Discovery Centre

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Discovery Centre

MV's Discovery Centre responds to public enquiries across the full spectrum of the organisation's expertise - from mammals to migration, from asteroids to ants. Discovery Centre staff work at on-site centres at Melbourne and Immigration Museums.

What was life like for my ancestors?

Author
by Jo
Publish date
12 January 2014
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Comments (2)

I am working on my family history and I want to know what my ancestors did when they arrived.

One of the questions we are frequently asked by family history researchers in the Immigration Discovery Centre is 'what did they do?' Researchers often know how and when their ancestors arrived into Victoria, but they are hoping to paint the picture of what they were doing and get an idea of the social, economic and cultural context of a period in time. To fill in these gaps, there are a number of great online resources that can help us to paint that picture.

Of course the Museum Victoria collection holds objects and images that can get you started with your research. The History and Technology Collections Online is a great source for online research. There are almost 80 000 records available online for you to explore, including many images and objects. You can also search the Biggest Family Album Collection for images of Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, either by suburb name or era.

Italian Community Gathering, Wonthaggi, Victoria, circa 1929: The Biggest Family Album in Australia Members of the Wonthaggi Italian community. They are standing in front of a wooden building. A man at the back has his arm raised holding a what appears to be a large flower like an arum liliy over the head of a woman in front of him.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Trove is the National Library of Australia’s online digital repository. It is free to access and equally easy to navigate. You can search newspapers, journals, images, maps, diaries, and in some cases, organisations. A search can be as simple as a family name, or suburb, or district, to more complex searches including exact date searches or phrase searches. 

The State Library of Victoria also holds a lot of useful information to help with this picture. They have put together a list of resources under their Victoria’s early history, 1803 – 1851 guide online. 

Lebanese ID Card, Lebanese migrant, 1975 Lebanese ID Card for taxi driver Youssef Eid, 1975
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Of course, the Public Records Office Victoria can also shed some light on what was happening at the time your ancestors arrives through their many and varied records. If you wanted to know if your ancestor owned, leased or rented a house or land, PROV can help! The PROV Land Records Guide can help, as can The Parish and Township Working Plans.

For more contemporary records, try searching the National Archives of Australia.  The NAA is responsible for caring for Australian Government records. The ten million items they hold cover everything from migration to transport and military service, as well as much more. 

Local historical societies can also be a great source of information. Many of them will hold records relating to people or events in the history of an area that you may not be able to find elsewhere. Australian Heritage Online is a good place to start.

Man Leaning on Luggage Trunk, Awaiting Detention as Enemy Alien, 1939: Melbourne's Biggest Family Album Man in suit and hat, leaning on his luggage trunk, with other cases around him. He is in a park.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

And finally, as well as all of these great online resources, sometimes nothing beats sitting down with a book, or walking through a neighbourhood, or asking a local about what things were like when they were children, or if they remember when...

Links

Destination Australia

Sands and MacDougall Melbourne Directories

When Museum Victoria is not enough

Author
by Max
Publish date
24 December 2013
Comments
Comments (3)

You come to the museum and ask; ‘Do you have any (insert hoped for item - cocoa tins, paper bags, vintage telephones, glass time capsules, etc) on display?’ To which we respond by explaining that, even though Museum Victoria has about 17 million or so objects in our collection, we only have a tiny fraction on display. This causes you great disappointment as you are one of those members of the public with specific interests and desires. You can view more at Collections Online, but you want to see the actual objects in the flesh don’t you? Well fear not, now you only need to visit Victorian Collections, a project developed in partnership by Museum Victoria and Museums Australia (Victoria)

 

SSW Shopping Bag Two brown paper bags which were available for free in SSW Supermarkets, so that customers could pack their grocery purchases to be able to take them home. The bags have SSW advertising printed on them in red, yellow, and navy blue inks.
Image: Sunshine and District Historical Society
Source: Sunshine and District Historical Society
 

Here you can search the database to discover your favourite things and where they might live. You like all things glass? Well, there are hundreds of items for your viewing pleasure, but the best of all if you click on the object it will tell you where you will find it. It could be beer glasses from Dixon's Hotel, now the Commonwealth Hotel in Orbost. You’ll find these at the Orbost and District Historical Society Inc. So jump on your bike and start peddling. Or how about a Glass vessel time capsule c1800's? Alfred Hospital Nursing Archives. Start walking - it’s around the corner.

