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DISPLAYING POSTS FROM: Nov 2011 (17)

New Indigenous culture books

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
7 November 2011
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Each year, the MV library develops a particular area of the book collection. This year it's the Indigenous section receiving attention, which will assist the team working on the redevelopment of Bunjilaka and the researchers of the Indigenous Cultures Department. Over 50 books, many of them out-of-print and very rare, were purchased from Grants Bookshop for an average price of less than a modern day paperback. With increasing costs for interlibrary loans, purchasing our own copies for MV makes sound financial sense, too.

Display of new Indigenous culture books Display in the MV Library of the newly-aquired books about Indigenous culture and history.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Research associate Jason Gibson talked about the nature of these books, some of which date back to the 1940s. "They often take a classical anthropological perspective, that you don't see much of any more. There were problems with this approach but in terms of the detail captured, it's fantastic." He explained that these books were largely written by non-Indigenous anthropologists attempting an objective, scientific analysis of Indigenous people. "It was often the first time Indigenous languages, traditions and cultural practices had been documented in written form and therefore these texts have become very important for Native Title research as well as museum studies."

Librarian Leonie Cash laments the closure of many of Melbourne's second-hand bookshops that makes these books even harder to obtain. Even now when books are becoming available in electronic form, physical books are still popular for researchers who spend much of their day looking at a computer screen and would prefer to read from paper.

Jason, Emma and Rose with new books L-R: Jason Gibson, Hayley Webster and Rose Bollen looking at the new books.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The books are on display in the MV Library for staff to peruse and borrow. Of particular interest is the acquisition of the first edition of an American Philosophical Society publication of 1941 Aboriginal Australian String Figures, including string figure illustrations of the bandicoot, python, boomerang, and canoe.

Links:

Indigenous Cultures collections

MV Blog: Following the travelling Tjitingalla

Death by octopus

Author
by Ursula
Publish date
4 November 2011
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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.

Given that they're the subject of some major research at the museum there's been a lot of talk about blue-ringed octopuses around the Sciences Department at the museum recently. As I grew up in the UK, I've never seen one so when I heard that there was one on display in Melbourne Museum I headed down to find it so I could see what these fearsome beasts I'd heard so much about look like in the flesh. But to my surprise it didn't look as exciting as I had expected - there was not a blue ring to be seen.

So now I know what any Victorian schoolchild should be able to tell you: a blue-ringed octopus only displays those eponymous blue rings when it feels threatened or disturbed and most of the time it's just a plain brown or greyish colour.

Blue-ringed octopus in jar Blue-ringed octopus (Hapalochlaena maculosa) specimen in a jar on display.
Image: Genevieve Ooms
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Despite this specimen's disappointing colouration though, it does have a fascinating story attached to it. Look closely at the label in the picture and you can just see that it bears the slightly ominous "...bit and caused paralysis" which is a transcription of the note made in the museum registration book when this specimen was donated: "This specimen bit and caused paralysis in its captor". As it happens, this is the actual individual, collected on Christmas Day, 1962, that lead to much of the public awareness about the dangers of the blue-ringed octopus.

It perhaps seems a little strange that it wasn't known that this species is so dangerous until so recently - despite the southern species being described in 1883, it wasn't until 1954 that the bite of any blue-ringed octopus was discovered to be deadly. The first recorded fatality – one of only two in Australia to date – was in spring 1954 near East Point, Darwin, but the culprit was originally misidentified because it got away and was then identified based on another octopus the victim's friend pointed out as looking the same. The victim, a 21 year old seaman, Kirk Dyson-Holland, died within two hours of being bitten after picking up an octopus while spearfishing.

