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DISPLAYING POSTS FROM: Oct 2010 (4)

Five things about pumpkins

Author
by Dr Andi
Publish date
29 October 2010
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I was initially surprised to see the American tradition of carved Halloween pumpkins at my local Australian supermarket. Then on second thought, I was not surprised at an American inspired commercial opportunity gaining yearly retail momentum.

The pumpkin carving was a tad amateurish; I suspect no one in the fresh food section had done one before. I wondered if I should give it a go, then I shuddered at the thought of accidentally impaling myself. I wonder how many pumpkin injuries are admitted to US hospitals.

There isn't much in Collections Online about Halloween - not surprising as Halloween is not a Victorian or Australian tradition. But when I searched the catalogues for ‘pumpkin’ - what joy! Here are the five best things I learnt about pumpkins.

1. Some pumpkins look more like zucchinis. The museum’s Economic Botany Collection includes wax fruits and specimens and preserves an amazing biodiversity of agricultural plants.

ST 017079, Cucurbit, White Pumpkin Model White Pumpkin model, made in India. Displayed at the Intercolonial Exhibition of 1875. (ST 017079)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

2. Pumpkins can grow to the size of small children.

MM 005670 A small boy with a giant pumpkin, circa 1925. From Australia's Biggest Family Album. (MM 5670)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

3. Native insects love the introduced pumpkin. A native Victorian insect had “forsaken” (their words) native vegetation for the introduced agricultural pumpkin (check out what they recommended you spray with - arsenate of lead, tar-impregnated water and sulphur!)

Display - Destructive Insect, Banded Pumpkin Beetle, Victoria, circa 1970 (HT 11387) Boxed botanical display of the Banded Pumpkin Beetle (Aulacophora hilaris). This was displayed at the old museum as part of a series about the destructive insects of Victoria and how to get rid of them. (HT 11387)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

 4. There's something called 'pumpkin polish'.

Floor Polisher - wooden, circa 1955 Floor Polisher, circa 1955, from Larundel Mental Hospital in Bundoora. Used in conjunction with Pumpkin Polish, presumably a brand of floor polish. (SH 850040)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

 5. You'll need one of these for your next pumpkin creation. Don't you love that it's called the 'Glamorizer'?!

Kitchen Magician Food Glamorizer (DOMESTIC LIFE), Object, Registered Kitchen Magician Food Glamorizer, circa 1963. The instructions tell you how to use this plastic tool for carrot curls, radish roses, lemon wheels and pumpkin faces. (SH 920993)
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

What do you know about the nature and culture of pumpkins?

Ames room or Ames bower?

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
15 October 2010
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Jack the Satin Bowerbird is arguably the superstar resident of Melbourne Museum's Forest Gallery. His gleaming blue plumage is gorgeous. His skills in construction are unparalleled. He's a great collection manager. But could he also be an illusionist? 

Jack the Satin Bowerbird Jack the Satin Bowerbird Ptilonorhynchus violaceus.
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Deakin University's John Endler reported a fascinating possibility in his recent paper in the journal Current Biology. His study of the bowers constructed by the Great Bowerbird, Ptilinorynchus nuchalis, suggests that these animals arrange the ornaments in their bowers in such a way to make themselves look bigger, and thus more impressive, when courting females.

The principle is the same as that in the Ames Room in our exhibition The Mind: Enter the Labyrinth. The distorted, forced persepctive tricks our brains into interpreting people at opposite ends of the room as being dramatically different in size.

Of course, we're not sure if bowerbirds see this illusion the same that we do. And no one has noticed any partiular pattern to Jack's set-dressing, but perhaps there's more to his collection of blue things than first thought!

Links:

Birds use optical illusions to get mates, New Scientist, 9 September 2010

CSL, vaccines and tetanus

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
13 October 2010
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I needed a tetanus shot yesterday after a gardening accident involving my arm and a very spiky cactus. Like many people, I hate needles, but I'd rather suffer the jab than take a risk with this quite awful, and often lethal, disease.

We have several vials of tetanus vaccine in the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories (CSL) Collection. CSL was established in 1918 when it became clear that Australia's isolation, combined with the global disruption of World War I, demanded that we become self-sufficient in medicines and vaccines for the sake of public health. Like most vaccines, the anti-tentanus vaccine includes deactivated pathogen that doesn't cause illness, but still triggers the immune system into battle mode. The resulting antigens can respond quickly to destroy any active tetanus bacteria that enter the body and prevent us from developing full-blown tetanus.

Clostridium tetani bacteria A group of Clostridium tetani bacteria, responsible for causing tetanus in humans
Image: Centre for Disease Control
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Image Library
 

When I was a kid I thought you caught tetanus from rusty nails, since standing on a rusty nail was the most common reason people went for a tetanus shot. It's not, of course - it's caused by a rod-shaped bacterium called Clostridium tetani. C. tetani is a common, free-living bacterium that flourishes in anaerobic (or oxygen-free) enviroments... such as the deep wound caused when you stand on a rusty nail. Once in there, the bacteria release a toxin called tetanospasmin which causes devastating muscle contractions and spasm. The infection is also known as 'lockjaw' since the first muscles to be affected are often the large chewing muscles. Tetanus is lethal in up to 45% of cases.

So on that cheery note, as summer approaches and you ditch your winter shoes for summer flip-flops, and spend more time outside near rusty nails, perhaps it's time for a tetanus booster?

Ride to Work Day

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
13 October 2010
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Why must it rain on the annual Ride to Work Day? It just doesn't seem fair. It rained last year, and with drizzle this morning and storms forecast for this afternoon, this year's event was a bit washed out, too.

Ride to Work Day breakfast Ride to Work Day breakfast at Melbourne Museum.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Despite the weather, dedicated museum staff peddled in and enjoyed the breakfast. There were breakfasts organised all over Melbourne - did you attend one?

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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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