Collections

DISPLAYING POSTS FILED UNDER: Collections (173)

Collections

There are 16 million objects in Museum Victoria's collections - Australian Indigenous cultural material, extensive natural science specimens and a broad collection representing Victoria’s historical and technological developments.

Beetle back from the dead

Author
by Ken Walker
Publish date
15 October 2014
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Ken is our Senior Curator of Entomology.

On Monday last week, live images of an attractive Australian lady beetle popped up on the BowerBird citizen science website photographed west of Portland, Victoria. The photographer recorded seeing more than 50 beetle specimens in a small swampy area.

beetle Micraspis flavovittata ladybird beetle photographed in October 2014.
Image: Reiner Richter
Source: CC BY 3.0 AU
 

There is a wonderful CSIRO lady beetle website with a gallery of images for all known extant Australian species, however we were unable to match the photo to any in this gallery. So we sent the BowerBird images to the Canberra scientist who created the website. His initial reaction was to doubt the veracity of the locality data as he claimed this was not an Australian species. I reconfirmed the Australian locality with the photographer so we began to wonder if this was an invasive species.

The images were then forwarded to the world lady beetle expert at the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London. We received news on Friday night from Roger at the NHM that this is a species "back from the dead". A species not seen or recorded for more than a 50 year period is considered to be extinct. There are only 4 known specimens of this species in collections (2 at the NHM and 2 at Museum Victoria) - the last specimen was collected in 1940!

Micraspis flavovittata Micraspis flavovittata beetle
Image: Reiner Richter
Source: CC BY 3.0 AU
 

This is indeed an Australian species, Micraspis flavovittata (Crotch, 1874). I remember we once had an exhibition at the museum called Extinction is forever…. and so it is, until someone finds it again! The only known localities of this species were Narbethong and Kallista so the Portland location is well west of these previous records.

Many people contend that the best citizen science projects are those in collaboration with professional scientists. Personally, I love the serendipity of citizen science discovery alone.

Links:

BowerBird

Art of Science - more please!

Author
by Nicole K
Publish date
8 October 2014
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The Art of Science exhibition presents the finest examples from Museum Victoria's remarkable collection of natural history artworks. These include rare books from the 18th and 19th centuries, field sketches from early colonial exploration of Australia's wildlife, and contemporary scientific photographs.

The books on display contain some of the most beautiful and significant illustrations of flora and fauna ever produced. The exhibition's curators must have had a torturous task selecting which page from each book to display. Because that's all they could display – a single double page spread from each precious volume.

  Major Mitchell's Cockatoo, illustrated by Elizabeth Gould for John Gould's <i>A synopsis of the birds of Australia, and the adjacent islands</i>, 1st edition London, 1837-38, on display at Melbourne Museum. Major Mitchell's Cockatoo, illustrated by Elizabeth Gould for John Gould's A synopsis of the birds of Australia, and the adjacent islands, 1st edition, London, 1837-38, on display at Melbourne Museum. The entire book can now be viewed online.
Image: Nicole Kearney
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The Art of Science has only just opened at the Melbourne Museum. Before coming home, it toured Mornington, Ballarat, Adelaide, Mildura, Sale and Sydney. Visitors to the travelling exhibition were awed by the stunning illustrations, but they were also a little frustrated. They wanted to turn those beautiful pages. They wanted to see more.

Superb Lyrebird, from <i>An account of the English colony in New South Wales, from its first settlement in January 1788 to August 1801</i>, David Collins, 1804. Superb Lyrebird, from An account of the English colony in New South Wales, from its first settlement in January 1788 to August 1801, David Collins, 1804. The entire book can now be viewed online.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

And so, before the books went on display for this final time, we asked the exhibition's curators if we could borrow them. Each page of every book was carefully photographed and the images colour matched to the originals. This work was meticulously performed by a group of dedicated museum volunteers, supervised by Museum Victoria's library staff.

Ground Parrot, illustrated by James Sowerby, for George Shaw's <i>Zoology of New Holland</i>, volume 1, 1st edition, London, 1794. Ground Parrot, illustrated by James Sowerby, for George Shaw's Zoology of New Holland, volume 1, 1st edition, London, 1794. The entire book can now be viewed online.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We then uploaded the scanned volumes into the world's largest online repository of biodiversity literature and archival materials – the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL). BHL is a global consortium of natural history libraries working together to make biodiversity literature freely and openly available to everyone.

Museum Victoria coordinates the Australian component of this giant online library, and we are thrilled that the books displayed in The Art of Science exhibition are now part of it.

So if you too would like to turn those tantalising pages, now you can (whether you're in Melbourne, or not):

  • Visit the BHL website to view The Art of Science books in their entirety.
  • Visit The Art of Science exhibition at Melbourne Museum to view a selection of the scanned pages on an interactive screen.

Fin win was no whale fail

Author
by Colin
Publish date
3 October 2014
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You may call me crazy for putting my hand up again for the chance to end up knee-deep in a decomposing whale. This time, the whale that washed up on Levy’s Beach near Warrnambool in Western Victoria was a Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus). Fin Whales are the second largest species of whale and can reach up to about 25m long and weigh more than 50 tons! They feed mostly on krill and can consume between one and two tonnes per day during the summer months when ocean productivity is high.

