Museum staff, researchers, students and community members use the state collections to conduct research - from life at the bottom of the ocean to the history of our state and its people.

Address to a haggis?

by Meg
Publish date
25 January 2014
Comments (3)

As we rise on the morning of January 26th to celebrate our national day, Australia Day, on the opposite side of the globe another proud national celebration will also be getting underway – the Burns Night Supper in bonnie Scotland.

Robbie, or Rabbie, Burns (1759 – 1796) was a Scottish bard (poet) and one of the nation’s most celebrated figures, and each year Scots both at home and abroad commemorate his life and work on the evening of his birthday on January 25th.

Robert Burns Robert Burns
Image: Alexander Nasmyth (artist)
Source: Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Burns Night Suppers are usually organised and hosted by Burns Clubs, and in their most formal incarnations they have taken on a prescribed form – the evening begins with the piping in of the guests, who when seated then share in a reading of the Selkirk Grace, a prayer of thanks for the forthcoming meal. The prayer reads, in Scots:

"Some hae meat and cannae eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit."

Haggis at a Burns Supper Haggis at a Burns Supper
Image: Kim Traynor
Source: Kim Traynor

The piping then resumes to welcome the haggis which arrives in a procession accompanied by the chef, the piper and the reader nominated to address the haggis. Once settled on the table, the reader delivers the Address to the haggis, a poem composed by Burns in 1786 in honour of the dish. The address is followed by a toast to the haggis, and finally the “great chieftain o’ the pudding-race” is served alongside its traditional companions “neeps” and “tatties” (turnips and potatoes) with a dash of whisky sauce (often just neat whisky), and the feast begins.

Haggis, neeps and tatties Haggis, neeps and tatties
Image: Meg Lomax
Source: Meg Lomax

Other examples of Burns’ works are read throughout the evening, and the celebration traditionally draws to a close with a rousing rendition of Burns’ famous song Auld Lang Syne.

Appreciation for Burns’ words remains a strong feature of Scottish ex-patriot communities across the world and the Scottish community in Victoria is no exception – in January 2014, the Robert Burns Club of Melbourne will continue the tradition by hosting its 64th annual Burns Supper. And for those luck folk who identify as Scottish Australians, the haggis feast of the night before might be followed up with the (not too dissimilar) national dish of Australia the next day – the good old Aussie meat pie.

Alpine frogs and chytrid fungus

by Kate C
Publish date
17 January 2014
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Frogs were an important focus for the Alps Bioscan survey in Victoria's Alpine National Park in November last year. The deadly amphibian chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, thrives in cool environments, meaning high-altitude frog populations are particularly susceptible.

Dr Katie Smith, Collection Manager of Vertebrates, led the frog-hunting team at the Alps and explained why this fungus is so insidious. "It's a major contributor to global amphibian decline. Lots of frogs worldwide are affected," she said. "It penetrates their skin and leads to death in some species and individuals, while some are able to survive it and act as carriers."

View this video with a transcript

The museum's frog team searched for frogs in several sites in the Alps and collected skin swabs from every frog found. The swabs will be tested for the presence of chytrid (pronounced 'kit-trid') as part of ongoing monitoring by researchers from the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research. "We need to know what populations have it and whether this leads to changes in those populations, such as whether there's lower species diversity in areas where chytrid fungus is present."

The chytrid fungus has a free-living stage called a zoospore and a reproductive stage called a zoosporangium. Zoospores can live several weeks in the water until they find a host frog to infect. Once settled, the zoosporangia cause the frog's skin to thicken and slough away. There are a few hypotheses as to how the chytrid fungus kills frogs. One hypothesis proposes that a frog with a heavy chytrid infestation can't maintain its salt balance. Sodium and potassium levels, essential for normal muscle and nerve function, drop significantly and the frog dies from cardiac arrest.

froglet A froglet found during the Alps Bioscan. Froglet species seem to have some resistance to chytrid fungus, and may act as carriers between water bodies.
Image: David Paul
Source: Museum Victoria

Researchers believe that the fungus arrived in Australia in the 1970s, and is linked to the sudden decline (and in some cases, extinction,) of several local species, including the Southern Gastric Brooding Frog and the Southern Corroborree Frog. There are a few theories about how it got here, but the most likely culprit is the international trade in African Clawed Frogs for use in pregnancy tests. In the 1930s it was discovered that injecting one of these frogs with the urine of a pregnant woman caused the animal to produce eggs. Hundreds of thousands of frogs were brought into Australia from Africa for this purpose and probably, with them, the chytrid fungus. While the fungus was first identified in 1998, retrospective examination of historical specimens found the earliest known chytrid infestation on an animal collected in 1938. This African Clawed Frog specimen, held by the South African Museum, supports the theory of African origin.

