History & Technology

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History & Technology

Research and collections that document Victoria's history since European settlement, including community and domestic life, cultural diversity, technological change and innovation, and major historical events.

Transcribing field diaries

Author
by Nicole K
Publish date
19 March 2015
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Deep in Museum Victoria’s archives lie boxes of notebooks. Notebooks that contain a significant part of our museum’s history. They are the field diaries of our past curators and collection managers, produced on scientific expeditions to explore, research and discover the natural history of Australia (and beyond).

Field diaries from Museum Victoria's collection Field diaries from Museum Victoria's collection
Source: Museum Victoria
 

These field diaries are of great interest to both scientists and historians. They are filled with invaluable data, providing insights into past species’ abundance and distribution, as well as personal descriptions of the trials and wonders experienced on historic expeditions.

A photograph from Graham Brown's field diary: Mt Rufus, Tasmania (1949). A photograph from Graham Brown's field diary: Mt Rufus, Tasmania (1949).
Image: Graham Brown
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Despite the fascinating information contained within the diaries (and the interest in them), they are relatively inaccessible. They were handwritten, often in less-than-favourable conditions (picture a scientist, crouched in the bush, notebook balanced on knee).

Sketch from Allan McEvey's field journal of his expedition to Macquarie Island, 1957. Excerpt from Allan McEvey's field journal of his expedition to Macquarie Island, 1957.
Image: Allan McEvey
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We have therefore started a crowd-sourcing project to transcribe the field diaries in our collection. The pages of each diary are carefully digitised and then uploaded into DigiVol the Atlas of Living Australia’s volunteer transcription portal that was developed in collaboration with the Australian Museum. Once transcribed, the text in the diaries will be searchable. We can create lists of the species mentioned and use this information to better understand and conserve our precious biodiversity.

Our most recent transcription project is Allan McEvey's field diary of his expedition to Macquarie Island in 1957. Museum Victoria's Curator of Birds from 1955, McEvey had a passion for scientific illustration and his field diaries are filled with sketches of birds and other wildlife.

Sketches of Black-browed Albatross, <i>Diomedea melanophris</i>, from Allan McEvey's field journal of his expedition to Macquarie Island, 1957. Sketches of Black-browed Albatross, Diomedea melanophris, from Allan McEvey's field journal of his expedition to Macquarie Island, 1957.
Image: Allan McEvey
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The original diaries, along with their transcriptions, will eventually be available online via the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), the world's largest online repository of biodiversity literature and archival materials.

The Australian component of BHL is managed by Museum Victoria and funded by the Atlas of Living Australia. The project has allowed us to digitise over 500 rare books, historic journals and archival field diaries. This represents over 12000 pages of Australia’s biological heritage that was previously hidden away in library archives.

Interested in becoming a transcription volunteer?

If you would like to help us unlock the observations in our historic field diaries, more information is available on the DigiVol website.

MV's new digital exhibits

Author
by Nicole K
Publish date
5 March 2015
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On Tuesday 3 March, Museum Victoria joined 25 Australian cultural institutions at Parliament House to launch the Australian component of the Google Cultural Institute.

Google Cultural Institute launch, 3 March 2015, Parliament House, Canberra Google Cultural Institute launch, 3 March 2015, Parliament House, Canberra
Image: Nicole Kearney
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The Google Cultural Institute is an online collection of millions of cultural treasures from over 670 museums, art galleries and archives around the world. Visitors can explore millions of artworks and artefacts in extraordinary detail, create their own galleries and share their favourite works.

Museum Victoria has been involved in the Google Art project since 2011 and was among the first institutions to partner with Google to create what is now the world's largest online museum.

Featured content on the Google Cultural Institute Featured content on the Google Cultural Institute
Source: Google
 

Tuesday's launch welcomed 14 new Australian contributors, including the Australian War Memorial, the National Portrait Gallery and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image. Over 2000 of Australia's finest cultural works are now accessible online.

Among these treasures are 226 highlights from Museum Victoria's collection. These include Aboriginal bark paintings, photographs depicting early Victorian history, and scientific illustrations that trace the development of scientific art.

