Melbourne Museum


Melbourne Museum

Melbourne Museum explores life in Victoria, from our natural environment to our culture and history. Located in Carlton Gardens, the building houses a permanent collection in eight galleries, including one just for children.

A primary school pop up museum

by Cam Hocking
Publish date
30 November 2015
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Here's a tough question; what do friendship, knitting, soccer and bugs all have in common? Apart from being incredibly popular, they are all exhibits featured in the brand new Princes Hill Primary School Museum

The museum has been curated and created by students from Grade 3&4 at Princes Hill Primary School in North Carlton. Throughout the year these budding historians, scientists and designers have been doing an in depth exploration of the role of museums in society. They have worked with staff from Museum Victoria, visited our museums to study exhibition design, and then applied what they've learnt to the creation of their own museum.

Exhibition plans Students guided Museum Victoria staff through a range of exhibits
Source: Melinda Cashen

As part of the project the students also brought their exhibits into a pop up museum at Melbourne Museum. Staff from all areas of Museum Victoria came and visited the pop up museum, along with some of the students’ parents, to hear about the project and offer feedback to the students about their designs. There was a wonderful feeling of collaboration and collegiality amongst the students and Museum Victoria staff, and a great deal of constructive feedback was offered. You can see a collection of tweets and photographs from the two days here, Tweets and Photographs. See a time-lapse of the setup, opening and pack up of the museum here, Time lapse.

The students were rightfully proud of their work and appreciated the staff and parent visits. Mia said that "It was so good to let other people look at your museum. I felt really important to have so many museum people come and look."

Another student, Loula, reflected on the value of the day.  "It was a great for other people to see the work of students and that they can do more if they put their minds to it."

Classroom teacher Melinda Cashen said "It was such an authentic experience for the children. They have built up a great relationship with the museum over the year and they felt that the effort they have put into building their own exhibits was worthwhile and valued. It allowed the children to see the process of curating and how a museum works in a real context, and they really appreciated the feedback they received, making changes to their exhibits when they returned to school."

There was also great benefit for the staff at Museum Victoria too. Rebecca Carland, Curator of History Collections visited the pop up museum on Tuesday. “I was delighted by how engaging the pop-up Museum was. The science displays made me re-think how we write for younger audiences, some of them really nailed it. And the use of digital tech in one of the history displays was seamless and so professional. I think we met a couple of our future colleagues.”

Students will now take the feedback they received and continue to work on their exhibits in preparation for the opening of their museum at Princes Hill Primary School in December. Congratulations to all of the Grade 3 & 4 students; we can't wait to come and see the final museum when it opens. You can keep up to date with the class' progress on their blog.

Exhibition plans A museum staff member chats with a student about her exhibit
Image: Cam Hocking
Source: Museum Victoria

How cute is that?

by Patrick
Publish date
19 October 2015
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Melbourne Museum recently participated in the global #Cuteoff on Twitter, where researchers from around the world posted photos of their supposedly ‘cute’ study animals. Given that many of these posts featured snails, turtles, spiders, squid and sea sponges, it begs the question whether cuteness is in the eye of the beholder.

Whipbird chick This baby Whipbird (Psophodes olivaceus) from the Forest Gallery is small, fluffy and vulnerable – in other words quite cute.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria

Konrad Lorenz, the pioneering ethologist, first dissected cuteness in the 1940s with the concept of Kindchenschema (‘baby schema’), identifying that juvenile, or paedomorphic, traits are the key. From an evolutionary point of view, paedomorphic traits are a significant advantage to very young individuals, as they push the buttons of adult humans, encouraging their nurturing side. Cuteness in humans can be further broken down as the sum of certain traits (tiny chin and nose, chubby cheeks, large eyes and rosy complexion), where each element is a cumulative index of cuteness. When these features are enhanced in photos of adult subjects in scientific experiments, observers see the subjects as progressively cuter and report increasingly pleasurable and caring emotions.