 

Old Dutch Cocoa Tin Tin metal and tin top for cocoa with colour print and round internal lid. Caption of a woman drinking cocoa, red Australian flag and British flag on other faces. Top embossed "H". Marked - "Old Dutch Cocoa", "Net Weight 8 ozs," (Display side) "Manufactured by Hoadley's Chocolates Ltd, Australia.
Image: Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum
Source: Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum
 

Now you never have to go without, never have to say ‘Gee I wish they had more Hand Planes’ (nearly 1500 – check it out). All you need do is get online, go to Victorian Collections then set off for one of the many unique and varied museums that can be found dotted across the Victorian countryside. Enjoy!

 

Mobile Telephone handset, battery in carry case. The Future is here! Early mobile phone. Bought in 1990 this was the first type of mobile phone used in the field by ATCV.
Image: Conservation Volunteers
Source: Conservation Volunteers Corner University Drive & Enterprise Grove Mount Helen 3350
 

Preparing to Think Ahead

Author
by Alice
Publish date
5 December 2013
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Comments (2)

The whole preparation department have been hard at work over the past few months getting their creations ready for the opening of Scienceworks' new permanent exhibition, Think Ahead.

I went to visit the team during their last week of preparation to see some of their projects in the final stages of development.

Building model houses Building model houses
Image: Alice Gibbons
Source: Museum Victoria
 

What has always impressed me about all the clever individuals in the preparation department is that their job combines highly refined artistic skills with science and design....and a whole lot of patience and lateral thinking!   

The team’s recent body of work for Think Ahead is certainly a testament to their craft. Using a creative mix of materials ranging from state-of-the-art plastic technology to readymade dollhouse furniture, the team have created a wide range of objects and interactives for permanent display including plastic foods, futuristic human figurines, replica ice cores, miniature dioramas and life-sized human mannequins. They even utilised the museum’s 3D printer to produce miniature model tyres for their futuristic farm machinery.

3D printed tyres 3D printed tyres
Image: Alice Gibbons
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Future food Future food
Image: Alice Gibbons
Source: Museum Victoria
 

With the exhibition targeted at 8 to 12 year olds, the team have included many clever little twists to catch the eye of their audience. In one display, a model dolls house that shows the evolution of a child’s bedroom from the turn of the century to today, and references to contemporary pop culture are included in the form of mini Diablo and Angry Birds posters pasted on the walls of the modern bedroom. 

Bedroom diorama Bedroom diorama
Image: Alice Gibbons
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Other creations such as Michael Pennell’s future human figurines and Steven Sparrey’s silicone life sized mannequin (modelled from Michael's face) look like props right from the set of a new sci-fi blockbuster.

Future human figurines Future human figurines
Image: Alice Gibbons
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Think Ahead opens this week at Scienceworks.

Nature's nappies

Author
by Alice
Publish date
14 November 2013
Comments
Comments (3)

Here at the Melbourne Museum Discovery Centre we are inundated with a wide variety of interesting enquiries. We recently received this stunning photograph from a keen bird enthusiast in Camberwell, wondering what was being fed to the young chicks.

Wattlebird with faecal sac. Wattlebird with faecal sac.
Image: Jim Love
Source: Jim Love
 

Interestingly, the parent wattlebird pictured is not actually feeding this infant but cleaning up after it. 

The black and white material in the parent’s beak is what is called a faecal sac, a mucous membrane that contains the excrement and uric acid (the bird equivalent of urine) of the young nestling. The thick membranous exterior of the sac is strong enough for the parent to pick up with their sharp beak to carry away and dispose of without puncturing it. They are just like a disposable nappy for birds!