Fin Whale washed up a beach The Fin Whale washed up on the beach.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria

Upon hearing of the news of the wash up, Museum Victoria put together a team to retrieve it, along with the Australian Marine Mammal Conservation Foundation (AMMCF) and Melbourne Zoo. The Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI), Parks Victoria and the Cultural Heritage Officer were of great assistance in organising planning, logistics, contractors, public engagement and working near the significant cultural heritage sites in the area.

Bentley Bird on the beach MV's Assistant Vertebrate Collections Manager Bentley Bird ‘gloves up’ ready for tissue sampling.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria

Kate Charlton-Robb with the Fin Whale Australian Marine Mammal Conservation Foundation’s founding director Kate Charlton-Robb collects a tissue sample for future research.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria

Whale on beach A wave crashes over the whale’s starboard side. Strong wave action like this posed a significant risk and required the delicate skills of two excavators to move it higher up the beach.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria

Measuring a whale We took morphometric measurements prior to dissection which will add to what we currently know about the biology of the species.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria

Sarah Frith with dead whale Melbourne Zoo veterinarian Sarah Frith takes a stab at removing the eye.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Excavator working with whale on beach Tools of the trade: The excavator was invaluable when it came to removing the blubber layer and heavy lifting
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria

Tools used to dissect whale More tools of the trade: hooks, knives and flensing tools are essential for the removal of blubber (flensing) and flesh from the skeleton.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Brendan Taylor working on the whale Preparator Brendan Taylor gets to work removing flesh and blubber.
Image: Rob Zugaro
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Burying whale bones By day two the carcass no longer resembled a whale. The bones were taken to a private location and buried to allow for bacteria and other flesh eating organisms to clean the skeleton. The cleaned bones will be retrieved in 12-18 months and added to the museum’s collection.
Image: Rob Zugaro
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The support provided by the Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI), Parks Victoria, the local Indigenous representatives and the enthusiastic farmer who allowed for the storage of bones on his property, was second to none. Without their resources and assistance, the recovery could have not taken place.

Links:

Australian Marine Mammal Conservation Foundation

Steaming through Williamstown

Author
by Matilda Vaughan
Publish date
3 October 2014
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Matilda swapped a life working as an engineer for a life curating the museum’s historical Engineering collection. She’s very curious about how stuff works, how it’s made and why. If a machine’s got a switch, she’ll definitely flick it.

A very satisfying part of my job is participating in the Scienceworks Working Machines program. How else would I find myself steaming down the main street of Williamstown in a historic steam truck a couple of Sunday mornings ago?

View from inside the truck Entering Nelson Place in a historic steam truck from The Strand, Williamstown.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

A small and dedicated team of staff and volunteers help demonstrate some of our heritage vehicles to the public on four selected Sundays a year – Machines in Action Days. On four other Sundays we are busy learning and practising the skills needed to safely operate such historic machinery. I spent the first couple of hours in the morning bringing our Cowley Traction Engine up to steam ready for the team, and then it was time for some training by Richard on the Super Sentinel Steam Waggon (circa 1924).

Richard inside the truck Heritage machinery program volunteer, Richard Hayes, behind the wheel of the Super Sentinel Steam Waggon.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Our heritage vehicles have special permits so they can travel on public roads. So on some days, instead of practising around our arena, we get to survey the streets of Spotswood and Williamstown from behind the wheel of one of our steam-driven engines.

Man on vintage bike Sharing the road with another piece of vintage machinery.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

So what skill did I practise during that trip? Well, it was basically shovelling the coal into the firebox of the boiler to maintain the correct pressure to suit Richard’s travel speed and load. And make sure the water to the boiler was kept topped up. Sometimes I had time to wave to people in the streets, those enjoying their breakfasts, and even snap a few pictures. But not many – I had too much coal to shovel.

Tower and car park in Williamstown Sentinel in the car park behind the Williamstown Timeball Tower.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We got as far as the historic Williamstown Timeball Tower before it was thought best to head back to Scienceworks, before we ran out of coal. No handy coal depots nearby any more.

Finding the Orchard Pacemaker

Author
by Matilda Vaughan
Publish date
29 September 2014
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Matilda swapped a life working as an engineer for a life curating the museum’s historical Engineering collection. She’s very curious about how stuff works, how it’s made and why. If a machine’s got a switch, she’ll definitely flick it.

A recent Discovery Centre enquirer asked whether there were any images of a Sunshine Massey Harris tractor in a particular trade literature document in our collection. Unfortunately that document did not have the picture she was hoping for. But, as we have such an extensive holding of Sunshine Massey Harris material, I was convinced that there must be a picture of this tractor somewhere amongst it all. So armed with her photo of the tractor’s radiator only, the hunt was on.

detail of tractor Photo of the Sunshine Massey Harris tractor sent in by the enquirer.  

