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DISPLAYING POSTS FROM: Jan 2012 (22)

New location for Your Questions

Author
by Jo
Publish date
14 January 2012
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After four years, and hundreds of questions, the Discovery Centre's online Question of the Week and Your Questions articles are moving house to the MV Blog.

Horse heam moving a house Horse team moving a house from Creswick through Allendale, Victoria, circa 1909. (MM 001930)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We will still be answering all of your curious and quirky questions, but you will now have the chance to get to know us a little better. The weekly blog posts by the folks of the Melbourne Museum and Immigration Museums Discovery Centres will appear as Your Questions here on the MV Blog. This is the place to go to read about interesting facts, see curious objects, and become the person everyone wants on their pub trivia team. Read all the weird and wonderful questions the museum staff are asked, and even better, find out the answers!

Links:

Melbourne Museum Discovery Centre Question of the Week archive

Immigration Discovery Centre Your Questions archive

Wonderful Wallacea

Author
by Kevin Rowe
Publish date
12 January 2012
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Kevin is the Senior Curator of Mammals at Museum Victoria. He reports on his recent expedition to the mountains of Sulawesi, Indonesia in this series of blog posts.

Last Sunday was the birthday of Alfred Russel Wallace who, along with Darwin, co-founded the theory of natural selection. As Ursula reported, Wallace's expedition through the Malay Archipelago (modern-day Indonesia) also prompted him to develop the field of biogeography and to define the zoogeographical regions of our planet; that is, where groups of animals are found and why.

World map showing the zoogeographical regions. Wallace's world map showing the zoogeographical regions in different colours.
Image: A.R. Wallace
Source: Copyright expired. Sourced from Wikimedia Commons.
 

Biogeography proposes that the species native to a particular region are determined by geographic processes such as vicariance (isolation) and dispersal (colonisation). Natural selection then drives species to evolve traits suited to survival and reproduction in their environments available in their geographic context. Biogeography and natural selection combined often result in species from different regions converging on similar morphological solutions to similar selective pressures.

Consider the mammals of Australia, which are the product of millions of years of natural selection acting on a set of species determined by biogeography. Australia, along with New Guinea, comprises the continental shelf of Sahul that today, as well as in Wallace's time, is separated by the Indonesian archipelago from the Asian continental shelf, Sunda. During low sea levels of the Pleistocene (the last 2 million years), Australia, New Guinea, and adjacent islands were one continuous landmass as were Malaysia, Sumatra, Java, and Borneo on the Asian side. Between them was Sulawesi, the Moluccan islands and the Lesser Sunda islands (Nusa Tenggara) all separated by deep ocean channels. This region at the interchange between Asia and Australia is referred to as Wallacea.

Map of Sunda and Sahul Map of Sunda and Sahul and the Wallace Line, the Lydekker Line and the Weber Line.
Image: Maximilian Dörrbecker
Source: Used under CC BY-SA 3.0 from Wikimedia Commons.
 

85 million years ago Australia was connected to Antarctica and via Antarctica to South America. When a meteorite crashed into the Yucatan peninsula of North America 65 million years ago annihilating the dinosaurs (except a few feathered and crocodilian ones), Australia was already starting to drift away from Antarctica. For 40 million years Australia drifted in isolation and only about 10 million years ago began to collide with Asia. The mammals that made this journey survive today as the marsupials and monotremes that are unique to Australia and New Guinea. The marsupials have evolved to fill many ecological roles with adaptations similar to placental mammals on other continents, a process driven by natural selection leading to convergent evolution.

Convergent evolution between the Thylacine and the Red Wolf. An example of convergent evolution. The Thylacine (left) and the Red Wolf (right) occupy similar roles in the ecosystem and have similar dog-like characteristics, even though they belong to entirely different groups of animals.
Image: Left: Heath Warwick | Right: ucumari
Source: Left: Museum Victoria | Right: Used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 from ucumari.
 

The native terrestrial mammals of Australia, however, are not just the result of isolation but are also descended from a select group of intrepid colonisers from Asia. These are the native bats and rats that account for nearly half of the mammal species of Australia. The rats are remarkable because they are the only non-flying, terrestrial mammals to colonize Australia before humans and they did it twice; once 5 million years ago (Rowe et al, 2008) and again 1 million years ago (Rowe et al, 2011). Both colonisers clearly came from Asian sources but the details of how they crossed multiple ocean channels and archipelagos are still unclear. In part this is hindered by our limited understanding of rat diversity from Wallacea, a condition that I and my colleagues endeavour to correct with our recent expeditions to Sulawesi.

