MV Blog


Solar eclipse from space

by Tanya
Publish date
31 January 2014
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During the early hours of this morning, from 12:30am to 3am, NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured a stunning solar eclipse from space.  The Observatory sees a number of eclipses each year, but this was the longest one that's been recorded so far.


The eclipse was visible from the Observatory's vantage point, orbiting 36,000km above Earth. Since it could only be seen from space, the event is technically called a lunar transit. At its peak, the Moon covered up to 90% of the Sun.

Just as the Moon moves away, you can see a solar flare erupting from the left hand side of the Sun. This is just the kind of activity that the Observatory is helping scientists to better understand.

Solar Flare from the Solar Dynamics Observatory Perfect timing as the Sun releases a solar flare.
Source: NASA

Launched into space on 11 February 2010, the Observatory is on a 5 year mission to study the Sun as part of NASA's Living with a Star program. Our Sun is very active releasing flares and eruptions that can send energetic particles hurtling towards Earth. This can play havoc with our technological systems, bringing down power grids and causing blackouts. The ultimate aim is to better understand the cause of the Sun's activity so that one day we may be able to predict when such flares will occur to give us some prior warning.

The Observatory takes an image of the Sun every 0.75 seconds, and you can see all the beautiful images at the Observatory's Gallery. We have been loving the Gallery here at the Planetarium, and some of the footage will be featured in a new planetarium show to be released later this year.

Address to a haggis?

by Meg
Publish date
25 January 2014
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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.

All hands on deck with LEGO®

by Bronwyn
Publish date
20 January 2014
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Bronwyn is the manager of MV's Discovery Centres.

Melbourne Museum’s LEGO® Mystery Mosaic summer holiday activity is proving very popular with visitors, and they are assembling mosaic squares faster than we ever anticipated. Our Manager of Education and Community Programs, Georgie Meyer,  put out a call to all museum staff to help prepare the next mosaic board for our enthusiastic visitors.

visitors with lego Melbourne Museum visitors constructing pieces of the mosaic.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria

Girl holding lego The mosaic is made from 4,600 of these mosaic squares, each covered in coloured tiny LEGO® blocks.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria

woman with lego mosaic Susie placing a completed piece onto the mosaic board.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria

To keep this activity running, two giant 4m x 2m mosaic boards are rotated; as one board is completed a new one is rolled out. Preparing the new board involves a mammoth effort to unpick 170,000 tiny LEGO® blocks from 4,600 mosaic squares. Georgie and the public programs crew thought we would have a ten day turnaround to do this, however it is taking only five days for our eager visitors to fill a board!

LEGO® Mystery Mosaic James Bond starting to emerge from the mosaic.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria

Staff from all over the museum – including managers, web programmers, preparators, designers, technicians, volunteers, customer service officers, educators, information services folk, even the CEO – have spent an hour or two at the makeshift drop-in centre to disassemble the mosaic. While taking it apart is perhaps not as much fun as putting it together, it's enjoyable knowing we are contributing to a wonderful visitor experience. 

people unpacking lego Behind the scenes, museum staff and volunteers disassembling the mosaic ready for visitors to construct it again.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria


The LEGO® Mystery Mosaic runs until 26 January 2014.

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

Alpine School interviews at Alps Bioscan

by Priscilla
Publish date
7 January 2014
Comments (2)

Priscilla is a Program Coordinator for Life Sciences and works on education programs at Melbourne Museum.

In 1914 and 1915, scientists and field naturalists explored the Alpine region of Victoria. Nearly one hundred years later, we sent our museum's ornithologists, herpetologists, mammalogists, entomologists, palaeontologists, and others out into the field to explore, discover, and record the wildlife – alive and fossilised. This recent expedition in November last year, called the Alpine Bioscan, was a collaboration between Museum Victoria and Parks Victoria to perform a major wildlife census in the eastern region of Victoria’s Alpine National Park, with 100 experts taking part.

black and white photo of men on horses Men and horses during the survey of the Alpine area in 1914 and 1915.
Source: Museum Victoria

People with malasie trap Today’s scientists: Mel Mackenzie, MV’s Marine Invertebrate Collection Manager, and Parks Victoria staff inspecting a Malaise trap in the Alps. Malaise traps catch flying insects.
Source: Museum Victoria

We’ll never know exactly the thoughts and experiences of those early researchers in the black and white photographs – but to ensure that doesn’t happen again, we invited eight students from the Alpine School to become Bioscan Ambassadors. Their role was to interview our scientists, record it and share it. The response from the students was overwhelming; all 45 students in the school wanted to participate. The lucky eight had their names pulled from a hat.

So, on the afternoon of November 28th, I went with MV historian Rebecca Carland to the Alpine School to work with the students and their teacher Nicola. The students learned from Bec how to interview a scientist, what makes a good question, and how to plan and record an oral history to make an interview clip. When they learned that their clips may become a permanent part of the museum’s collection, two students nearly cried with happiness.

eight students at table The eight Bioscan Ambassadors, workshopping their ideas for interviewing the scientists.
Source: Museum Victoria

On day two of the project, the students and the scientists met at Omeo Memorial Hall. The students' training put them in good stead for the realities of filming in the field – dealing with difficulties like not being able to film outside due to the rain, bad acoustics, and even unflattering lighting. But, like pros – they pushed on, filming and questioning scientists through the challenges.

Four people around a computer Students editing their clip with assistance from Bec Carland, MV historian and Roger Fenwick, Manager Regional Operations, Parks Victoria.
Image: Heath Warwick
Source: Museum Victoria

The result was four great video interviews of Museum Victoria scientists which are now on the Making History channel on Vimeo. In another century, when people look back at the photographs of today’s scientists in the field and wonder who these people were, the students’ films will show them.

This project was supported by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s Strategic Partnership Program.


Interview with Mel Mackenzie

Interview with Mark Norman

Interview with Rolf Schmidt

Interview with Ken Walker

About this blog

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