Tawny Frogmouth Blinky, one of the Forest Gallery’s Tawny Frogmouths (Podargus strigoides). Blinky has large, wide-set eyes and a disproportionately large head, making him definitively cute.
Image: Chloe Miller
Source: Museum Victoria

The propensity to nurture cuteness is also applied by humans to other animal species with the same traits. Animals that have a flat face, short nose, large ears and large, expressive, wide-set forward-facing eyes are too irresistible to refuse. And the more exaggerated these features, the more appealing they are, as demonstrated by the Hello Kitty phenomenon and kawaii culture in Japan. A number of theories suggest many breeds of cats and dogs have been selectively bred to emphasise these characters, and this appears to be easier than you might think.

Silver Fox The Silver Fox (Vulpes vulpes)
Image: Zefram
Source: Creative Commons: CC-BY-SA-3.0

In 50 years of experiments in the Soviet Union, scientist Dimitri Belyaev domesticated the Silver or Siberian Fox, a silver morph of the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes). By choosing the tamest offspring from each litter, i.e. individuals that were less likely to flee or more likely to whimper and sniff and lick the handler, Belyaev also inadvertently selected the retention of paedomorphic traits. After 40 generations the foxes had larger, floppy ears, shorter or curly tails, and shorter snouts.

Pobblebonk The large, toad-like Pobblebonk (Limnodynastes dumerilii) upping its cuteness index by adopting a tap dancer’s stance.
Image: Melvin Nathan
Source: Museum Victoria

Animals that are not otherwise cute can, in certain situations, enhance their cuteness factor by adopting human attitudes or being associated with familiar human objects.

Alpine Blue-tongue Lizard The comportment of Beth, an otherwise cranky Alpine Blue-tongue Lizard (Tiliqua nigrolutea), can be significantly softened and her cuteness improved when wrapped in a towel.
Image: Chloe Miller
Source: Museum Victoria

Healthy juvenile traits also play a role in cuteness – clear eyes, smooth skin, a pink glow (i.e. sufficient blood circulation) and bilateral symmetry. However, a helpless baby animal obviously in recovery from an illness or injury does sometimes press additional buttons.

Mountain Dragon The Mountain Dragon Falcor (Rankinia diemensis). Although not particularly cute on his own, the bandage raises Falcor’s cuteness factor several fold.
Image: Melvin Nathan
Source: Museum Victoria

Animals that can clearly look after themselves fail to evoke the cute response. Venomous animals, such as spiders and snakes, for example, or spiky or heavily armoured animals, require no nurturing from us. Animals with fewer than four legs, such as worms, or animals with more than four legs, such as centipedes, also elicit no empathy.

Prickly Katydid The antithesis of cuteness. The Prickly Katydid (Phricta spinosa) is laden with spikes and other armour, and well able to look after itself.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Patrick Honan

Charities and wildlife groups latched on to the cute factor many years ago. For an endangered species, being cute is definitely an evolutionary advantage these days. A baby panda or harp seal will always get more attention and funding than an endangered snail or spider. According to Canadian ecologist Ernie Small, this is skewing the world’s conservation efforts (and biodiversity in general in the long run) towards the cute and fluffy. It’s reflected in the dollars spent on saving endangered species – highest for the charismatic megafauna and lowest for reptiles, invertebrates and plants, with the number of paedomorphic traits directly proportional to the dollars spent. Ernie Small goes as far as listing the features that will boost a conservation project.

Mitchell's Hopping Mice The cute-as-hell Mitchell’s Hopping Mice (Notomys mitchelli) behaving cutely. This species is listed as ‘Near Threatened’ in Victoria.
Image: Patrick Honan
Source: Museum Victoria

So it’s no wonder all researchers want their study animals to be the cutest. Perhaps social scientist Paris Hilton said it best: “The only rule is don’t be boring and be cute wherever you go. Life is too short to blend in”.