For a while, it was largely assumed that the danger of death-by-octopus was restricted to the north or perhaps to people with specific allergies, but then nearly a decade later, on Christmas Day 1962, Arthur Thompson, then 33, was bitten on the hand by a southern blue-ringed octopus at Ricketts Point, Beaumaris in Port Phillip Bay just round the coastline from Melbourne (where they are still found – there was a report in a local paper of one being picked up by a 4 year old just this May). The Registrar of the Alfred Hospital Clinical Research Unit where Mr. Thompson was taken reported:

The patient held it on the back of the hand for a minute of two, and after putting it down noticed a speck of blood on his hand, there had been no sensation of sting or bite. A few minutes later he felt a prickling sensation around his mouth which rapidly became generalized and within fifteen minutes was almost completely paralysed.....Just after admission spontaneous respiration ceased and he was respired for about an hour. Thereafter he made a steady and uneventful recovery of his muscle power. He was well the next day, chest X-ray was clear and he was discharged.

Happily, Mr. Thompson recovered after an hour of artificial ventilation while the poison wore off and nobody has actually been killed by one in Victoria, but the story of this octopus, reported widely in the news, lead to a much greater awareness of the danger of disturbing the blue-ringed octopus. There has only been one reported fatality in Australia since, near Sydney in 1967, partly due to better understanding of the dangers and partly because the blue-ringed octopus is, fortunately, really quite laid back and won't bite unless provoked.

Mr. Thompson's brush with death obviously wasn't the first time someone was bitten by one of these octopuses and it is likely that there have been other deaths before and after, many of which would have been reported as unexplained. In fact, there was an incident a year earlier in December 1961 at Cowes, Phillip Island, with almost identical results: the victim was bitten, felt gradual paralysis until he stopped breathing, was given artificial respiration for a couple of hours and then recovered to be discharged from the hospital on Christmas day exactly a year before Mr. Thompson was admitted. That octopus wasn't kept so we don't know for sure what species it was, but it seems likely that it was also our friend the blue-ringed octopus.

So next time you visit the museum, keep an eye out for this specimen in the Port Phillip Bay cabinet on the ground floor – just turn left as you come past the ticket desk. It won't bite!

Blue-ringed octopus swimming Blue-ringed octopus, Hapalochlaena maculosa.
Image: Julian Finn
Source: Museum Victoria
 

 

References:

Report of the first fatality in Australia: Flecker H, Cotton BC (1955). Fatal bite from an octopus. Med J Aust 2:329-331.

Injuries to man from marine invertebrates in the Australian Region. Cleland, J. B. and Southcott, R. V. 1965. National Health and Medical Research Council, Canberra, pp282.

 

Links:

Australian Women's Weekly article from 1967

Report from the Moorabbin Leader from May 2011

MV Blog post about Julian's research

Marine Life exhibition

A whale of a time

Author
by Colin
Publish date
3 November 2011
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(Warning: this blog contains graphic images and bad puns.)

On 19 October I heard exciting news leaking down the underground corridors of Melbourne Museum and into the Live Exhibits Lab. Word that a Humpback Whale had beached itself on the western end of the Ninety Mile Beach in eastern Victoria, set my plan in motion to become involved in its subsequent recovery. I bailed up (approached) the Preparations Department manager Peter Swinkels in one of the corridors and offered my assistance. Fortunately he said yes and that if I could handle a tight squeeze in the car, I was welcome to come along and help out.

So we left the Museum the following Monday and headed for McGaurens Beach, a small stretch of coast located between Yarram and Sale. The car ride down was a bit of a squeeze with Peter Swinkels, Steven Sparrey (Preparation), Brendon Taylor (Preparation), Michael Pennell (Image Management & Copyright) and I (Live Exhibits) all stuffed into the Hilux for the three hour trip down to McGaurens Beach. We arrived around lunchtime, and started to inspect the dead whale and the surrounding conditions (such as the tide) to plan our course of action.

Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) belong to the suborder Mysticeti, the group known as the baleen whales. Baleen is the keratin (the same material your fingernails) plates that the whales use to filter their food (krill, other zooplankton and small fish) with. Adult humpback whales can measure between 12-16 metres, and can weigh over 30 tonnes!

When we arrived at McGaurens Beach the whale sat just above the low tide mark. It would make it very hard to work on the whale when the tide came in, so we decided to move it higher up the beach and out of reach of the tide. This way we could work on it all day.