Faecal sacs are usually excreted by the chicks shortly after feeding takes place, but this varies from species to species. In the case of the wattlebird the production of a faecal sac is almost instantaneous after feeding. This immediate reaction ensures that whichever parent feeds the chicks, will also be there to carry away the waste at the same time. You can see this occurring in the image below, where the parent is extracting the sac from the nestling’s cloaca as it is being produced.

Wattlebird with faecal sac. Wattlebird with faecal sac.
Image: Jim Love
Source: Jim Love
 

Parents remove faecal sacs from the nest for a number of very important reasons.  Not only do they allow the nest to remain clean and hygienic for the young nestlings, but their removal also deflects the attention of predators by eliminating the scent and sight of the faecal matter. Different species dispose of their faecal sacs in different ways, some preferring to drop them into bodies of water to completely erase their scent while others simply drop them nearby.

Some species of birds will even eat the contents of their baby’s faecal sacs for the first couple of days after hatching. In very young nestlings the bacteria required to digest their food are still under development, hence their excrement is rich in partially digested food. This allows the parents to feed more worms and insects to their young as they can substitute their own meals for the nutrients in their baby’s droppings. 

Wattlebird with faecal sac. Wattlebird with faecal sac.
Image: Jim Love
Source: Jim Love
 

Not all species of birds produce faecal sacs. Young water birds such as ducklings and goslings leave their nests as soon as they hatch, often never returning, and therefore do not have to worry about continual housekeeping. While other birds including eagles, herons and some sea bird species that nest high in trees and on cliffs, will simply back up to the verge of their nests and excrete off the edge.

I will leave it to you to decide whether you think faecal sacs are disgusting, strange or just plain fascinating. Personally, I wish that all human babies were this easy to clean up after!

Dino Might

Author
by Wayne
Publish date
24 September 2013
Comments
Comments (3)

In the late 1970’s and early 80’s, I was absolutely mad for dinosaurs. Many hours were spent poring over my small stash of dinosaur books - I used to lie on our worn lounge room carpet, gawping at fantastical images of a vengeful Triceratops skewering a clearly outraged Tyrannosaurus in the thigh. To my young eyes, the image was evocative and powerful, albeit a little coy in the lack of blood.

By today’s standards, the picture is quite out-dated in the postures of the protagonists, but it was enough to get me hooked on these intriguing (and like me, clearly ill-tempered) animals. My chief interests wavered over the following teenage years – at times Dinosaur Jr. were more interesting than dinosaurs - but dinos were always there in one way or another, bubbling away as a topic of interest in the back of my mind.

Qantassaurus Melbourne Museum's animatronic reconstructions of the Victorian dinosaur Qantassaurus
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Fast forward to today, and much has changed – my son sees CGI footage of dinosaurs that are so plausible that there’s genuine confusion over what is actually real. To his generation, it will likely seem ludicrous that our generation thought of Velociraptor as anything other than fully feathered, but to those of us of the “Jurassic Park” generation, the leathery-skinned versions will be long remembered. Disappointingly, it seems that despite scientific consensus on their feathers, the upcoming Jurassic Park film will feature the old-school, oversized, nude ‘raptors. But I digress...

Velociraptor skull A model of the skull of Velociraptor - feathers not shown....just like in Jurassic Park (I might need to get over this)
Image: John Broomfield
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Unlike Hollywood, the scientific world’s understanding of dinosaur behaviour, posture and lifestyles has changed over the years. There are numerous examples of dinosaur displays in Museums that required modification to keep them up-to-date with current research. One of the quirks of palaeontology - the active study of long-since-inactive animals - is that we can never really ‘get it right...finally’; the most we can hope for is to ‘get it right...for now’. New discoveries drive new interpretations, leading to new theories; forever edging us closer to the truth, but the goalposts are constantly moving.  With dinosaurs, you can never ‘know’ everything - and I find that quite reassuring.

Fossilised Champignons

Author
by Siobhan
Publish date
15 September 2013
Comments
Comments (1)

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.

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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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