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DISPLAYING POSTS FROM: Sep 2011 (14)

Mataatua Wharenui

Author
by J. Patrick Greene
Publish date
29 September 2011
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On Saturday I attended a remarkable event in Whakatane, a town on the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand's North Island. I was a guest of the Ngāti Awa people, and the event was the opening of Mātaatua Wharenui (meeting house), a wonderful structure that was originally built in 1875 by the iwi (tribe) despite the devastating effects of colonisation and land confiscations.

Mataatua Wharenui Mātaatua Wharenui back home in Whakatane, New Zealand.
Image: Patrick Greene
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Unfortunately, the building was soon lost to the people who built it as it was dismantled to be taken to be displayed in Sydney and then, in 1880, as part of the New Zealand display at the Melbourne International Exhibition. That was my connection with the event, as Museum Victoria is the guardian of the Royal Exhibition Building constructed for the 1880 exhibition. Charlotte Smith (Senior Curator in MV's History and Technology Department) carried out some research at the request of the Ngāti Awa which revealed that only the carved wooden panels were displayed rather than the complete structure.

  walls within Mātaatua Wharenui. The interior walls of Mātaatua Wharenui have intricate woven panels and carvings. They were restored by Ngāti Awa craftspeople.
Image: Patrick Greene
Source: Museum Victoria
 

After Melbourne, Mātaatua was taken to England where it was displayed, and remained for several decades. It then went to the Otago Museum, and in 1996, under the Treaty of Waitangi, it was returned to the Ngāti Awa. A team of craftspeople — carvers and weavers — have worked for 15 years to restore the building that had become seriously decayed on its travels.

I was present for the pohiri (general welcome), a series of speeches and songs in which the Ngāti Awa welcomed their guests, who, group by group, responded. As well as other iwi, there were delegations from Hawaii and the Cook Islands. It was a great privilege to part of the ceremony and to witness the oratory that is a treasured part of Maori (and Polynesian) culture, a world away from the sound bites that constitute so much current discourse. The restoration of the building is a triumph: it has been beautifully carried out and the building will stand as a testament to survival of a people and their culture.

Mātaatua: The House That Came Home is a short film that tells the story of the meeting house, courtesy of Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Awa.

Happy birthday No.8!

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
28 September 2011
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At 2pm today it was exactly 100 years ago, on 28 September 1911, that the No. 8 Steam Pumping Engine in the Spotswood Pumping Station was fired up for the first time. You can still see the it in motion in the Engine Room but these days it runs in demonstration mode, powered by compressed air.

The Austral Otis Steam Pumping Engine - Austral Otis, No.8 Pumping Engine, MMBW Spotswood Sewerage Pumping Station, 1911 (ST 038266).
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Built by local company Austral Otis, the No. 8 Engine was a modified copy of the earlier Hathorn Davey engine. It is one of five surviving engines at the Pumping Station which remain some of the most sophisticated steam engines ever built in Australia. It took four men to run the No. 8 Engine: an engine driver, a greaser, a pump attendant and a fireman. It was one of the engines that moved sewerage from Melbourne to Werribee following the welcome introduction of Melbourne's sewerage system in the 1890s.

Original blueprint for an Austral Otis Steam Pumping Engine. Original blueprint for an Austral Otis Steam Pumping Engine.
Image: Austral Otis
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Of the bank of engines, one or two were run continuously with additional machines brought on to handle peak sewerage flow. The Pumping Station log books show that from 1912, the No. 8 Engine was used heavily for the first decade of its life. In the 1920s and 30s the old steam engines were progressively replaced by electric engines which were cheaper to run. No. 8 was used less often, but was still important for managing peak periods.

There was a regular flow pattern coinciding with the daily cranking up of industrial and domestic activities. Curator Matthew Churchward describes a peak on Mondays when many women did the week's laundry. The superintendant would also keep a close eye on the weather and impending rainfall, and counted raindrops to predict how many staff would be needed to manage the stormwater that would be on its way to Spotswood within a couple of hours. During big storms, all the engines might be running to prevent sewerage from entering the Yarra River.

During its working life from 1911 to 1947, the No. 8 Engine pumped the equivalent of four billion toilet flushes out of the city. It was a filthy job but vital to the health and quality of life of 20th century Melbourne. If you're at Scienceworks today, be sure to wish this gleaming hulk of pistons, valves, cranks and pipes a happy birthday!

Graeme Kerrs running a pumping engine demonstration Workshop volunteer and casual engine driver Graeme Kerrs running a pumping engine demonstration in front of the No. 8 Engine.
Image: James Geer
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Links:

Centenary of the Austral Otis Steam Pumping Engines

Spotswood Sewerage Pumping Station

MV Blog: World Toilet Day

What's it like in zero-g?

Author
by Tanya
Publish date
25 September 2011
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Last week was pretty special. Over at ACMI, they celebrated the launch of their fantastic new exhibition, Star Voyager: Exploring Space on Screen. To help them out, they had the real deal in town – someone who has experienced space, not just seen it in the movies – a NASA astronaut.

Mission Specialist Rex Walheim, has flown in space three times. It so happened, that each of his trips was on the Space Shuttle Atlantis, including the final ever flight of the space shuttle program. That last mission was just over two months ago.

