Exhibitions

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Exhibitions

Come and see the real thing! Exhibitions at Melbourne Museum, Immigration Museum, Scienceworks and beyond.

An Aztec pterosaur?

Author
by Erich Fitzgerald
Publish date
3 April 2014
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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 

Visitor responses to Inside

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
10 February 2014
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From 29 August 2013 to 27 January 2014, Melbourne Museum hosted Inside: Life in Children's Homes and Institutions. This travelling exhibition was developed by the National Museum of Australia in the wake of the Australian Government's 2009 national apology to Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants.

Visitor comment Comment left by visitor Sebastian that reads, "No child should suffer as much as this. "
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Some half a million children spent time in institutional care during the 20th century and while some feel that they were treated well, others experienced terrible suffering, neglect, and in the worst cases, abuse. This exhibition is presented through personal accounts of people who grew up in care. Sometimes harrowing, often distressing, Inside's purpose is to acknowledge stories that have long been suppressed or ignored.

An area of the exhibition was set aside with slips of paper and an invitation to visitors to record their reflections. Hundreds of visitors filled out a slip of paper and pinned it up, compiling a very intimate account of how they felt about the exhibition. Many of the comments are extremely personal and we thank visitors for sharing their experiences in such an open and honest way.

The excerpts and examples in this post show the range of responses from former residents of Children's Homes, their friends and families, and from people who had no previous connection to this awful part of our country's history.

My father lived in foster care. I still remember the stories of how he was beaten. It's so painful looking at these things. Caterina,19
1930s-1950s St Augustine's Geelong was my father's home from 5 weeks old. Messed him up for life, but he managed to be a wonderful husband, father and mate. Darren, 49
So sad, so ANGRY. Such abuse shapes your life and requires great courage, support and time to work through. Monique, 34
For my Grandfather, placed in the Ballarat Orphanage at age 3 in 1923. We never heard your full story as you didn't want to talk about it. This exhibition has given us an idea of what your life would have been like. May you rest in peace. xx Shaye, 37
Keep the truth shining and justice for all, I was 12 year old when I was put into a home for no reason at all like many girls. I will hold my head up / no shame. Suzanne, 45

Comment Comment left by visitor Claire at the Inside exhibition. It reads, "Words fail me. What I would give to be able to right all the wrongs."
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The homes are still with us today, happy for the ones who have been able to move on. Heather, 70
It was tough there but I turned out all right. Don, 74
I was seven when I was told I had nine other brothers and sisters and I had my first birthday party when I turned 17. Alf, 62
This is an authentic exhibition that reveals a very dark side of Australia's 20th century social history. The personal stories of abuse make me weak. But I do not perceive the story told to be wholly balanced. Mark Scott (MD of the ABC) was a child migrant and internee at Fairbridge, NSW. A few resilient souls did rise above the indifferent care at orphanages and achieved success. Tell that story too please. David, 59
It was foster care for me… 10 long years of moving from house to house. At Christmas time three houses in one week. The memories of a gift bring tears to my eyes. A simple Beatles poster from strangers. These people had taken time to find out what I liked – meant the world to me. Never abused but never loved, roof over my head but not a home, always alone but for the memory of that Beatles poster. That memory brings me warmth. That Christmas I was known. Juliette, 36
I am so sorry for ever saying 'it's in the past, get over it,' 'I didn't do it, why should I pay!’ - I now understand my ignorance to these horrific occurrences. My compassion is at large thanks to this display. Anon age 18

Visitor comment Comment left visitor Michael to Inside. It reads, "They stole our dignity"
Source: Museum Victoria
 

If you missed Inside but would like to know more, the NMA Inside website contains many of the exhibition's stories and objects. Inside: Life in Children's Homes and Institutions travels next to the Western Australian Maritime Museum, Fremantle from 14 March to 29 June 2014 and to the Queensland Museum, Brisbane from 9 August to 16 November 2014.

Classic Japanese James Bond car on show

Author
by Shane Salmon
Publish date
5 February 2014
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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
 

Preparing to Think Ahead

Author
by Alice
Publish date
5 December 2013
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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.

Travel by tube...or is that tubes?

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
8 November 2013
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Can you imagine zipping around your city – or even between cities – via vacuum tubes? The idea of using air to push or pull people through tubes is familiar from sci-fi shows like Futurama, but could we really travel by tube from Melbourne to Perth, say?

Futurama Tube Transport System Characters in the TV show Futurama zoom around New New York City Tube Transport System.
Source: 20th Century Fox Television
 

For over a century, pneumatic (air-driven) systems have transported small parcels, cash and documents quickly and securely over short distances. You may have seen pneumatic tubes in supermarkets that provide change or send money from the till to a central depository. Several European cities, including Paris and Prague, once had pneumatic postal systems. These days, many hospitals use air tubes to transport drugs and tests between pharmacies, labs and wards far more quickly than a human could carry them. Stanford Hospital's network is so extensive that it earned a listing in the Atlas Obscura and features in this video made by the Exploratorium. 