Humpback Whale on beach The Humpback Whale 6 days after it had died.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria
 

To avoid damage to the flippers we removed them before the excavator dragged the whale up past the high tide mark. Although the excavator weighed 25 tonnes, it still struggled to pull the whale 50m up the beach.

Cutting off whale flippers Cutting off the flippers to enable easy movement up the beach.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria
 

To cut off the flippers and through the flesh we used very large sharp knives and a special knife shaped like a hockey stick, called a flensing tool. Flensing tools were what whalers used to use to cut the blubber off whales before commercial whaling was banned in 1986 by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Some legal whaling still continues today in indigenous communities as traditional hunting, and through exploiting legal loopholes under the guise of scientific research.

Peter Swinkels with a traditional flensing tool Manager of Preparation, Peter Swinkels, with a traditional flensing tool.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria
 

After dragging the body past the high tide mark we took measurements of different parts of the whale. These measurements will be added to a big database full of information that helps us understand these wonderful creatures of the sea.

Measuring a whale Measuring the width of the tail flukes.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria
 

After all the measurements had been recorded it was time to remove the skeleton. Firstly, we needed to find some small vestigial bones that are the remnants of the whale's hip and hind legs. Millions of years ago the ancestors of the modern whales we see today had front and rear limbs, and while the forelimbs slowly evolved into flippers, the hind limbs slowly disappeared and all that is left is a few tiny bones.

Vestigial hind limbs of Humback Whale Peter Swinkels holding the vestigial hind limbs.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria
 

After cutting away most of the flesh and blubber we removed the vertebrae (the backbone). Slowly and carefully, we removed the ribs, the skull, and the mandible (the jawbone). All the fleshy waste was returned to sea, where it would be eaten and broken down by scavenging animals and bacteria.

Whale remains on beach The pile of blubber we made after removing it from the carcass.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Once we had all the bones, we dug a big hole and put the bones into it. We bury the bones so that bacteria and other flesh eating organisms can clean the bones for us. In about six months, we will return to where the bones are buried and bring them back to the museum for a few touch ups and further measurement. Perhaps one day they will be put on display at Melbourne Museum for you to see.

Whale bones in sand All the bones about to be buried in order to let the flesh decompose before taking them to Melbourne Museum.
Image: Colin Silvey
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Links:

ABC Gippsland: radio interview with Erich Fitzgerald

ABC Gippsland: photos and story about whale recovery

Infosheet: Blue Whale

MV News: Rare whale retrieved (2008)

MV Blog: What's that smell?

Motorclassica

Author
by Natasha D
Publish date
2 November 2011
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Natasha works in public relations for IMAX Melbourne and the Royal Exhibition Building.

If you are a car enthusiast, a historian or somebody who takes interest in the evolution of popular culture, you would have found something of interest at Motorclassica, the motor vehicle exhibition held at the Royal Exhibition Building from 21 to 23 October.

The exhibition featured more than 150 veteran, vintage and classic motor vehicles worth more than $100 million. Eighty-six years after the Motor Show first opened at the Royal Exhibition Building, Motorclassica brings an amazing collection of vehicles that are a step back in time.

But for me, the most enjoyable thing about Motorclassica was the story attached to every vehicle brought in for display – some of them outright intriguing. This shiny red 1936 Mercedes-Benz 540K Cabriolet is the only one of its kind in Australia and has an interesting history: it was originally owned by a prominent Third Reich Official.

1936 Mercedes-Benz 540K Cabriolet 1936 Mercedes-Benz 540K Cabriolet
Image: Natasha Duckett
Source: Museum Victoria
 

This 1932 Chrysler Imperial Sedan looks like something out of an old New York Gangster movie, because it could well be! This model was believed to have been owned and driven by the New York gangster, Jack "Legs" Diamond.

1932 Chrysler Imperial Sedan 1932 Chrysler Imperial Sedan
Image: Natasha Duckett
Source: Museum Victoria
 

This 1973 Holden Brock HDT LJ GTR XVI Torana made its first appearance at Bathurst in 1973 and went on to become the stuff of legend with Brock going on to win the 1973 Manufacturer's Championship and the 1974 Touring Car Championship in this car.