Rex Walheim
NASA astronaut Rex Walheim.
Source: NASA
 

I remember staying up until 1.30am on that July evening to watch Atlantis’ final launch – little did I know that I’d soon meet one of the amazing people that I saw zooming into space that morning.

At the opening of the Star Voyager exhibition, Rex won our hearts as he described seeing the aurora australis on his recent trip into space. He noticed Melbourne had left its lights on for him and said how much he’d hoped he would get to visit the city that looked so beautiful from space.

Aurora Australis The aurora australis as seen during the final flight of Atlantis. The space shuttle is in view on the right and one the space station's solar panels can be seen on the left.
Source: NASA
 

There are so many things you want to ask an astronaut and so many amazing things to learn. It’s refreshing to hear that even astronauts have to pinch themselves before take-off, to be certain they’re really there. And encouraging to know that when you practise hard enough, even a spacewalk ends up feeling commonplace. Like with anything else, all that practice just kicks in and you simply realise you’ve done this a hundred times before, once more will be a breeze.

We all imagine how hard it must be do to all the everyday things of life in space – but it seems that adjusting back to Earth is also quite a challenge. As someone who loves their sleep, I was surprised to hear that sleeping in space is easy - as long as you tie your sleeping bag down so you don’t float away. Whereas, it’s when you get back home and have to deal with gravity pushing against you, making your head feel like lead against the pillow, that sleep is hard to find.

Rex Walheim spacewalk Rex Walheim working on the Columbus Laboratory outside the International Space Station in February 2008.
Source: NASA
 

Rex Walheim night spacewalk What a difference a day makes! This is the same spacewalk as above but since the ISS orbits the Earth every 90 minutes, the astronauts work in the sunlight for 45 minutes, followed by 45 minutes of night.
Source: NASA
 

But the best thing for me, was hearing how zero-gravity works from someone who has been there and done that. Now believe me, I’ve described this effect many a time, but there was something special hearing it first hand and the way Rex set it up was just perfect.

If you could take an elevator 350km up into the air (that’s how high the International Space Station flies above us) and you were silly enough to step out, Earth’s gravity would grab you just as you’d expect and send you plummeting back to Earth. Of course, it's kind of obvious, but what an image it creates! And I did the maths – at that height the gravitational force is only 10 per cent smaller than what we feel on the ground. Your instincts would be spot on.

Of course the trick of zero-g is the speed at which Atlantis or the ISS are travelling, and here Rex fell back to Isaac Newton’s famous description. But where Newton used a cannon, Rex described a tennis ball. Using his fist as the Earth, he got us to imagine throwing that ball hard into the air. It might manage to fly a little way before falling back on our knuckles. Throw it harder and it might go half way round our fist. Throw it at 28,000 km/hour, the speed of the shuttle, and it will keep going, forever circling the Earth and always falling, just never re-connecting with the ground.

Newton Gravity
Newton's description of free-fall using a cannonball that's shot around the Earth.
Image: Brian Brondel
Source: wikimedia commons
 

When we watch astronauts floating around it looks like zero-g. But it isn’t. We’re told microgravity is the correct term, but I must admit, that never really did work for me. Both those terms seem to say that the gravity up there is insignificant. From now on, I’ll always call it free-fall. That experience of falling without ever hitting the ground because speed has overwhelmed gravity. Rex says it's just like being a kid and dreaming you can fly.

NASA’s been under some criticism as it closes-out the shuttle program with only a hazy view of what might come next. But with people like Rex Walheim involved, you can but hope that NASA gets the support and backing it needs to build a future just as amazing as our science fiction dreams.

  Rex Walheim on ISS Rex Walheim enjoys a final look at Earth from inside the cupola on the ISS, as he completed his week long visit to the Station.
Source: NASA
 

Links:

MV Blog: Chat with an astronaut

Tjukurrtjanu: Origins of Western Desert Art

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
23 September 2011
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On 30 September, the exhibition Tjukurrtjanu: Origins of Western Desert Art opens at the National Gallery of Victoria. It features 200 early paintings from the artists of Papunya Tula, recognised as the founders of the Western Desert art movement forty years ago.

The exhibition is co-curated by NGV's Judith Ryan and Dr Philip Batty, Senior Curator of Anthropology in MV's Indigenous Cultures Department. He spent three years at Papunya (about 240 km north-west of Alice Springs) as an art teacher at Papunya School and a community development officer. He got to know many of the original Papunya Tula artists in the late 1970s.

Central Australian Decorated Stone Knives Central Australian decorated stone knives produced by the Warumangu people (Tennant Creek) and collected by Baldwin Spencer in the early 1900s.
Image: Ben Healley
Source: Museum Victoria

Philip has lots of stories from this time, including the tale of a two-week trip across the desert with Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula, one of the most prominent Papunya Tula artists with a unique style of painting layers of dots. Tjupurrula grew up in the bush and first encountered European people when he was eight or nine years old.

"We were going on a trip to his traditional Country... he hadn't been back there for a number of years.

