here in the Discovery Centre was our Amstrad Portable Personal Computing device (1987).

Whilst CSIRAC has the weight of history, ground-breaking science, and several good-sized African elephants behind it, the Amstrad spoke to some more personal nostalgia for many of our visitors – sort of the difference between visiting St Paul’s Cathedral and going back to your primary school.

Spec  for spec, though, the Amstrad does outperform its big brother, inspiring this mini-comic for the #SmartBar hashtag!

Amstrad Amstrad vs CSIRAC
Image: Siobhan Motherway
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Just for fun, compare CSIRAC’s specs with this website’s run down on the Amstrad and then think about the cheapest wee netbook available at the local discount shop.

Obviously, CSIRAC occupies 40sqm, whereas the Amstrad comes under the category of “luggable” – it doesn’t compare to the power or portability of the phone in your jeans pocket, but at least you could haul it around one-handed whilst looking supercool – only those looking very closely would see the veins standing out and the sweat beading on your forehead.

We couldn’t match CSIRAC’s music, though, coaxing only a recalcitrant BEEP! out of the Amstrad when we asked it to do something outside of its parameters. Like, tell us the contents of the disk in the B: drive, apparently. Nevertheless, the sight of the grey plastic shell, green screen and blinking old-school DOS cursor had dozens of visitors crowding around the desk, reminiscing about their own first computers and exploits on local BBSs.

And now I’ll leave you with the most ambitious or optimistic attempt to put the Amstrad to use on the Smart Bar evening. Sorry, sir; apparently it does have an internal modem, but 2400bps and ASCII will only get you so far.

The Amstrad laptop in the Discovery Centre A valiant effort by a visitor to get the Amstrad to connect to the internet
Image: Siobhan Motherway
Source: Museum Victoria
 

There Once Was An Irish Kids Fest…

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by Siobhan
Publish date
30 January 2013
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There Once Was An Irish Kids Fest…

On Sunday 18 January we hosted 1,952 people here at Immigration Museum for the Irish Kids Fest, and what a fabulous day it was!  So much of the dialogue around the Irish diaspora at the moment is focused on the harsh economic conditions that make a life away from home more viable, but this was a day to revel in what we love about being Irish and to share the fun of Irish culture and arts.

Céili and set dancing workshop Céili and set dancing workshop
Image: Justine Philip
Source: Museum Victoria
 

In the courtyard, dancers of all ages from the Christine Ayres School of Irish Dancing displayed their intricate footwork and helped children find their feet during céili and set dancing workshops.

Learning céili dance moves Learning céili dance moves
Image: Justine Philip
Source: Museum Victoria
   

Throughout the day, children and families heard Irish tales from storyteller Oisín McKenna, found the lost treasure of Ireland during interactive theatre performances with Jack and Molly (Vince and Margie Brophy) and also had fun playing our Federation handbells, making Claddagh crowns and illuminated bookmarks.

Irish storytelling session Irish storytelling session
Image: Justine Philip
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Here at the Discovery Centre, Simon and I helped people to get started on their family history journeys, using the resources available through the National Archives of Australia and the Public Records Office of Victoria.  But best of all, we hosted a limerick writing competition, with a sweet or sticker for every entry, and hourly main prizes for the best ones.  There were LOTS of amazing entries, and it was really hard to choose between them!  We displayed the rest of our favourites on our board for the rest of the week for people to enjoy.

  One of the fantastic limerick competition winners One of the fantastic limerick competition winners
Image: Phil Morrissey
Source: Museum Victoria
 

I’m sure it will come as no surprise that we had a few limerick entries from grownups – they certainly made us laugh, but I’m afraid I can’t share them here.  My favourite was about a young sailor and his predilection for dancing. I’ll leave the rest of that one as an exercise for the reader! 

  Learning to play the bodhrán (Irish drum) Learning to play the bodhrán (Irish drum)
Image: Justine Philip
Source: Museum Victoria
 

A busy day full of great craic – can’t wait to see you all again at the next Kids Fest!

Discovery Centre makeover

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by Siobhan
Publish date
2 November 2012
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What a change has been wrought in the Discovery Centre this week! A change to the structure of the Discovery Centre service has really been reflected in the physical space.

Discovery Centre The new look Discovery Centre.
Image: Siobhan Motherway
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We will no longer be offering a free internet and printing service, so the number of computers in the public space has been reduced down to one table – leaving two new tables full of interesting specimens to touch and explore. It has been lovely this morning to see family groups coming through and engaging with these collection objects that are at kid height!

Shell display A display of shells at one of the new Discovery Centre desks.
Image: Siobhan Motherway
Source: Museum Victoria
 

An area with comfortable couches and seats allows for reading or informal chats with museum staff, and desk space with power points gives those with their own devices a place to plug in, charge up, and connect to the free museum wifi (just look for "museumpublic").

We have a beautiful new "...ology" display being installed up the back of the centre – when that is finished, we'll have a row of cases each devoted to a different discipline from the natural and earth sciences.

Crab in display case A King Crab on display in the Discovery Centre's new "...ology" display.
Image: Siobhan Motherway
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Not everything is new, of course; we still have cases with skulls, spiders, worked stone tools – these collections have proven very useful over the years, allowing enquirers to do some of their own identification and investigation. And we - the intrepid Discovery Centre staff – are still here, ready to take your questions big or small! The Discovery Centre's new operating hours are 10am-4.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday. However, we're still available to take your questions online 24/7, at our Ask the Experts page.

About this blog

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

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