MV Blog

DISPLAYING POSTS FROM: Jun 2011 (14)

Farewell to John Kendall (1926-2011)

Author
by Richard Gillespie
Publish date
30 June 2011
Comments
Comments (1)

Dr Richard Gillespie is a historian and the head of the History and Technology Department at Museum Victoria. He wrote this guest post in tribute to F. John Kendall, former Director of the Science Museum of Victoria, who died on 20 June 2011.

I never worked with John Kendall. He had retired six years before I joined the museum in 1990. But I met him at the opening of Scienceworks in 1992 and at later special events.

John Kendall John Kendall, newly appointed as Director of the Science Museum of Victoria, 1975.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

At John’s encouragement I would call him at home whenever I was puzzled by something in a museum file, or the file didn’t seem to tell the whole story about how we acquired an object. John could always be relied on to give me a full account of the events that might have happened 30 or more years previously with astonishing recall and accuracy. Having neatly summarised an event, John would finish off with ‘You’ll be able to find all the details in File 64F’.

John trained as an agricultural scientist at the University of Melbourne in the late 1940s, and after graduating worked at the government fruit cool stores at Melbourne’s Victoria Docks. A chance encounter led to him discovering that there was a job as an agricultural scientist vacant at the Museum of Applied Science. He knocked on the director’s door and landed the job. He would later recall: ‘I adapted instantly to the Museum environment. I was paid for doing what I loved doing’.

In what was a small institution running on a tiny budget, John’s curatorial work included designing and even building new displays. He measured and cut the backing boards for the existing showcases, and breaking with tradition, he rejected the traditional white gloss paint in favour of pink, blue and green paint. Then he sat down to cut out the letters with stencils for the headings, and type the labels.

John Kendall and Ruth Leveson John Kendall and Ruth Leveson, early 1980s.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

John made a huge impact on the museum’s collections, particularly by documenting and collecting significant Victorian and Australian inventions. The museum had acquired the first Australian-built aircraft, John Duigan’s 1910 biplane, back in 1920. But it was John Kendall that conducted the research that documented this landmark in Australian aviation. Happily John was able to attend the Duigan centenary celebrations held by the museum last year.

He believed passionately that as well as understanding contemporary scientific and technical principles, students and scientists alike needed to appreciate the history of scientific and technical development.

Intrigued by the fact that the museum held one of the suits of the Kelly Gang armour, John became historical detective and tracked down the other three sets of armour; one set was cast aside in the police horse stables in South Melbourne, a kind of government dumping ground for old things from which John rescued other historic artefacts.

In 1975 John became director of the Science Museum of Victoria. He was to be its last, as in 1983 the National Museum and Science Museum were merged into Museum Victoria. The consummate administrator, John wrote much of the Museums Act of 1983, and was acting director of the merged institution until a director was appointed. On his retirement he continued as a museum consultant, notably providing advice on the development of science museums in India for the Indian Government and International Council of Museums. A Rotarian for over 30 years, John chaired the local committee that organised the World Congress of Rotarians in Melbourne in 1993.

I will miss those phone conversations, but I know I will constantly encounter John’s precise and instructive notes in our museum archives, whenever I am searching for additional information about an object.

John Kendall on bike John Kendall riding his bicycle.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Five things about winter

Author
by Dr Andi
Publish date
29 June 2011
Comments
Comments (3)

The Google doodle on June 22nd celebrated the southern hemisphere winter solstice. Earlier that morning the pop-up tag read ‘the start of winter’ but later that morning it mysteriously changed to ‘winter solstice’. It prompted me to think about the various cultural and scientific criteria that mean the start of winter. So I came up with five of my own criteria (with the help of the MV collection of course).

1. Winter means taking soup more seriously. So I ventured into the collection store to look at this publication, ready to jot down the odd recipe for you but let’s just say 1933 was probably a better year for wine. It contained 1933 classics like Sheep’s Head Broth, Kidney Soup and Egg Soup. There was also a section on Soups for Invalids which consisted of Mutton Broth, Invalid Broth (which was mutton broth with egg yolk and milk) and Beef Tea.