Once loose in a new environment, chytrid fungus can spread rapidly. "It can be spread by frogs – anything that moves through those water bodies, even other animals that visit those areas and researchers themselves," explained Katie. "You might walk into one site, jump in the car and accidentally transfer it to a healthy population."

You can help prevent the spread of chytrid fungus in a couple of ways. Firstly, says Katie, "never move a frog, tadpoles or eggs that you find in one area to another area, because you don't know which populations may have the chytrid fungus." Frogs are protected in Australia which means that you cannot legally catch, remove or relocate them; the threat of chytrid fungus is another good reason to leave them where they are. Frogs often hitchhike from Queensland in bunches of bananas, so if you find a stowaway in your supermarket, follow the instructions of the Victorian Frog Group and never release the frog into the wild.

Katie continued, "secondly, if you're moving between water bodies, wash your shoes really well and anything else you put in water." The Alps Bioscan teams bleached and scrubbed shoes and equipment between each aquatic field site, and Katie's frog team wore fresh surgical gloves when handling each frog.

The results from the survey and chytrid tests will be available later this year once the researchers have completed their analysis.


Ché Weldon, Louis H. du Preez, Alex D. Hyatt, Reinhold Muller,and Rick Speare. Origin of the Amphibian Chytrid FungusEmerg Infect Dis. 2004 December; 10(12): 2100–2105.

David Hunter, Rod Pietsch, Nick Clemann, Michael Scroggie, Gregory Hollis and Gerry Marantelli. Prevalence of the Amphibian Chytrid Fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) in Populations of Two Frog Species in the Australian Alps. 

What was life like for my ancestors?

by Jo
Publish date
12 January 2014
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...


Destination Australia

Sands and MacDougall Melbourne Directories

When Museum Victoria is not enough

by Max
Publish date
24 December 2013
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

Where the locals know best

by Paing Soe
Publish date
26 November 2013
Comments (0)

Paing Soe is a Master of Environment student at the University of Melbourne.

This is the third post of an MV Blog mini-series celebrating the past, present and future of exploration on planet Earth and commemorating the adventures of Alfred Russel Wallace who died 100 years ago.

Dr. Kevin Rowe and Dr. Karen Rowe give their unreserved credit to the local people—the guides, the village heads and the Indonesian scientists—for the discoveries that they've made together in Sulawesi. But it took a bit of work to get them on side, according to Kevin. "They were not convinced that you can make a living doing what we do. So they were suspicious that we probably had a hidden agenda," he says.

Sulawesi field team A photo opportunity with the local team in Mamasa, West Sulawesi Province, May 2012.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria

"On these mountains, only the local people really know what's there," says Kevin. The locals in Mamasa, a mountain town on the island of Sulawesi, had a name for almost every species, including animals that have not been described by science. Such knowledge was essential in the scientific discovery of an almost toothless rodent, Paucidentomys vermidax.

Man holding rodent Gherzhon, a local guide from Mamasa, West Sulawesi Province, holding the recently described Paucidentomys vermidax he helped collect.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria

On the last day of a trip in 2012, local guides caught a rare rat that in local tradition is believed to safeguard homes from fire. While some of the guides wanted to keep the rat for this reason, one guide argued how important it could be to the expedition and made sure it was shared with the scientists. The specimen turned out to be the only record of the species at the site. "That kind of support depends on building trust and relationships with local people," says Kevin.

"It's just impossible really, to go in there without a local partner," agrees Karen. Local scientists understand the cultural context, the bureaucracy, and are much more effective with exploration and conservation when it comes to biodiversity on these islands. Working with Anang Achmadi, Curator of Mammals, and Tri Haryoko, Curator of Birds, at the national museum of Indonesia, Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense, their research programs have led to a strong collaboration between Museum Victoria and MZB.

The more that local scientists can work independently, the better. Kevin and Karen Rowe take this approach despite the fact that their own expeditions are going so well. "The future of biodiversity research in Indonesia lies with local scientists. Our hope is that we can promote their training and success," says Kevin.