 1973 Holden Brock HDT LJ GTR XVI Torana 1973 Holden Brock HDT LJ GTR XVI Torana
Image: Natasha Duckett
Source: Museum Victoria
 

But according to car enthusiast Norbert Probst it is this 1969 Brabham BT28 Formula 3 vehicle that stole the show:

1969 Brabham BT28 Formula 3 vehicle 1969 Brabham BT28 Formula 3 vehicle
Image: Natasha Duckett
Source: Museum Victoria
 

"Jack Brabham built his own cars, drove them, was his own mechanic. He was the all rounder of Australia. He did it all well," said Mr Probst.

Motor Show at the Royal Exhibition Building, May 1963. Motor Show at the Royal Exhibition Building, May 1963.
Image: Edwin G. Adamson
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Links:

Victorian Hot Rod Show, Royal Exhibition Building, 20-22 January 2012

Bug of the month

Author
by Maik Fiedel
Publish date
1 November 2011
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Maik is an Assistant Keeper with the Live Exhibits Unit.

Live Exhibits recently acquired some Flinders Ranges Scorpions. They are not on display to the public but will be used for educational purposes.

The Flinders Ranges Scorpion (Urodacus elongatus) is one of Australia's largest scorpion species, with males growing up to 120mm long. Females are usually shorter and more full-bodied. The adults of both sexes are uniformly brown in colour.

These scorpions are found throughout the Flinders Ranges of South Australia. Sexual dimorphism is obvious in this species with males having a very elongated tail, which is where the species name elongatus comes from.

Male and female Flinders Ranges Scorpions. Sexual dimorphism within the Flinders Ranges Scorpion Urodacus elongatus. Male on the right with elongated tail.
Image: Maik Fiedel
Source: Maik Fiedel

Being a temperate species, it can be found living under rocks and logs in the moist gully areas of the ranges. They are territorial and usually solitary. These scorpions build a scrape under rock, creating a shallow burrow. In order to maintain a stable microclimate, they seal off their burrows as temperatures rise.

Scorpions are negatively phototaxic (moving away from light) and they hunt for their prey at night. It is possible for scorpions to overpower prey that is larger than themselves, such as skinks or centipedes, however, they prefer food items roughly 50 per cent of their own body size. Females will also eat their own offspring if stressed or starved. Scorpions drink water droplets off rock surfaces and also obtain water via osmosis. During the cooler months of the year, the scorpions are less active and will generally feed less.

scorpion eating a cricket Urodacus elongatus feeding on a cricket.
Image: Maik Fiedel
Source: Maik Fiedel
 

As part of courtship, an interesting 'mating dance' is performed. The male takes hold of the female and stings her claw, which has a calming effect. This is necessary because if she becomes aggressive she will attempt to kill the male. In order to mate successfully the scorpions need to be positioned on an even rock surface. The male looks for the correct surface, without breaking his hold of the female. When it is found he deposits his spermatophore onto the rock surface and he drags the female over the top for fertilisation. Once the female has received the sperm the male releases his hold and departs.

A pair of Flinders Ranges Scorpions A pair of Flinders Ranges Scorpions prior to engaging in the mating ritual, which includes the mating dance and the sexual sting.
Image: Maik Fiedel
Source: Maik Fiedel

After about 18 months, the female gives birth to 20-50 live young which climb up onto the her back. They leave her back at two months of age, to go their own way. Flinders Ranges Scorpions reach maturity (adulthood) after four years and can easily live up to eight years.

Australia's scorpions are not considered dangerous to humans, however, scorpions are venomous. There is still a possibility that you may be allergic to their venom, like some people are allergic to a bee sting. You should never touch a scorpion with your bare hands.

Scorpion glowing under UV light. Like all scorpions, Urodacus elongatus will fluoresce under UV light.
Image: Maik Fiedel
Source: Maik Fiedel
 

Further reading:

Newton M.A. 2008. A Guide to Keeping Australian Scorpions in Captivity, Mark A. Newton Publishing

Links:

Infosheet: Scorpions

Infosheet: Scorpion facts and fallacies

About this blog

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

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