    Recipe Book - 'Winter Dishes', published by Home Beautiful magazine, August 1, 1933 Recipe Book - 'Winter Dishes', published by Home Beautiful magazine, August 1, 1933 (SH 900857)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

2. Winter means little heaters with lots of personality. I used to have one; it became my little warm friend on dark nights until it could puff no heat no more. Today, heater designs are very bland. The designs of the 1920s and 1930s had character and attitude, and they had great names like ‘Jupiter’, ‘Century’ and my favourite... ‘Don’. 

  Photograph - Hecla Electrics Pty Ltd, Heater with Sydney Harbour Bridge, circa 1930s A black and white photograph of a Hecla heater circa 1932 with an embossed image of the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the front panel (MM 106793). Also check out its brother with an embossed image of a Roman chariot.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Flyer - Lawrence & Hanson Electrical Co Ltd, Hecla Appliances, Melbourne, 1924 Check out the names of heaters from this flyer issued by Lawrence & Hanson Electrical Co Ltd, promoting Hecla appliances, Melbourne, for the season of 1924. We actually have the ‘Century’ in the MV collection. TL52046.jpg
Source: Museum Victoria
 

3. Winter means getting the first waft of your winter coat with slightly musty cupboard smell.  At school, the winter uniform also marked the season.

Digital Photograph - Two Women in Winter Coats, Sitting at Alicante Restaurant, Melbourne, 1964 This photograph shows two sisters, Bernadette and Helen Herbert at the Alicante Restaurant, Melbourne, 8 July 1964. Helen remembers that she was wearing a purple coat she made herself. (MM 110815).
Source: Museum Victoria
 

 

Socks - Prue Acton, Uniform, Wesley College, 1995-1996 Pair of white cotton sports socks, part of the 1996 winter uniform for Wesley College, Melbourne. Designed by the famous Prue Acton (SH 950641).
Source: Museum Victoria
  

4. Winter means my work colleague went cross country skiing ... again.

Whilst everyone else in the office shudders as they look the inclement weather out the window, she is jumping for joy at the thought of powdered snow and wombat sightings. I think of soup, heaters and curling up like a wombat.

 

Victorian Railways booklet promoting Victorian winter holiday packages
Victorian Railways booklet promoting Victorian winter holiday packages, published in April 1939. Victorian Railways played an important role in State tourism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, even operating the Mt Buffalo Chalet from 1924 to 1983 (HT 6107).
Source: Museum Victoria
 

5. Winter means Tunna or Gagulong (depending on where you are in Australia). Indigenous knowledge divides the seasons much more sensibly; depending on where you are in Australia there are more than four seasons. The Bureau of Meteorology has more info.

Knitted wool red and white beanie (1954-1957) Knitted wool red and white beanie (1954-1957) (SH 900300).
Source: Museum Victoria
 

One last thing about winter – I love beanies.

Stay comfy, Dr Andi

Egypt: a fascinating journey

Author
by J. Patrick Greene
Publish date
27 June 2011
Comments
Comments (32)

At Christmas I read the biography of Howard Carter, who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1922. In January I followed in his footsteps to Egypt, visiting the pyramids on the Giza plateau, then Saqqara to see the Stepped Pyramid of Djoser, then Luxor and Karnak (ancient Thebes, centre of the worship of the god Amun) and finally, across the Nile to the Valley of the Kings.

  Karnak temple Ornately carved pillars at Karnak temple.
Image: Patrick Greene
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Excavation of Ptolemaic era baths outside the main entrance to Karnak temple. Excavation of Ptolemaic era baths outside the main entrance to Karnak temple.
Image: Patrick Greene
Source: Museum Victoria
 

To enter the tomb in which Tutankhamun was buried was an extraordinary experience. In 1922 there were over 5000 astonishing objects in the tomb, stacked one on top of the other, that took Carter and his team ten years to carefully remove, record, conserve and then pack for their journey to the Cairo Museum. As I stepped into the burial chamber I felt something of the excitement that Carter had felt as he peered through the sealed blocking wall for the first time. The beautiful sarcophagus is still there, carved with the protective deities with wings outstretched that guarded the young king as he began his journey to the afterlife. So too is Tutankhamun; his mummy has never left the tomb except for a short journey outside for a CT scan a few years ago.