Vale Ken Porter

by Liza Dale-Hallett
Publish date
12 October 2015
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Liza Dale-Hallett is Senior Curator Sustainable Futures at Museum Victoria.

After a number of years of ill health Ken Porter passed away on Saturday 3 October. Ken was a key player in the interpretation and development of the HV McKay Sunshine Collection and has been an invaluable contributor to Museum Victoria. 

The H.V. McKay collection dates from 1884 with the extraordinary story of the ‘energy, vision and pluck’ of Hugh Victor McKay. Who, at the age of 18, built a stripper harvester prototype and went on to create the largest manufacturing enterprise in the Southern Hemisphere, known as the Sunshine Harvester Works.

In the mid-1950s the McKay family sold its interests in the company to the global giant Massey Ferguson. The name of McKay was unceremoniously chiselled off the Sunshine head office buildings, the timber panelling and desks were painted over with Massey Ferguson grey, and hundreds of workers lost their jobs.  Ken Porter started his 41 years work as a ‘Massey Ferguson man’ in 1956, right in the middle of this difficult transition.

Man with crate Ken Porter with the mysterious crate he rescued from a dumpster.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria

The breath and scale of the H.V. McKay Sunshine Collection was the result of what Ken called a ‘quirk of fate’. In 1991, he spotted a wooden crate in a dump master, during a major clean-up at Massey Ferguson.  He thought the box might have been of some use to him at home, but when he recovered it he noticed that a square of cardboard had been nailed to it reading, “The plaster cast of H.V. McKay.  Not to be opened until another one needed”, signed Cecil McKay.

Ken knew this was important.  And with the help of a colleague Ron Doubleday, over the next two years they secretly rescued nearly 100 years of history. This ‘rubbish’ was squirreled away in the old Director’s Garage.  Ken liked to call this ‘Jurassic Park’ – it was long forgotten and littered with the skeletons of pigeons. The perfect hiding place for history. In 1993 Ken successfully secured the support of the company secretary, Ted Pask, to formally offer this substantial collection to Museum Victoria and the University of Melbourne Archives.

In 1996 Ken Porter worked closely with Senior Curator Liza Dale-Hallett to establish the McKay volunteer project.  He conscripted and led a team of 20 volunteers to identify and document the collection.  They represented a company experience of over 800 years.  About 200 ex-employees from across Australia also offered their expertise and memories. The McKay volunteers have catalogued and provided expert analysis of 28,000 images, 750 films, nearly 500 artefacts, over 10,000 trade and marketing publications. They have written stories that describe the 84 factory departments, the hundreds of types of farming equipment manufactured and the special stories associated with being part of the ‘Sunshine family’.

Ken also provided strategic advice on key themes and areas of research, identified opportunities for collection development and actively promoted the project to key stakeholders and community groups. His tireless commitment and enthusiasm has been an important ingredient in maintaining the volunteer team since 1996, and has been fundamental in increasing the significance of the collection and facilitating its public access.

Ken and his team were celebrated for their efforts in 2002 when they received the Victorian Museum Industry Recognition Award for the “most outstanding volunteer project in the Victorian Museum sector”.  Ken was also awarded an Honorary Associate by Museum Victoria in 2002 for his contribution to the development and interpretation of the McKay collection.

group of people with an award Ken and his team of volunteers received the Victorian Museum Industry Recognition Award for the “most outstanding volunteer project in the Victorian Museum sector".
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria

Ken described himself as a ‘Massey Ferguson man’ – and by jumping into a rubbish skip he became a man who made history. His special efforts, passion and vision were fundamental to creating and documenting one of the most significant industrial heritage collections in Australia.

Ken has not just made history – his commitment and enthusiasm has substantially enhanced the lives of hundreds of ex-employees who have been involved in documenting their lives and this remarkable history.

Ken was a great colleague and friend. He was loved by everyone.  He will be greatly missed.

H.V. McKay Sunshine Collection

Hawks vs. Eagles: who will win … according to SCIENCE?!