Links:

More on convergent evolution of marsupial and placental mammmals

Māori cloak link to rugby history

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
10 January 2012
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A beautiful cloak woven from flax and kiwi feathers might seem like an unusual piece of sports memorabilia, but in 1889 this is exactly what the museum acquired from the visiting New Zealand Native rugby team. This team toured Australia, New Zealand and the British Isles as a money-making venture at the height of international fascination in the exotic colonies, giving the world their first glimpse of New Zealand's now-renowned rugby talent.

ANU scholar Keren Ruki recently completed a one-month internship in MV's Indigenous Cultures department examining and researching the cloak and other collection objects from New Zealand. The cloak is exquisitely made and in beautiful condition but was largely undocumented. Keren's research means we now know much more about the cloak and its story.

Keren Ruki with the cloak Keren Ruki with the kiwi feather cloak housed for more than a century in Museum Victoria's collection.
Image: Rod Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Keren first visited Museum Victoria several years ago when she was researching Māori cloak construction for her own art practice. Born in New Zealand but raised in Australia, Keren describes feeling somewhere between the two cultures and drawn to the weaving techniques of her ancestors. "I felt a big urge to go home to find out who I was," she says, explaining her trips back to New Zealand to learn how to weave. Some weaving techniques have been lost in time but keen detective work helps to recover them and keep them alive. "Cloaks in collections teach me how things are made. If you've got an object, it's never dead. You can relearn how to make it."

Now embarking upon a master's degree in liberal arts, an 1854 Student Scholarship helped bring her back to Melbourne for a closer look at this cloak in particular. It was woven top to bottom using an off-loom weaving technique that is unique to Māori weavers called whatu. In a laborious process, the maker(s) used mussel shells to extract fibre from the native flax plants, drew the fibre out into string, and wove the string across the warp, locking each kiwi feather in place. It would have been highly prized when it was made and thus chosen to accompany the New Zealand Native team on their tour.

kiwi-feather cloak This kiwi feather cloak was purchased by the museum in June 1889.
Image: Rod Start
Source: Museum Victoria.
 

The 1888-1889 rugby tour was a triumph for the New Zealanders. They won 78 of their 107 games. As Keren puts it, "They took the game back to the masters and flogged them at it. The rugby field was one of those places where we could have a fair go. It was a great equaliser in a sense, even though it was a colonial game." The players wore black shirts with a fern motif, later adopted as the national team colours and still used today. It was also the first time that the haka was performed at the rugby, perhaps even while wearing this cloak.

The tour coincided with the Great Exhibition movement when the world was hungry for objects from faraway places. "Cloaks and the Māori were such a novelty, that's why the team came here – there was a market for them," explains Keren. However the tour was not as lucrative as the captain and organiser Joseph Warbrick had hoped. It was expensive to feed and transport 26 players and there were injuries due to the gruelling schedule of games. Cultural items were sold off to museums as the team returned to New Zealand. This cloak was bought by the (then) National Museum of Victoria on 10 June 1889, the day before the New Zealand Natives slaughtered the Victorian team in a rugby match. Another cloak was purchased by the Australian Museum.

1888-1889 New Zealand Natives football team 1888-1889 New Zealand Natives football team before playing Queensland in July 1889.
Source: In the public doman, sourced from Wikimedia Commons.
 

Keren's research is not complete; she's still hoping to uncover the whakapapa or ancestry of the cloak – who made it and where it came from. "It's from the Ngati Kahungunu tribe from the Kaimanawa Ranges in the North Island. There might be other ways to follow the threads of cloak through cloaks in other collections. The maker might be a Warbrick relative."

It's wonderful to hear that she will continue seeking the stories behind the Māori treasures in Australian Museums. "To have a look at my own cultural material is really important and it's very significant to the Māori community in Australia. It's been an amazing journey for me because everyone's opened up their doors."

This year's round of 1854 Student Scholarships is open for applications until 31 March 2012.

Links:

Pacific Island Ethnographic Collection

Happy birthday A.R. Wallace

Author
by Ursula
Publish date
8 January 2012
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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.

Today is the birthday of Alfred Russel Wallace, who was born on 8 January, 1823. While he isn't terribly well known today, at the end of the 19th century he was one of England's best-known naturalists – which is saying something considering that he was a contemporary of people such as Charles Darwin and Joseph Hooker. In fact, Wallace’s famous letter to Darwin prompted the latter to write On the Origin of Species after a joint presentation of their work to the Linnean Society. This post, however, is about another of Wallace’s important contributions to biology.

