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DISPLAYING POSTS FROM: Feb 2012 (19)

Lunar New Year

Author
by Nicole D
Publish date
10 February 2012
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On Sunday 29 January Melbourne’s Chinatown came alive with beating drums, firecrackers, lion and dragon dances, kung fu demonstrations, market stalls, and great food. We went down for a little look to enjoy the spectacle and join the thousands of people from diverse backgrounds who came to celebrate Lunar New Year.

Dragons ready to parade Dragons ready to parade
Image: Nic Davis
Source: Nic Davis
 

Monday 23 January 2012 marked the official Lunar New Year – often referred to as Chinese New Year. It is the most important celebration of the year for many communities throughout Asia, including in China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand. It’s a time for families to reunite and celebrate together, with the festivities often lasting for a whole month from around mid January to mid February.  

Wing Chun demonstration Wing Chun demonstration
Image: Nic Davis
Source: Nic Davis
 

It is a festival rich with symbolism, designed to bring prosperity and happiness in the New Year. Decorations in cities throughout Asia go up early in January and the streets, stores and homes are riot of colour that rivals the Christmas season in Australia, with houses, streets, shops and businesses, brightly festooned with red lanterns, cherry blossoms, paper banners and other decorations.  

Crowds in Chinatown enjoying the Lion Dance Crowds in Chinatown enjoying the Lion Dance
Image: Nic Davis
Source: Nic Davis
 

Contemporary and traditional decorations for New Year Contemporary and traditional decorations for New Year
Image: Nic Davis
Source: Nic Davis
 

Of course Lunar New Year festivities are not limited to Asia, with Chinese communities throughout the world celebrating the festival. Australia’s long history of immigration from Asian countries means that today the Lunar New Year is one of the biggest celebrations in our diverse calendar of cultural events. Events are held in throughout the country, including in Melbourne’s Chinatown, Footscray, Richmond, Springvale, Box Hill and regional centres such as Bendigo.

A traditional Lion Dance team A traditional Lion Dance team
Image: Nic Davis
Source: Nic Davis
 

Links:

MV Blog: Five things about dragons

Huntsman on the Hill

Author
by Ben Thomas
Publish date
9 February 2012
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Comments (9)

Ben is an assistant curator currently researching the collections of wealthy Melbourne wool merchant and art collector, John Twycross, for an upcoming book and online exhibition. On the weekends, he likes to wander through grand gardens and restore his 1920s State Savings Bank bungalow home.

Returning to Melbourne following an impromptu drive up Mount Macedon, I stopped at Forest Glade, one of the mountain's well-known private gardens that is open to the public. Barely had I gone a few steps through the garden's cast iron gates when I recognised a very familiar sculptural group. I rushed forward and had my suspicions confirmed.

Alfred Jacquemart’s Huntsman and Dogs Alfred Jacquemart’s Huntsman and Dogs, cast by Val d’Osne c.1879, in the Forest Glade private gardens on Mount Macedon. The cast was included in the company’s exhibits at the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition.
Image: B. Thomas
Source: B. Thomas
 

Huntsman and Dogs, also known as Hunter and Hounds or by its French title, Le chaussuer et les chiens, was originally produced by the noted French sculptor, Henri Alfred Marie Jacquemart (1824-96), often known as Alfred Jacquemart, famed for his realistic representations of animal figures. He studied painting and sculpture at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and was a regular exhibitor at the Paris Salon from 1847. His reputation as one of France's leading monumental sculptors was recognised in 1870 when he was awarded the Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, the country's highest decoration.

Among his many monumental works, Jacquemart also produced a number of sculptures for commercial production, which were cast by the French foundries of Val d'Osne in 'imitation bronze'; a technique of casting in iron that was then coated with a thin surface of copper through electrolysis. Over time, the aging copper developed a green patina giving the appearance of a genuine bronze casting.

Detail of the base of statue Detail of the base of Huntsman and Dogs.
Image: B. Thomas
Source: B. Thomas
 

Val d'Osne exhibited Huntsman and Dogs at the 1879 Sydney International Exhibition and the following year at the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition where it was mounted on a stone plinth at the front of the eastern forecourt to the Exhibition Buildings, at the edge of Nicholson Street. Val d'Osne was awarded a silver First Order of Merit for their castings at the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition.

display of decorative castings in the eastern forecourt of the Exhibition Buildings during the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition Val d’Osne’s display of decorative castings in the eastern forecourt of the Exhibition Buildings during the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition, with Jacquemart’s Huntsman and Dogs in the foreground of the Nicholson Street entrance.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

One cast of Huntsman and Dogs was purchased by the New South Wales government at the conclusion of the Melbourne Exhibition in 1881 for £180; almost $13,000 in today's terms. It was mounted in the gardens surrounding Sydney's exhibition building, the Garden Palace, but was damaged when the Palace burnt down in 1882. It was restored in September 2001 and is now situated in Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens.