You’ve all heard of the big match taking place this weekend between the Hawthorn Hawks and the West Coast Eagles. The speculation is rampant – who is going to take home the Cup in 2015? 

Hawks vs. Eagles Hawks vs. Eagles...who will win?

At Museum Victoria we can’t tell the future but we do know our native animals. So we began to wonder – who would win if the match ascended from the grassy green of the MCG and took place between their mascots in the sky?

Firstly, because we’re scientists we need to establish the facts.

What species are we talking about?

There are three species of eagle in Australia – the Wedge-tailed Eagle (Aquila audax), White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) and the Little Eagle (Aquila morphnoides). The first two are the largest raptors (birds of prey) in Australia. They all belong to the Accipitridae family, along with the other fifteen bird of prey species, except for owls, falcons and kestrels.

Within the same Accipitridae family Australia also has buzzards, kites, goshawks, sparrowhawks, osprey, bazas and harriers, but no species that actually goes by the common name ‘Hawk’. The colloquial term hawk can refer to many of these birds but is often also used to refer to birds outside this group.

We’re working with some loose definitions here (not ideal for scientists, as I’m sure you can imagine) but let’s presume that the goshawks and sparrowhawks are what qualifies as Australian hawks.

Thus our Grand Final showdown is set to take place between the largest eagle – the Wedge-tailed Eagle and the largest hawk – the Red Goshawk.

Big game strategy:
Eagles will spend hours circling at a distance before moving in for the kill. Hawks tend to hunt from concealed hiding places, attacking by stealth and finishing with a high speed chase.

Size and speed:
In this particularly case our Eagle is about five times the size of our Hawk. Eagles are also marathon flyers and can keep going for hours. Hawks are fast over short distances but will tire easily.

Hawks are very intelligent birds, second only to the Adelaide Crows. This has been established by Dr Louis Lefebvre of McGill University in Canada who developed the world’s only comprehensive avian IQ index. Eagles are also very intelligent…but not as intelligent as a Hawk.

Unlike umpires, Hawks also have excellent eyesight. They have five times as many photoreceptors as humans and ten times better eyesight, partly due to an indented fovea that magnifies their centre of vision. This superior intelligence and eyesight means that they are favoured over eagles by falconers. Eagles also have excellent eyesight, and are known to soar 2km above the ground searching for carrion or prey. But…their eyesight is not as good a Hawks.

Flexibility and adaptability:
Eagles are very large and their weight and power works against their flexibility in close quarters. But with a good run-up they are almost unstoppable. Hawks are more readily able to change strategy to reflect changing circumstances, to start and stop quickly, and to win against their opponents in tight struggles.

Game tactics:
Eagles consume a large part of their diet as carrion, which doesn’t require much intelligence. They also feed on large animals such as North Melbourne Kangaroos, which they overcome through brute force … and dubious umpiring decisions. Hawks feed mostly on birds, especially parrots, which are smart in their own right and require more intelligence to overcome.

So who’s going to win? We’ll have to wait and see, but rest assured that feathers will fly!

Two fathers from WW1

by Shane Salmon
Publish date
3 September 2015
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Shane works on touring exhibitions at Museum Victoria.

The impact of World War One took a particularly tragic toll on families, as great numbers of fathers and sons failed to return home from the front line. The worry and grief of fathers and mothers knew no boundaries, whether in Australia, England, Germany, or elsewhere. 

Melbourne Museum is currently hosting two exhibitions on the subject of the First World War. Both contain powerful stories about those who served in the war, and the impact their loss had on families. With Fathers’ Day approaching this weekend, we reflect on two fathers who fought in the war, and tip our hat to all absent fathers this Sunday.

'My three kids'

Robert Stewart Smylie, a 42-year old father of three, died on the Somme with a photograph of his wife and three children in his shrapnel-damaged wallet.