 

But would the idea work on a grand scale for transporting people? Elon Musk, inventor and chief executive of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, thinks it could. Earlier this year he released his concept for the Hyperloop – a superfast, solar-powered, city-to-city elevated transit system that he says could take passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes.

Concept drawing of the Hyperloop Concept drawing of the Hyperloop transit system.
Source: Tesla Motors
 

Air tubes have moved people before; America’s first subway in New York City was actually a prototype pneumatic train built in 1870 by Alfred Ely Beach that ran for just one block. Other pneumatic railways operated in various cities from the 1840s, including London, Paris and Dublin. None traversed more than a few miles or survived longer than a few years simply because steam and electric trains proved more practical. However Elon Musk now estimates that the cost of building tubes across California would be far less than building above-ground rail tracks.

Beach pneumatic tunnel The remains of Beach's pneumatic tunnel photographed in 1899, 30 years after it was built.
Source: Scientific American via archive.org
 

The beauty of pneumatic transport is its simplicity: just by changing the air pressure in a tube, you can shift anything contained within the tube. This principle is familiar to every kid who has used a straw to sip a drink or fire a spitball at the teacher. All you need is a durable capsule, a powerful pump to push air through the tubes, and a way to divert the capsules to their correct destination.

Lamson Pneumatic Tubes brochure Lamson brochure circa 1920. This photograph was taken by a researcher in the New York Public Library - and the librarians sent the access request for this item via the library's pneumatic tube system!
Image: Molly Steemson
Source: flickr user maximolly
 

To demonstrate the concept, we’re installing a pneumatic system in Think Ahead that was made by Lamson Solutions. This company has built transport apparatus in Australia since 1898; their early retail systems evolved from hollow balls rolling along inclined tracks, through to flying-fox style wires overhead launching spring-loaded capsules of money. In 1908 they introduced vacuum tubes and still make them today for hospitals, stores, manufacturing plants and more. Pneumatic transport for rubbish or recycling collection in big cities is another developing idea; it would certainly take a lot of smelly and fuel-guzzling rubbish trucks off the roads.

The potential of pneumatic transport is just one of the fascinating ideas in Think Ahead, an exhibition about imagining the future, which will be opening at Scienceworks this December. 

1889 tram model

Author
by Matilda Vaughan
Publish date
29 October 2013
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Comments (1)

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.

What do you do when a significant part of our local transport history would make a great addition to a new exhibition, but it no longer exists? Well, you recreate it in miniature, of course.

By 1888, Melbourne was already on its way to an integrated suburban rail transport network, and horse-drawn tramcars mingled with cable tramcars. Tramcars propelled by electric motors were very new and developing rapidly. Overseas commercially-operated installations were powered by either on-board batteries or connections to external underground or overhead electrical wiring. The first electric tram powered by an overhead wire in Australia was demonstrated as a fee paying, passenger-carrying attraction within the grounds of the 1888 Melbourne International Centennial Exhibition.

Men on Melbourne's first electric tram Australia’s first suburban electric tramway service at the Box Hill terminus on opening day, 14 October 1889. Do these passengers look excited about their ride on the latest public transport system in Melbourne?
Source: Doncaster & Templestowe Historical Society (DP0203)

While news reports from the time provide basic information about the tramcar and the exhibit, we couldn’t find any surviving photographs. However images do exist of its later use, in the following year, on the Box Hill-Doncaster Tramway Company’s route. This route ran from Box Hill Railway Station up what is now known as Tram Road, towards the Observation Tower and close to where Doncaster Shoppingtown now stands.

We provided these photographs, supplemented with curatorial research gleaned from historical literature such as newspapers, engineering journals, patents and electric tramcar and street railway technology reviews, to model maker Mark O'Brien. He used this information to prepare a digital model using 3D modelling software, carefully deconstructing parts to suit the manufacturing method.

Man sitting at computer showing a 3D digital model The 3D digital model can be rotated and viewed from all angles, to match the viewers’ perspective to the original photographic image.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Then came the real art of the project: translating the digital model into an actual object. The miniature parts were crafted with a blend of traditional model making techniques and additive manufacturing technology (3D printing).

parts of tram model Left: assembly of the tram model parts prior to painting and finishing. Right: the truck (or bogie) construction prior to painting, in the hand of the model maker Mark O'Brien.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria

parts of tram model Left: detail of conductor base. Right: electric motor, wheels and axle box, 3D printed and finished to resemble metal.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Scanning the tram model into the collection system Upon its arrival at the museum, we checked the condition of the tram model, registered it, tagged it and scanned into the Collection Location System for tracking.
Image: Matilda Vaughan
Source: Museum Victoria
 

When the Box Hill tramway closed down, the original tramcar was sold to H.V. McKay’s Sunshine agricultural implements manufacturing plant and stripped of its electric motor and fittings. The tramcar carriage itself became one of the shelter sheds used for workers’ leisure activities in the nearby parklands. It suffered the fate of most wooden objects left out in the weather for years. In the museum environment however, this miniature representation of the tramcar will live on as part of the as part of the state’s permanent Rail Transport Collection, and will be part of the Think Ahead exhibition at Scienceworks from December 2013.

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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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