The Huntsman and Dogs in the Forest Glade gardens apparently remained installed at the Exhibition Building, but – much like its Sydney counterpart – was badly damaged when the Aquarium situated in the building’s eastern annexe was destroyed in a fire in 1953. Forest Glade’s present owners recount that the sculpture languished for a time at the back of a nursery, until being bought from a Richmond-based art auctioneer after the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires. It now finds a fitting home, nestled amongst its garden bed of maples, greeting visitors to these wonderful gardens.

Whale vs shark

Author
by Ursula
Publish date
7 February 2012
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Comments (1)

Ursula Smith works in the natural sciences collections at Museum Victoria. Though a palaeontologist by training she finds all the collections fascinating and swings between excitement at all the cool stuff in them and despair at the lack of time to look at it all.

This cabinet contains parts of the skeleton of a fossil whale collected at Bells Beach, on the Surf Coast southwest of Melbourne.

collection cabinet Vertebrate Palaeontology Collection storage cabinet full of fossils.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

This story is only indirectly about that whale, but it does start with one of its bones:

Fossilised whale bone. Fossilised whale bone.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

This is a metacarpal – a bone from one of the whale's flippers (forelimbs). Here, it's being held by Dr Erich Fitzgerald, Senior Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Harold Mitchell Fellow at Museum Victoria, which gives you an idea of the size – it's about 7cm long. The equivalent bone in a human hand (the bone that runs between your middle finger and your wrist) is about the same length, though not as chunky.

At the top of the bone, you can see two grooves that make an inverted 'V'. While they might not look particularly impressive, to Erich's eye that chevron shape was an immediate clue to something that's quite rare to find in the fossil record: it's a classic example of the marks left on bone by shark teeth. We know what a modern shark bite looks like from observing modern sharks and their prey, and the marks on this bone look just like the sorts of marks a modern shark bite makes. In the next photo, Erich is re-enacting the way a shark's tooth would make this sort of mark, (though obviously when a shark bites there are many more teeth involved).

Shark tooth and whale bone Erich demonstrates how a shark tooth probably struck the whale bone.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

While it's not absolutely conclusive evidence – this sort of palaeo-behaviour trace fossil rarely is – this, and other marks on other bones from the same specimen, is enough for us to be fairly certain that this whale was bitten by a shark. We also know that this happened very close to the whale's death because the bone shows no sign of healing. This tells us that either the whale was killed by the shark that attacked it or that the shark was scavenging the whale carcass after it died – we can't be sure which but we know that the whale wasn't bitten and then got away.

Even with this uncertainty, though, this is more information than palaeontologists usually have about interactions between animals in the fossil record. Information modern ecologists take for granted, such as who's eating who, is extremely rare to find for fossils. Bite marks like these are one of the few ways palaeontologists have any idea of how food webs may have been constructed way back when. But what's really cool about this particular whale/shark palaeo-interaction, is that rather than just being satisfied with 'this whale was attacked by a shark' we can actually figure out who the culprit was. A lot of work has been done on the geological unit that this specimen was collected from so we know what was sharing the waters with our luckless whale. Of the list of sharks known from the same unit, only one has teeth big enough to have made these marks:

Fossil shark tooth Fossil shark tooth.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

This tooth comes from the shark Carcharocles angustidens, known from relatively abundant fossils around the stretch of coast our whale was collected from. C. angustidens is a close relative of the rather more famous Carcharocles megalodon which has the largest teeth of any known shark, living or extinct (some are over 18cm long!) You can see the sharp little serrations along the edge of the tooth which would have effectively sawed into the bone of its victim, leaving the grooves we see in the whale's bones today.

So we think that somewhere in the Late Oligocene, 24-27 million years ago, in a sea that covered what is now part of Victoria, a shark, Carcharocles angustidens, bit a Mammalodon whale and perhaps even killed it. It's amazing what we can infer from just a few scratches on bone.