Roberts Stewart Smylie's wallet. Family photos in Roberts Smylie's wallet.
Source: Imperial War Museums

Smylie was a school headmaster who had taught English, Latin and Mathematics for 20 years. Despite his age and responsibilities, on the outbreak of war he joined the army and eventually travelled with the 1st Battalion in Flanders.

While stationed in Flanders, he wrote a long poem about his experiences to his three children, ending with the hope that they would all soon be together again. A full transcript of the poem appears at the end of this post.

Poem in notebook Smylie's poem for his children.
Source: Imperial War Museums

Smylie's sketchbook appears in The WW1 Centenary Exhibition

A scrapbook of grief

Frank Roberts was recently married when he arrived at the Belgian battlefields in 1917. His first daughter Nancy was born soon after. He kept in close correspondence with his family, including his father Garry, until his death in a fierce battle at Mont St Quentin on 1 September 1918.

The loss of his son Frank cast a shadow over the rest of Garry Roberts’s life. He spent countless hours contacting soldiers who served with Frank, meeting them, trying to piece together what had happened.

From his massive collection of articles, photographs, letters and other memorabilia, Garry compiled 27 huge scrapbooks documenting Frank’s life and the world in which he had lived. The scrapbooks are among the most poignant expressions of grief ever made.

big scrapbook of photos One of three Roberts’ Scrapbooks on display at in the WWI: Love & Sorrow exhibition at Melbourne Museum.
Source: Museum Victoria


You can see the scrapbook and other traces of Frank Roberts in WWI: Love and Sorrow.


Transcript of poem written by Robert Smylie, 19 November 1915

I am writing this tonight, My three kids
By a little candle-light, My three kids
And the candlestick’s a tin
With some dry tobacco in
And so that’s how I begin, To my kids

Now I wonder what you’re at, My three kids
Moll and Bids and little Pat, My three kids
Why of course there’s two asleep
But perhaps Moll’s thinking deep
Watching little stars that peep, At my kids

Since I left you long ago, My three kids
There’s a lot you’d like to know, My three kids
That has happened to your dad
In the varied luck he’s had
In adventures good and bad, My three kids

I have soldiered in a trench, My three kids
Serving under Marshall French, My three kids
Once a shell dropped with a thud
Quite close, covered me with mud
And it’s lucky ‘twas a dud, For my kids

And I’ve crossed the ground outside, My three kids
It’s at night that’s chiefly tried, My three kids
And the bullets sang all round
Overhead, or struck the ground
But your daddy none has found, No my kids

I have mapped our trenches new, My three kids
And some German trenches too, My three kids
I have sprinted past a wood
Counting steps, for so I could
Judge the distance as I should, My three kids

I have placed our snipers where, My three kids
On the Germans they could stare, My three kids
And they killed their share of men
Quite a lot for snipers ten
From their little hidden den, My three kids

And I’ve slept in bed quite warm, My three kids
But I haven’t taken harm, My three kids
When upon the ground I lay
Without even straw or hay
In the same clothes night and day, My three kids

When they sent us back to rest, My three kids
Then they seemed to think it best, My three kids
To send your dad ahead
To discover where a bed
Could be found, or some old shed, My three kids

And new officers were trained, My three kids
And the men we’ve lately gained, My three kids
And while that work was in hand
I was second in command
Of B Coy and that was grand, My three kids

But it didn’t last all through, My three kids
There was other work to do, My three kids
When they made me adjutant
I was busy as an ant
And it’s not much catch I grant, To my kids

I have ridden on a horse, My three kids
Captured from a German force, My three kids
And I’ve marched and crawled and run
Night and day in rain and sun
And shall do it till we’ve won, For my kids

And I’d rather be with you, My three kids
Let you know I’m lucky too, My three kids
Lots of men I used to know
Now are killed or wounded, though
I remain, and back I’ll go, To my kids

And I hope you’ll all keep well, My three kids
Just as sound as any bell, My three kids
And when this long war is done
We shall have some glorious fun
Moll and Bids and little son, My three kids.