Photograph of Alfred Russel Wallace, taken in Singapore, 1862. Photograph of Alfred Russel Wallace, taken in Singapore, 1862.
Source: In the public domain, sourced from Wikimedia Commons.
 

After trying his hands at a few trades, Wallace became a field collector – a career that combined his desire to travel with his passion for natural history. After four years collecting along the Amazon River (and an eventful return voyage to England in which he spent 26 days in a lifeboat after his ship caught fire and sank!), Wallace set off for the Malay Archipelago – what is now Malaysia and Indonesia – and spent nearly eight years collecting shells, insects, reptiles mammals and birds for sale in England. The book he published about this trip, The Malay Archipelago, the land of the orang-utan and the bird of paradise; a narrative of travel, with studies of man and nature, was one of the best selling travel books of the nineteenth century.

Museum Victoria has around 200 bird specimens collected by Wallace on this trip that were sold to John Gould and then donated to the museum. Birds are very important in Wallace's story - not only was he looking specifically for the highly sought after birds of paradise on his trip so he could sell them to collectors in England, but his observations about the distribution of birds amongst the islands he visited were highly important in allowing him to develop the theory we today call biogeography – the science of where animals live and why.

Shelf of bird mounts A shelf of bird mounts collected by AR Wallace in the Museum Victoria collection.
Image: Ursula Smith
Source: Museum Victoria
 

In June of 1859 Wallace made an unscheduled trip between the islands of Bali and Lombok when he couldn't find a direct boat from Singapore to Makassar (at the south end of the island of Sulawesi, then called Celebes). He noticed that even though the islands are within sight of each other and very similar in size, elevation and climate, the bird species on Lombok were very different from those he'd seen on Bali. Wallace came to the conclusion that the two islands belonged to distinct Zoological provinces. He wrote in The Malay Archipelago:

I may mention that during a few days' stay in the island of Bali I found birds of the genera Copsychus, Megalaima, Tiga, Plocus, and Sturnopastor, all characteristic of the Indian region and abundant in Malacca, Java, and Borneo; while on crossing over to Lombock, during three months collecting there, not one of them was ever seen; neither have they occurred in Celebes nor any of the more eastern islands I have visited. Taking this in connexion with the fact of Cacatua, Tropidorhynchus, and Megepodius having their western limit in Lombock, we may consider it established that the Strait of Lombock (only 15 miles wide) marks the limits and abruptly separates two of the great Zoological regions of the globe.

In a paper about the distribution of birds in 1868 T.H. Huxley labelled this boundary that Wallace had described between the Asian and Australian biological regions as 'Wallace's Line', the name by which we still know it today. Since then we've discovered that there are other boundaries passing through the archipelago that are relevant to groups other than birds, but Wallace's Line remains the best known and the area is still an important location for research today.

Bird collected by Wallace Bird specimen, an adult female Eclectus Parrot, in the MV collection that was collected by AR Wallace.
Image: Ursula Smith
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Links:

Meet Me at the Museum: Birds of Paradise

Capturing Paradise: Alfred Russel Wallace's Red Bird of Paradise

Ornithology Collection

Entomology Collection

Wallace's books available as free ebooks from Project Gutenberg

Meet some MV Members

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
7 January 2012
Comments
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We love our MV Members. We appreciate their ardent support of our museums, we love that they help us plan exhibitions and to improve what we do. But why do our members choose to join Museum Victoria?

Chris and Janet Wright have held a family membership for many years and also donate to MV. We asked them a few questions to find out why.

The Wright family on a couch The Wright family on the House Secrets monster couch.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

What made you decide to become MV Members?

Our children were babies and pre-schoolers and we wanted to pop in for an hour or so every few months. We'd meet relatives and their kids there, and stay for a little while. It was fun, stimulating and educational. Membership was an economical way for the whole family to go to the museum. We've stayed on as members both to keep the value for money, but increasingly to support the work of the museum. Janet has a personal connection to the museum, with one of her friends working there when she was at university, and the collection houses some of Chris's grandfather's firearm collection. Our daughter Annie did work experience there during her secondary school.

What do you value about Museum Victoria?