I was lucky enough to have the tomb to myself for ten minutes or so, to absorb the atmosphere and marvel at the paintings on the walls of the burial chamber. Photographs are forbidden, quite rightly, not just to help preserve the pigments of the paintings but also the sense of awe. When some other visitors eventually entered they concluded that the sarcophagus and mummified body were replicas. I was able to reassure them that they were not!

My fascinating journey to Egypt included a visit to the Cairo Museum to see the objects that Howard Carter had so carefully sent down the Nile. Visitors clustered around one object in particular, the famous gold funerary mask that never leaves Egypt. Some of the cases had notes to say that the objects that they normally contained were part of an international exhibition. With pride I knew where they were heading—to Melbourne Museum to be displayed in the Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibition that opened in April.

  Patrick Greene in front of the Cairo Museum Patrick Greene outside the famous Cairo Museum, where treasures from the tomb of Tutankhamun are housed.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

I couldn't take photographs in the tomb, or in the Cairo Museum for that matter, but elsewhere I was given access to sites and met with fellow archaeologists making exciting discoveries that I was able to photograph. A selection of my images has now been published by Museum Victoria in a book that is hot off the press. Its title? Egypt: a fascinating journey.

Links:

Egypt: a fascinating journey

Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs

Watch Dr Greene's lecture: 'An Archaeologist Visits Ancient Egypt'

 

 

GIVEAWAY

We have a signed copy of Patrick's book to give away to a blog reader. To enter, leave a comment on this post by noon on Thursday 30 June with your answer to this question:

What fascinates you about Egypt?  

 

UPDATE: Thank you to all the entrants! Patrick has chosen JessB as the winner, saying:

“I was spoilt for choice in deciding the winner of my book.  I had no idea who had written the blog entries as they were shown to me without names attached.  I made a shortlist, and finally chose my winner, which expresses so eloquently the captivating beauty of the artists and crafts people whose creations still speak to us over the distance of time.”

On rats

Author
by Craig Robertson
Publish date
26 June 2011
Comments
Comments (1)

Craig is a Melbourne writer with an interest in natural history. He has been a museum volunteer in Birds and Mammals for several years.

Today is the 150th anniversary of the day Alfred Howitt left Melbourne to search for Burke and Wills. By the time the explorers had returned to the Dig Tree in April 1861 there had been no news of them for six months. Public pressure had mounted and the exploration committee responsible sent out Howitt as leader of the Victorian Contingent Party. They would in fact discover the fate of Burke’s party in September that year.

Subsequently Howitt gathered a small but interesting collection of natural history specimens that were delivered to Museum Victoria. Only two mammal species were included: one of two known species of stick-nest rat Leporillus sp. [pictured in a cheeky pose here as a mount by an unknown nineteenth century preparator], and the White-footed Rabbit Rat Conilurus albipes. The Lesser Stick-nest Rat and the White-footed Rabit Rat were once widespread across parts of Australia but have long since been regarded as extinct.

stick-nest rat Leporillus sp Stick-nest rat Leporillus sp. collected by Alfred Howitt.
Image: Craig Robertson
Source: Museum Victoria
 

But there is some good news about rats! The species that the Burke and Wills Expedition knew best was the Long-haired or Plague Rat Rattus villosissimus. The ‘plague’ epithet came not from its carrying any disease, but its tendency to population irruptions reaching plague proportions, as we are currently witnessing with the introduced House Mouse Mus musculus. Burke and Wills travelled through the Channel Country after good rains, similar to the current environment. The rats swarmed over their first camp at Cooper Creek, attacking explorers and their supplies so relentlessly that they were forced to move to the site that subsequently became known for the Dig Tree.

The Long-haired Rat had hardly been sighted since the 1970s, especially during the long drought, and was feared to be heading for extinction. Now there are recent reports that the House Mouse is not the only rodent on the move. Zoologists are delighted that Long-haired Rats are now beeing seen in numbers again in Central Australia, including Alice Springs township. At least one of our native rodents is still out there.

Links:

Australian Dictionary of Biography: Alfred William Howitt (1830-1908)

Leatherback Turtle found

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
21 June 2011
Comments
Comments (8)

The body of an enormous female Leatherback Turtle was brought to Melbourne Museum on Thursday last week after washing up at Airey’s Inlet.