Welcome to the family, Pluto

by Tanya Hill
Publish date
16 July 2015
Comments (3)
image of planets Welcome to the family. Ben Gross/twitter, CC BY-SA

What an amazing time for space exploration. The picture of the solar system from my childhood is now complete, as seen in this great family portrait produced by Ben Gross, a research fellow at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, and distributed via twitter.

I love this image because it shows each world in close-up, using some of the latest pictures from space exploration. As we celebrate seeing Pluto for the first time, it’s remarkable to think that this completes a 50 year task.

It has been NASA that has provided the first close-up views of all these worlds. Here’s the rundown:

  • Mercury: Mariner 10 (1973)
  • Venus: Mariner 2 (1962)
  • Mars: Mariner 4 (1965)
  • Jupiter: Pioneer 10 (1973)
  • Saturn: Pioneer 11 (1979)
  • Uranus: Voyager 2 (1985)
  • Neptune: Voyager 2 (1989) and
  • Pluto: New Horizons (2015)

But science never stays still. When New Horizons left Earth in January 2006, Pluto was a planet. Later that year an important reassessment was made of the Solar System and Pluto became the first of the dwarf planets.

The ‘Not-Planets’

The Planetary Society’s Senior Editor, Emily Lakdawalla, has teamed together the ‘Not-Planets’. These are the close-up views, shown to scale, that have been captured of the largest moons, asteroids and dwarf planets.

image of non-planets in the solar system Montage by Emily Lakdawalla. The Moon: Gari Arrillaga. Other data: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL/SwRI/UCLA/MPS/IDA. Processing by Ted Stryk, Gordan Ugarkovic, Emily Lakdawalla, and Jason Perry.

It clearly shows that there are many diverse and interesting worlds to explore beyond the eight planets of our solar system.

New Horizons is the first spacecraft to start exploring the Kuiper Belt, an icy realm of objects orbiting 5 billion kilometres or more beyond the sun. It’s the chance to observe a dwarf planet, something distinct from the terrestrial planets and the gas giants.

It was in 1992 that astronomers discovered Pluto was not alone. The first Kuiper Belt Object, designated 1992 QB1, is a 100-kilometre sized object that orbits well beyond Pluto.

Now more than 1,000 objects have been detected in this realm, and the belt likely contains many more. Most are small compared to Pluto, but there are some stand-outs such as Quaoar, and the dwarf planets Eris, Makemake and Haumea.

Don’t forget to phone home

The suspense of the mission has certainly been high. To maximise the amount of data that New Horizons could collect, the spacecraft did not communicate with Earth for the duration of the flyby. As described by Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman, it was the moment when you let your child free.

The team had prepared New Horizons, told it what work needed to be done and in that radio silence they had to trust that all would go to plan.

Just before 11am today (AEST), New Horizons checked in – showing it to be the perfect child to the relief of its many anxious “parents”. It was only a brief phone home, but in that short time the scientists confirmed that all telemetry was spot-on, the spacecraft followed the path that had been set for it and there were no error messages recorded on any of the systems.

No data was transferred in that brief connection, but it was established that the main computer system, which records all the data collected by the spacecraft, showed the expected number of segments had been used. In other words, data had been collected.

We will soon see Pluto and Charon in even higher resolution. Their geology will be mapped, the surface compositions and temperatures will be measured, atmospheres will be probed and new discoveries will be made.

A love note from Pluto

It’s also been wonderful to see the public become so enthralled with the latest image from Pluto. Humans are incredibly good at spotting patterns and it seems that Pluto wears his heart on his sleeve for us.


I’m also equally intrigued to discover that the smooth part of Pluto’s heart is made of carbon monoxide ice. This was already known from ground-based observations, except never before seen in such detail. It’s reassuring to have a good match between the old and new data.

But look again … is it a heart or something entirely different stealing the show?



Tanya Hill is Honorary Fellow of the University of Melbourne and Senior Curator (Astronomy) at Museum Victoria.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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