Links:

MV Blog: Evolving the biggest mouth in history

Footage of tiger sharks scavenging a whale carcass in Queensland

Footage of sharks eating a blue whale alive

Steam 'dinosaur' at Scienceworks

Author
by Max
Publish date
5 February 2012
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Comments (0)

Your Question: Does Museum Victoria have the only working Australian-made traction engine?

It is believed that in 1916, Cowley’s Eureka Ironworks of Ballarat built one of Australia’s last steam traction engines. The Cowley Traction Engine, acquired by the Museum in 1985, was restored with the help of about 30 staff and volunteers over 16 years with a total of 10,000 paid hours and 6,000 voluntary hours.

Cowley Steam Traction Engine (1916) at Lake Goldsmith. Cowley Steam Traction Engine (1916) at Lake Goldsmith.
Image: Matthew Churchwood
Source: Museum Victoria
 

It was dismantled and major mechanical repairs were carried out. New parts were manufactured when the old parts were found to not be restorable or could not be repaired in a way that could be reversed at a later time. Such parts included the steam boiler, the boiler fittings, tender, roof, crankshaft, feed pump, and many of the gears. All components that were replaced have been retained in storage for future reference and research.
 
Scienceworks 10th Birthday Celebration Scienceworks 10th Birthday Celebration - Cowley steam engine from 1916 in action on the arena.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The Cowley was used to move houses and other timber-framed buildings, as well as hauling logs for the Sawmilling industry in Western Victoria and is unusual in that it has solid sided wheels, rather than spoked ones. This design serves the dual purpose of not only being cheaper to produce, but the wheels can then double as extra water tanks – a handy advantage in the dry Australian bush.

Detail of Cowley Steam Traction Engine at Machinery in Action show Detail of Cowley Steam Traction Engine at Machinery in Action show
Image: Paoli Smith Photography
Source: Museum Victoria
 

In 2001 the Cowley was fully restored and ready to go. It made its debut at the Lake Goldsmith steam Rally and can now be seen at Scienceworks on Machines in Action Days.
Men in the boiler shop at Cowley 's Eureka Ironworks, Ballarat, Victoria, circa 1910 Men in the boiler shop at Cowley 's Eureka Ironworks, Ballarat, Victoria, circa 1910
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Got a question? Ask us!

Links:

Podcast: Roll out the Steam Engines!

MV News: Roller returns

Piers Festival

Author
by Max
Publish date
3 February 2012
Comments
Comments (1)

On the afternoon of Saturday 28 January, I made my way down to Port Melbourne for the Piers Festival, a celebration of migration at Station and Princes Piers. The Immigration Museum had a display at Station Pier about – you guessed it – Station Pier!

Immigration Museum’s ‘Station Pier’ exhibition Immigration Museum’s ‘Station Pier’ exhibition at Station Pier.
Image: Max Strating
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Even though the festival was to celebrate both piers, it was really about launching the newly opened Princes Pier after its recent $34 million renovation. The poor dear had ended up in a terrible state after years of neglect. The renovation included restoration of the gatehouse, plus installation of a rotunda with touch screens showing the history of the pier, large raised deck platforms, an area of artificial turf, a generous amount of seating, and public binoculars for viewing ships at sea. Last but not least, the first 196 metres of decking were replaced with a concrete slab, for which the entire gatehouse had to be lifted in order for it to be poured – no mean feat.

Princes Pier Children playing at Princes Pier
Image: Max Strating
Source: Museum Victoria
 

In the gatehouse was an exhibition of historical photographs from Princes Pier – soldiers off to war, local boys on bikes, and migrants arriving after the war.

Ottoman Mehter Marching Band. Ottoman Mehter Marching Band.
Image: Max Strating
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The festival was put on by Multicultural Arts Victoria and the program included a wide variety of performers and musicians, starting with the Victorian Police Pipe Band and finishing with the Melbourne Ska Orchestra. The most arresting costumes were of the Ottoman Mehter Marching Band. Poor guys, it was about 35 degrees in the shade, never mind under their hats!

Enterprize crew The crew of the Enterprize showing off their Jigging and Reeling skills.
Image: Max Strating
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Ska Orchestra Ska Orchestra
Image: Max Strating
Source: Melbourne Museum
 

Mexican heads One of the many stalls selling tasty treats and colourful crafts.
Image: Max Strating
Source: Museum Victoria
 
 
The evening ended with a generous fireworks display. Can’t wait for next year’s festival!