Leatherback Turtle The two metre female Leatherback Turtle in the Preparation Lab at Melbourne Museum.
Image: Veronica Scholes
Source: Museum Victoria
 

A member of the public spotted the ailing turtle while it was still alive. Local authorities called the Melbourne Aquarium, which runs the Turtle Rescue and Release Program that rehabilitates tropical turtles that have strayed into cold southern waters. Unfortunately the Leatherback Turtle was too unwell to save and it lived just a few more hours. It was brought to Melbourne Museum early on Thursday morning for post-mortem examination to work out why it died.

Melbourne Aquarium vet, Dr Rob Jones, says it’s only the second Leatherback Turtle to wash up in Victoria since 1999, with smaller species such as Green Sea Turtles and Loggerhead Turtles more commonly assisted by the successful Turtle Release and Rescue Program.

Dr Jones examined the turtle on Thursday afternoon. “The age is difficult to guess,” he explains. “She had an inactive ovary, so she was possibly still immature or had laid eggs within the last six months. But at two metres long, the size suggests she was mature.” He found a small ulcer in her intestine that was probably from parasite, and signs of dehydration, but no clear cause of death. “It was disappointing not to be able to find the answer.”

The skeleton of the turtle will become part of the Museum Victoria research collection, since complete skeletons of this species are rare. The museum will also retain soft tissues for the DNA collection and barnacles and mussels from its shell for the Marine Invertebrates collection.

Barnacles on the turtle shell Barnacles on the turtle's shell.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The Leatherback Turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) is the largest living turtle and has the widest distribution of the sea turtles. Their soft shells are unique; other species have tough protective plates called scutes as a kind of external armour, but Leatherback Turtles have small bones embedded in tough leathery skin. Another distinctive feature of these animals is their diet – they eat mostly jellyfish and have evolved a mouth full of fleshy spines to grip their soft prey. They migrate long distances in search of food, often visiting southern waters near Victoria between January and May when the sea is warm.

Inside the mouth of a Leatherback Turtle Inside the mouth of a Leatherback Turtle. The fleshy spines are adaptations to a jellyfish diet.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Leatherback Turtles are critically endangered and have suffered serious declines due to human activity. They are often drowned in fishing nets or choke when they mistake plastic bags for food.

Marine wildlife in need of rescue should be reported to the Department of Sustainability and Environment

  • Report stranded, entangled or sick penguins, turtles and seals to DSE on 136 186. 
  • Contact the Whale and Dolphin Emergency Hotline on 1300 136 017 if you find stranded, entangled, sick or injured whales or dolphins.

 

Links:

Melbourne Aquarium Conservation Programs

WWF: Leatherback Turtles close to the brink

Shark Bay World Heritage Area: Leatherback Turtle fact sheet

BIRD: Leatherback Turtle

Budj Bim rangers

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
20 June 2011
Comments
Comments (2)

In March this year, MV scientists spent 10 days surveying the biodiversity of the Lake Condah area in a program called Bush Blitz. The project could never have happened without the collaboration and assistance of the Gunditjmara community, the Traditional Owners of Budj Bim lands around Lake Condah.

On Friday last week, the museum was pleased to return the hospitality and show a group of Budj Bim rangers and Traditional Owners around the collection stores and laboratories of the Natural Sciences Department.

Budj Bim rangers in store Budj Bim rangers in the Ornithology store, surrounded by the museum's collection of bird specimens.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Head of Sciences, Mark Norman, led a tour through the ornithology, entomology and marine collection stores. The bird collection was their favourite but the giant squid in its huge tank of ethanol was a special highlight too.

  Mark Norman showing the giant squid Mark Norman showing an amazing but somewhat pungent giant squid specimen.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Today’s visit was a chance to show the rangers what has happened to the Lake Condah specimens they helped to collect, and the sort of research done in the museum. We hope they’ll visit us again soon. Until then, here's a reminder of the significance of Lake Condah and the aquaculture practiced there by Gunditjmara people for thousands of years. In this video, Joseph Saunders explains eel farming and traditional life at Lake Condah.

 

Links:

Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape

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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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