Anang Achmadi, curator of mammals Anang Achmadi, Curator of Mammals at Museum Zoologicum Bogorinese in camp on Mount Gandangdeata near Mamasa, West Sulawesi Province, Sulawesi.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria

Check out the other posts in this mini-series: The Age of Exploration continues and Exploration of Sulawesi, Indonesia

Alpine Bioscan

by Kate C
Publish date
19 November 2013
Comments (4)

Nearly 30 museum scientists, staff and associates left Melbourne Museum early yesterday morning, headed for the Alpine National Park. They’re embarking on the next major Parks Bioscan – a program of intensive biodiversity surveys that MV performs, in partnership with Parks Victoria, of some of the state’s most wildlife-rich national parks. Volunteers from 4WD Victoria are providing additional help with access to the more remote and rugged parts of this cold and mountainous area.

Scientists at Bairnsdale sign Lunch stop at Bairnsdale for the MV scientists on the trip up the the Alpine National Park.
Source: Museum Victoria

As the team was packing up last week, I talked with Dr Karen Rowe about the gear the crews are taking into the field – namely nine iPads that will be used to collect data about the observations, samples and specimens taken by our experts.

iPad data collection system Karen's iPad ready to collect field data.
Source: Museum Victoria

Using iPads will allow the scientists and collection managers to upload the data directly into the museum’s collection database, EMu. This replaces the time-honoured tradition of recording data with pens and paper… followed by hours of painstaking transcription. Almost inevitably, transcription errors, bad handwriting, rain-sodden paper and other data disasters affect information brought back from the field this way.

The tablets have other benefits, too: an on-board GPS means that every observation is linked with a location, and the data collected for each location is standardised across the scientific disciplines. They also link to topographical maps, vegetation maps, and other useful field tools like the iPad’s camera and audio recording functions. In the case of alpine frogs, there are species that can only be distinguished by their calls so audio recording is vital to correct identification.

But why do the scientists collect all this data? Surely a biodiversity survey is just a big checklist of species? Karen explained that if you collect a specimen (or make an observation) without recording all the other information about that collection event, you "might as well have not collected the critter. We have a lot of specimens in the museum that have no provenance or location data. It’s useful as an exercise to help you understand that particular species but not the context in which it lives." Careful notes about the exact location (under a rock, up a tree), time of day (dawn, midday), and other factors help to flesh out the ecology and behaviour of a species.

"Particularly in areas that are hard to get to – and Sulawesi is a prime example – a lot of the species listed in the IUCN Red List are data deficient," continued Karen. "We don’t know anything about them or the habitats they’re in." Without that information, biologists can’t be sure of the scarcity of the species; a little-known tree-dwelling rat could seem extinct if you’re only looking for them on the ground.

The iPad will also help the museum photographers to attach species information to photographs taken in the field, which makes the images much more useful for research and reporting what we’ve found. Plus, teams can make accurate observations about animals outside their field of expertise – the entomologists can record the calls of birds, for example – for verification by the ornithologists later. That means a more thorough survey of the region.

Of course, in case of technical malfunction, Karen has a backup plan: the folders, clipboards and data sheets of yore. They’re charmingly labelled ‘Old fashioned iPads’ and to be used only in case of emergency.

box of field notebooks Old-school: the back-up field notebooks packed and ready to to to the Alps Bioscan.
Source: Museum Victoria

In addition to traps and sampling equipment, these field scientists have packed gear for extreme weather, including four-season tents, sleeping bags, thermal underwear and more. And of course, the field gear most important for maintaining morale after 12-hour days in hilly wilderness: comfort snacks!

  Supplies for the biodiversity survey Field supplies packed up for the Alps Bioscan. Left: bait for the mammal traps include cat food and vanilla essence. Right: while the bush rats are drawn to fishy and floral scents, the scientists prefer chocolate.
Source: Museum Victoria

If you live in the Victorian Alps, come along to our Science at the Pub event at the end of the Bioscan at Omeo's Golden Age Hotel, Friday 29 November 6:30 PM. Meet the scientists and see what they've found in the park.


Parks Victoria media release about the Alps Bioscan

Wild: Victorian Alps

MV Blog posts from the 2011 Prom Bioscan and 2012 Grampians Bioscan

About this blog

Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.