Senior Australian of the Year

Author
by Lindy Allen
Publish date
1 February 2012
Comments
Comments (5)

Lindy Allen curates the Northern Australian Collections at Museum Victoria. These collections include important historical ethnographic, manuscript and image collections of Baldwin Spencer and Donald Thomson.

On Thursday 26 January, Laurie Baymarrwangga was announced as 2012 Senior Australian of the Year. There wasn't much coverage about this extraordinary Australian in the press; the only report I saw was on the ABC on the morning of Australia Day that showed a segment of film of this grand old lady on Murrunga, a tiny island in the Arafura Sea of northern Australia that can only be reached by charter plane or by boat.

Laurie Baymarrwangga Laurie Baymarrwangga, Senior Australian of the Year 2012.
Image: Mari Ekkje
Source: Mari Ekkje at Broken Yellow
 

From her biography on the Australian of the Year website:

...Laurie Baymarrwangga has seen the arrival of missionaries, exploitation by Japanese and European fishermen, war and tumultuous change. Undaunted, she has almost single-handedly nurtured the inter-generational transmission of local ecological knowledge through a lifelong commitment to caring for kin, culture and country. In the 1960s Laurie established a housing project on her homelands that has benefitted generations of kin. Speaking no English, with no access to funding, resources or expertise she initiated the Yan-nhangu dictionary project. Her cultural maintenance projects include the Crocodile Islands Rangers, a junior rangers group and an online Yan-nhangu dictionary for school children. In 2010, after a struggle stretching back to 1945, Laurie finally received back payments for rents owed to her as the land and sea owner of her father's estate. She donated it all, around $400,000, to improve education and employment opportunities on the island and to establish a 1,000 square kilometre turtle sanctuary on her marine estate. In the face of many obstacles, this great, great grandmother has shown extraordinary leadership and courage in caring for the cultural and biological integrity of her beloved Crocodile Islands.

Baymarrwangga is at least 90 years of age because she was about 13 years old when a young anthropologist called Donald Thomson sailed to the island and stayed for a few days in 1935 taking photographs of her and other family members. He also photographed the sophisticated system of barriers constructed to trap fish.

I first met Baymarrwangga in 2004 on my very first field trip to Milingimbi, the largest of the Crocodile Island group, the preservation of the culture and environment of which Baymarrwangga has been deservedly recognised by the award. Fortunately I had a 4WD (taken in by barge), which meant that I could drive out to Bordeya, an outstation in the middle of the island, to find the old lady that everyone told me I needed to talk to. Baymarrwangga was still there after a funeral days earlier, and I talked to her about the photographs taken by Thomson at Murrunga and at Milingimbi. She recognised herself and the close relative who had just died in some of the images, and because I had a printer with me was able to provide copies of these and others including her father and grandfather also photographed by Thomson. During discussions at Bordeya, Baymarrwangga also identified each of the five Burarra men from Cape Stewart (on the mainland to the west of the Crocodile Islands) painted up for ceremony in another of Thomson's photographs. This proved to be of immense importance to the descendants of these men when I met them a few weeks later on my way back to Darwin via Maningrida.

The following year I travelled by charter plane to her home at Murrunga and spent a week working with this remarkable woman. While the island has no power and few facilities that one would expect to be available to a 2012 Senior Australia of the Year, it is a community led by this strong old lady and is alive with a thirst to teach and nurture the young in the ways of their country and culture. I have encountered few people in Arnhem Land with her extraordinary capacity for language (she speaks eight languages and understands at least another four) and cultural knowledge as there are very few Yolngu who survive to such an age.

Fish fence by Laurie Baymarrwangga Fish fence made in 2003 from undyed vegetable fibre by Laurie Baymarrwangga, Arnhem Land. Size: 610 (h) x 1135 (w) x 130 (d) mm. Registration number X101208.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

In late 2004 a gift for the museum's collection arrived from Baymarrwangga. She had made a section of a fish fence from sedge, just as it would have been made in 1935 when Donald Thomson was at Murrunga. She had given it to Gupapuyngu elder Joe Neparrnga Gumbula when he was coming down to the museum to work with me in the collections. And then in 2006 Baymarrwangga herself travelled all the way to Melbourne to see the Donald Thomson Collection. Members of her family who were to come abandoned the trip, but Baymarrwangga spent a week with me at the museum and at my house. It is only through her generosity and patience in sharing her knowledge and teaching me that I am able to understand the importance of what is here at Museum Victoria in the Indigenous collections.

Links:

Australian of the Year Awards

Donald Thomson Collection

Crocodile Island Rangers

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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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