Having access to the world of knowledge, and to the world of finding out, is central to our way of life. We value that MV makes science accessible, interesting and attractive to Victorians, and it supports the work of scientists in our state. The Immigration Museum preserves wonderful stories of the history of so many Victorian families and the staff there continue to add to our knowledge.

Do you have a favourite memory or experience from your visits?

I remember as a little boy going to visit the museum when it was housed in the State Library Building on Swanston St. I was completely fascinated with the working models - these were to-scale replicas of various machines - steam engines, motors, dynamos, generators, 4 and 2 stroke petrol motors, diesel motors - all in their own wooden / glass display case, with a lovely white button in a brass bezel on the front. When you pushed the button: THINGS HAPPENED!!! The motors went around, the electric motors whirred - quite a miracle for an eight-year-old to see!

Wright family at Scienceworks The Wright family in the Perception Deception exhibit at Scienceworks.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

When we visited Scienceworks as a family, we'd all try to race Cathy Freeman - we'd laugh at the skeleton pedalling and wonder at mechanics of the Pumping Station. The Immigration Museum brought back memories for Janet - when she was seven she went to the US on an ocean liner. The mock cabin brought all those memories flooding back.

Wright family at Scienceworks The Wright family racing Cathy Freeman at Sportsworks.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 


Are you an MV Member? What draws you back to membership each year? Do you have a favourite museum memory you'd like to share?

Links:

MV Members

Donate to MV

Scienceworks: What's On today

The mammals of Sulawesi

Author
by Kevin Rowe
Publish date
6 January 2012
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Kevin is the Senior Curator of Mammals at Museum Victoria. He reports on his recent expedition to the mountains of Sulawesi, Indonesia in this series of blog posts.

I recently returned from an expedition into the heart of Sulawesi's central mountain forests. Shrouded in the cool moisture of clouds, these forests appear to be made of moss erupting from the ground. Halfway between Asia and Australia, the native species on this island are neither Australian nor Asian but a unique mix of lineages from the two great continents.

Cloud forest of Sulawei The mountain rainforest of Sulawesi, Indonesia.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Together with Anang S. Achmadi, Curator of Mammals from the Museum Zoologicum Bogoriense (the national museum of Indonesia) and a team of local guides, I hiked two days from the rice fields of Mamasa to a field camp at 2600 m in the mountains above.

the Sulawesi expedition team The Sulawesi expedition team.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

campsite in Sulawesi Base camp for the Sulawesi expedition.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Led by our local guides, including 84 year-old village-elder, Pak Daud, we encountered a pristine, primordial forest rich in biodiversity. Streams dissect the plateau spreading the daily afternoon showers across the landscape and to the fertile rice fields in the valleys below. The endangered mountain anoa (a pygmy water buffalo found only in the mountains of Sulawesi) run in large numbers, bear cuscus (relatives of Australia's brushtail possums) climb through the tree tops, dozens of orchid and pitcher plant species cling to the moss that covers everything, and a diverse assemblage of rodents survive in large numbers. We came in search of these rodents found nowhere else on earth, but which may help us understand the relationship between Australia's native rodents and Asia's.

hiking in Sulawesi Hiking through mountain terrain in Sulawesi.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Over three weeks of surveys in these remote forests, we detected 34 species of small mammals (< 1 kg), a healthy number for any forest. Consider that there are about the same number of small mammals across the entire State of Victoria. The rodents in these mossy mountain forests are characterised by a range of morphological oddities, such as giant woolly rats, Eropeplus, small arboreal mice, Haeromys, spiny rats, Maxomys, tiny arboreal squirrels, Prosciurillus, large terrestrial squirrels, Hyosciurus, and a collection of shrew rats that, like shrews, specialise on eating invertebrates. These shrew rats include two species of the soft-furred Tateomys and one species of the short-legged Melasmothrix.

Rodents of Sulawesi. Rodents of Sulawesi. Left: small arboreal mouse Haeromys montanus. | Right: giant woolly rat Eropeplus canus
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Two species of shrew rats from Sulawesi Two species of shrew rats from Sulawesi. Left: Tateomys rhinogradoides | Right: Tateomys macocercus
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We also detected two shrew rat genera that have not been seen since the 1970s including three individuals each of the puppy-faced Crunomys and the rare, worm-eating, gangly-legged Sommeromys, previously known from a single specimen.

Two genera of shrew rats from Sulawesi. Two general of shrew rats that were found for the first time since the 1970s. Above: Crunomys sp. | Below: Sommeromys sp.
Image: Kevin Rowe
Source: Museum Victoria
 

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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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