In order to tell the fascinating stories behind these collection items, we have created three digital exhibitions within the Google Cultural Institute:

The Art of Science: from Rumphius to Gould (1700-1850)

The Art of Science exhibit The Art of Science exhibit
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Scientific Art in Victoria (1850-1900)

Scientific Art in Victoria exhibit Scientific Art in Victoria exhibit
Source: Museum Victoria
 

A.J. Campbell (1880-1930)

A.J. Campbell exhibit A.J. Campbell exhibit
Source: Museum Victoria
 

These exhibits include stunning photographs and illustrations, curator-narrated videos and in-depth information.

Many of these illustrations come from rare books preserved in our library and, in many cases, accompany the first published descriptions of our unique Australian fauna. The books are available online in their entirety in the Biodiversity Heritage Library, a project funded in Australia by the Atlas of Living Australia.

Vale Bill Woodward

Author
by Charlotte Smith
Publish date
23 January 2015
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Comments (5)

Dr Charlotte Smith is MV's Senior Curator, Politics and Society.

This week, Museum Victoria volunteer Bill Woodward lost his fight with cancer. Bill was the quintessential quiet achiever; for almost 24 years he spent every Wednesday morning researching, cataloguing and filing documents relating to the history of the Royal Exhibition Building (REB).

Bill Woodward Bill Woodward next to Ivy Raadik. The photo was taken under the dome of the REB in 1996, at an REB Museum Volunteers dinner.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

It was around 1991 that Bill first began working on the ‘REB Museum’ project. At this time, the REB was managed by a government-appointed body of Trustees. While responsible for ensuring the financial viability of the REB’s event and conference business, the Trustees also recognised the need to document the building’s past. In 1988 the Trustees appointed museum professional Nina Stanton to develop a collection and archive. Nina’s call for volunteers in September 1990 attracted over 65 applicants. Not all made it through the intensive interview process!

Bill joined the team about a year later. Each team member had a role: some spent their days researching at the Public Record Office or State Library, another spent her time developing a chronological list of events, while others traced the history of pictures exhibited at Melbourne’s two International Exhibitions. Bill’s role at this time was to key all the information gathered by fellow volunteers into the computer. Other members of the team then filed the documents and images into filing cabinets.

In 1996, custodianship of the REB was transferred to Museum Victoria. As part of the transfer, the museum acquired a significant collection of objects, a growing archive, and a team of amazing volunteers.

Bill Woodward and woman Bill chatting with a fellow volunteer at a casual gathering in the REB, early 1990s.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

I joined the museum as Senior Curator responsible for the REB collections in 2007. At this time, the REB volunteer team had shrunk to two regulars: Deidre Barnett and Bill Woodward. Deidre retired at the end of 2008, so it was just Bill and I who used to get-together early on Wednesday mornings for a chat.

My first indication that Bill was not completely well was about four years ago, but in typical Bill style he refused to give in to his illness. Every Wednesday morning he would be at his desk, typing away with research he had done at the State Library. There were weeks when he’d go off for treatment, but he’d always return with enthusiasm and a wide smile.

Bill died surrounded by his family. His wife tells us he had a smile on his face; a wonderful and evocative image for those of us who knew Bill well. Many of us in the Humanities Department will miss Bill immensely; I will definitely miss my Wednesday morning chats, but find solace in the knowledge that Bill’s legacy will live on in the amazing archive he spent a quarter of a century developing.

Desperately Seeking Graham

Author
by Nick Crotty
Publish date
19 January 2015
Comments
Comments (2)

Nick is a Collections Manager at Scienceworks. He likes piña coladas, walks in the rain, Star Wars and hiding away from the light.

This radio recently came off display in The Melbourne Story. I was returning it to storage when I noticed that a conservator had bagged a small piece of paper while cleaning the radio in 2008, and had suggested that it be kept with the object. 

Radio from 1933 Broadcast Receiver (radio) made by Astor. This is the Mickey Mouse, model circa 1933 (ST 028290).
Image: Nick Crotty
Source: Museum Victoria
 

This torn slip of paper was not originally part of the radio, but tightly rolled and inserted inside a small hole on the side.

Side of old radio The side of the radio showing the hole with a piece of paper rolled inside.
Image: Rebecca Dallwitz
Source: Museum Victoria
 

On one side of the paper was typed 'TAKE A PAIR OF SPARKLING EYE...' (the paper was torn here), and on the other, was beautifully handwritten in pen 'I put on the paper “Do you like Graham” and she said “Of course I do”!!!'