I started with the Price Books. They are not just lists of numbers and descriptions; they often have small illustrations or photos of the product. From these I was able to see, based on the shape and features of the radiator, that the particular tractor was the Orchard Pacemaker model. But the images were too small to make out the feature she was most interested in – the 'SUNSHINE MASSEY HARRIS' impression on the radiator. The Price Books did however reveal that these tractors seemed to have only been available between 1940 and 1942. 

Tractor catalogue An image of the Orchard Pacemaker (bottom line, middle) among other tractors in the Sunshine Massey Harris Price Book.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria Trade Literature Collection TL41010
 

After more searching, I finally found a photograph in a general publicity brochure for tractors (dated 1941) of the Orchard Pacemaker, clearly showing the radiator.

tractor brochure The Sunshine Massey Harris Orchard Pacemaker in a publicity brochure for Sunshine Massey Harris Tractors, W.A., 1941.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria Trade Literature Collection TL45120
 

detail of tractor Detail of the radiator of the Orchard Pacemaker.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

It was not an easy search and most times these types of searches turn up nothing. So it makes these little finds all the more special and it’s immensely satisfying to be able to provide more information to the public. 

Links:

Trade Literature Collection

Publicity Brochure - H.V. McKay Massey Harris Pty Ltd Tractors 1941

Working at the museum is dead interesting

Author
by Meg
Publish date
21 July 2014
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We just took receipt of a beautiful Crested Pigeon, in excellent physical condition except for the fact that it was dead. But it will make a useful contribution to the museum’s body of research material. With the locality data carefully recorded, said pigeon was duly deposited in its new (temporary) home – our freezer – to await its final afterlife journey to the collection store.

Crested pigeon specimen. Crested pigeon specimen.
Image: Meg Lomax
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Temporary resting place - the Discovery Centre freezer. Temporary resting place - the Discovery Centre freezer.
Image: Meg Lomax
Source: Museum Victoria
 

As I closed the freezer door on our latest acquisition, I found myself feeling grateful, as an inhabitant of the twenty-first century, for the electricity we have to power our freezer in which we deposit our dead things, which we collect for exhibition and research purposes. In contemplating this luxury, I was reminded of a fun fact I learned during a meal at an old country pub while on holiday in Tasmania a couple of years ago – in colonial Australia, not only was there no electricity, but there was also no such thing as a town morgue, and so the remains of the recently departed were best stored in the coolest place in town, the local “house of public accommodation” – the pub. Yep, the bodies were in with the beer; the stiffs with the stout; the late with the lager; the passed with the pilsner, if you will. Encouraged by my interest, the enthusiastic new owner led me to the front room of the nineteenth century pub to be shown the very place where the bodies would have been laid out. I asked the new landlady if she was bothered at all by the history of her new business venture – she laughed and replied “not at all.” I asked her what she did before becoming a publican – she answered “I was a funeral director.” True story.  

Meanwhile, over the course of my internet wanderings on the topic of hotels-as-morgues, I came across a great little newspaper article about the dual function of Melbourne pubs, but then found myself back in Tassie when I unexpectedly tripped over this little nugget:

“The morgue motel: Plans to turn a ‘home’ of the dead into accommodation for the living”

Apparently, a local Tasmanian motel owner is currently in the process of converting the mortuary of the decommissioned Willow Court psychiatric hospital in the town of New Norfolk into somewhere for folk to sleep, although, unlike the original occupants, it is hoped that these guests wake up again.

Which brings me back to the Museum Victorian collections, for just yesterday I was photographing some mortician’s tools that were acquired from the former Sunbury Lunatic Asylum in Victoria. While the outbuildings of early Victorian asylums routinely included a morgue for the storage of the bodies of patients who had died within the asylum walls, it wasn’t until the proclamation of the Lunacy Act 1903 in Victoria that provision was made for the employment of a full-time pathologist to the Lunacy Department. The pathologist was tasked with conducting autopsies and undertaking pathological examinations to attempt to associate post-mortem lesions in the brain with ante-mortem symptoms. The development of this new clinical-pathological approach to psychiatric research was one of the outcomes of the increasing secularisation of medicine (and studies of the natural world more broadly), that emerged following the dissemination of the Darwinian theory of evolution towards the end of the nineteenth century.

A selection of objects from the former Sunbury Lunatic Asylum. A selection of objects from the former Sunbury Lunatic Asylum.
Image: Meg Lomax
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Unidentified mortician's tool, Caloola Training Centre (formerly Sunbury Lunatic Asylum). Unidentified mortician's tool, Caloola Training Centre (formerly Sunbury Lunatic Asylum).
Image: Meg Lomax
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Unidentified mortician's tool, Caloola Training Centre (formerly Sunbury Lunatic Asylum). Unidentified mortician's tool, Caloola Training Centre (formerly Sunbury Lunatic Asylum).
Image: Meg Lomax
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Like Willow Court in Tasmania, many of the pathology blocks associated with former Victorian psychiatric hospitals remain, although as yet none of them are offering bed and breakfast. One does, however, offer a fully-funded kinder program. Again, true story.

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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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