"We were driving off into the desert in the middle of nowhere, right off any roads, with no maps and not much food or water. We were relying on his knowledge of Country to take us to waterholes.

"He'd say we drive this way for a while then he'd clamber up on the back of the truck look around and as he looked around he'd sing a traditional chant. And after 5 or 10 minutes of singing, he'd say right, now we go this way. We'd drive for a while, and then he'd do the same thing. Each evening we'd end up at a little waterhole, often only a metre or so across.

"In his head he had this map of all these different songlines going across his part of the Country. The songs name geographical sites through the journey of a particular ancestor. When he was singing he was reminding himself where he was. It was a very practical business."

Their final destination was Tjupurrula's ancestral home, Tjikari. "It was a small mountain and we had to climb up in silence, carrying particular bushes. As we were coming up the mountain, Warangkula was shouting out to the ancestor in a cave, swearing at the ancestor in his language, Pintupi Luritja. I'm not quite sure what was going on but think he was trying to scare the ancestor away."

Tjukurrtjanu includes a wall full of shields from the Museum Victoria collection decorated with iconographic designs; artefacts such as these are the origins of Western Desert art, but the story is not quite so simple as transferring traditional ceremonial symbols to the new mediums of boards, canvases and acrylic paints.

Central Australian Decorated Shields. Central Australian Decorated Shields. Carved and fluted beanwood (Erythrina vespertilio) with applied earth pigments.
Image: Ben Healley
Source: Museum Victoria

Says Philip, "I see it as cross-cultural form of art, as a result of Aboriginal-European collision. Long before the 1970s, Aboriginal people were manufacturing artefacts and paintings for sale to tourists, missionaries and museums. In the days before social security it was an important source of cash."

"Papunya Tula artists were addressing a market, but that doesn't diminish the complexity and interest of their paintings. They drew heavily on traditions and they also expanded that of iconographic language to create new approaches, particularly in those early paintings."

Links:

Tjukurrtjanu: Origins of Western Desert Art

Central Australia collections at MV

Papunya Tula Artists

Spring Equinox

Author
by Tanya
Publish date
22 September 2011
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The mornings are getting lighter, as the days are getting longer. The promise of warmer weather is just around the corner and hayfever season is upon us. Welcome to Spring!

This Friday is the Spring Equinox. In truth, the equinox is a mere moment in time and this year it will happen at 7:04pm, 23rd September.

Of course, this means that the equinox will occur after the Sun has set in Melbourne. So what's so special about that time?

  Spring Equinox At 7:04pm on Friday 23rd September, the Sun sits on the celestial equator, the sky's equivalent to the Earth's equator. This year the equinox will occur when the Sun is below the western horizon.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The equinox is the moment when the Sun crosses the celestial equator. Just like the Earth is split into two hemispheres by its equator, the celestial equator does the same, splitting the stars into those of the south and those of the north.

In fact the celestial equator is intimately linked with the Earth’s equator. Just pretend for a moment that the stars sit on a sphere surrounding the Earth. We call it the celestial sphere. Now take the Earth’s equator and push it off our planet and out into space – there you have it, the celestial equator.

So at 7:04pm, the Sun will cross the boundary between the northern and southern stars. We welcome it back to our hemisphere and as it returns our weather warms.

In the Sun and the Seasons you'll find more explanation of the link between the equinox and the seasons, along with the path of the Sun around the time of the equinox.

And there's one last thing to mention – the 23rd isn’t when day and night are equal. That was last Tuesday and the September Skynotes explains why.

Chat with an astronaut

Author
by Pennie Stoyles
Publish date
22 September 2011
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Today, students from Spotswood Primary School attended Scienceworks to participate in an online conference with NASA astronaut, Rex Walheim. Rex is in Australia as a guest of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) to launch their new exhibition Star Voyager, Exploring Space on Screen.

To coincide with the launch, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development organised an online conference using their Elluminate software. Rex was speaking to students in the ACMI theatre at Federation Square. Scienceworks' Program Coordinator, Bronwyn Quint organised for Spotswood PS students to participate in the session which was projected onto the big screen in the Auditorium. MV Astronomer, Dr Tanya Hill was also on hand to answer questions from the Spotswood students.

Bron & Tanya Bron Quint and Tanya Hill preparing for the online conference (fingers crossed that the technology works).
Image: Pennie Stoyles
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Dr Tanya Hill answering questions from Spotswood PS students Dr Tanya Hill answering questions from Spotswood PS students.
Image: Pennie Stoyles
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Over 100 other schools throughout the state also participated. Many questions were submitted throughout the 45-minute session and those that could not be answered by Rex during the presentation will be posted on the DEECD website.

Astronaut Rex Walheim Astronaut Rex Walheim answering student questions via online conference.
Image: Pennie Stoyles
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We've lent a number of objects to ACMI for the Star Voyager exhibition, including a space glove, a large number of magic lantern slides, a urine collection device and an altitude and azimuth instrument.

Altitude and Azimuth Instrument Altitude and Azimuth Instrument - Troughton & Simms, London, circa 1836 (ST 022216)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Links:

Rex Walheim's Biography

Star Voyager, Exploring Space on Screen.

MV Blog: Lost in Space

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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