Detail of hand-written note The two sides of the note found inside the radio.
Image: Nick Crotty
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Well, this is interesting! Immediately I started wondering; who wrote the note? And why did they place it inside the radio? Were they trying to hide it, or save it for reading later? Or were they just using it to stop excess noise coming out of the radio (or bugs getting in?!). 

Who is the 'she'? Who was 'Graham'? His name was written with the H underlined three times. Was there another Graeme without an H? What made Graham special? Did it refer to Graham Kennedy? He was on the radio in the early 1950s and on In Melbourne Tonight from 1957 to 1970.

Graham Kennedy A signed photo of Melbourne television personality Graham Kennedy in 1957, sitting on the set of his live variety program In Melbourne Tonight which was filmed at the studios of GTV Channel 9 in Richmond, Victoria.
Image: Athol Shmith
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Was there meaning behind the typed piece of paper? A quick google search of the words brought up a Gilbert & Sullivan song called Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes from the operetta The Gondoliers. It’s a song sung in Act 2 by Marco Palmieri, a Venetian Gondolier, and is described by one critic as 'the most saccharine and chauvinistic ditty' of the Gilbert & Sullivan canon.

Two men in costume Rutland Barrington and Courtice Pounds as Marco and Giuseppe from the 1889 original production of The Gondoliers.
Source: The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive
 

Then I thought, was this a note passed in class? I wonder if school kids still do, or do they just text each other now? Of course this note was about another note ('I put on the paper'). Is this an old fashioned version of forwarding? Has anyone done anthropological research into the act of childhood note-passing during class?

I thought perhaps the source of this object might provide some clues. It was bought for the collection on 25 February 1972 from the Salvation Army Op Shop in Abbotsford, presumably by a curator. Our collection database says that during early January and February 1972, eight electronic valves were also purchased from the same shop.

Normally the museum acquires objects with a good provenance or story as that helps form exhibitions and captures the imagination of visitors. Sometimes, particularly in the Technology collections, we collect objects because of the part they played in technological development, especially if they are in good condition. The famous Astor Mickey Mouse was the biggest-selling radio in Australia during the 1930s.

Unfortunately I have reached a dead end. It might just be one of those mysteries that will never be solved. Nevertheless, the story of what could have happened has piqued my interest for a few days.

If you or a family member donated an old radio to the Abbotsford Salvation Army Op Shop in the early 1970s and knew a friend that had a liaison with someone called Graham (with an H) please leave a comment. I’d love to hear the full tale, especially if there is a happily ever after.

WWI honour boards - can you help?

Author
by Deb Tout-Smith
Publish date
10 November 2014
Comments
Comments (2)

Deb is a senior curator in MV's Humanities department. She was the lead curator of WWI: Love & Sorrow.

In the wake of the tragic experience of World War I, thousands of honour boards, memorials and cenotaphs were made to remember those who served and died. They were commissioned by many organisations including community groups, schools, employers, government departments and agencies. Those which survive today are increasingly significant as testaments to community experience and the need to create lasting memorials in the face of nationwide grief and loss.

Honour board inscribed with soldier names Honour Board - Kildonan Presbyterian Homes for Children, World War I, circa 1920 (SH 901000)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), in collaboration with Museum Victoria, is seeking information on World War I honour boards commemorating the military service of members of the Victorian public sector. The CPSU hopes to compile information about surviving public sector honour boards and support the preservation of these boards for future generations. If you know of any, perhaps in your own workplace, please contact the CPSU on ww1@cpsuvic.org.

Another significant honour board is currently on display at Melbourne Museum’s moving new exhibition WWI: Love & Sorrow.

Timber honour board inscribed with soldier names Honour Board - Associated Stock & Station Agents of Melbourne, circa 1920 (HT 33129)
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

This board was made around 1920 to commemorate the service of workers at the Associated Stock and Station Agents of Melbourne, which was closely linked to the Newmarket Saleyards. It was donated to Museum Victoria by the Yarra Glen Returned Services League (RSL) Sub Branch.

If you can provide any information about the people named on the board, please contact our  Discovery Centre.

Steaming through Williamstown

Author
by Matilda Vaughan
Publish date
3 October 2014
Comments
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.

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.

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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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