Five things about pigs

by Dr Andi
Publish date
18 November 2010
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In a pet shop window I saw tubs of dried pig’s ears, in either smoked or natural flavours. ‘Poor piggies,’ I thought, but then remembered my love of BLTs and felt a bit hypocritical.

A fellow curious cat, Dutch designer Christien Meindertsma, wanted to find out what happens to a pig after slaughter, so she followed the journey of pig #05049 to an astounding 185 products. This is a real testament to chemistry and commerce. The list included the use of pig tissue for chemical weapons testing, bone ash for the production of train brakes and bone gelatine for placing explosives into bullet casings. The fatty acids from the bone fat ended up in shampoo to provide a pearly appearance, in crayons for hardness and in paint for gloss. The gelatine ended up in myriad dairy products and was also used to turn fruit juice, beer and wine into clear liquids.

Ever played a real tambourine – it was probably a pig’s bladder! Inspired by this research I followed a trail of pig parts (cultural, natural and smoked) in the museum. Here are five things about pigs.

1. ‘Pig’ was actually a type of clay used to make pots and it became a much loved ceramic pun. Remember owning a piggy bank as a kid?

Christmas 1970 Christmas circa 1970, from Australia's Biggest Family Album. (MM 110719)
Source: Museum Victoria

2. There were plenty of colourful predecessors to pig characters like Porky, Olivia and Peppa.

Precious Pigs lantern slide This lantern slide is from a set of 12 which depicts the children's story titled 'Precious Pigs'. (Francis Collection, MM 109847).
Source: Museum Victoria

3. It depends on time and place but pigs are also a symbol of good luck, fertility, gluttony, and uncleanness. When it comes to puddings, perhaps its symbolism depended on whether you found it the trinket, swallowed it or wore the pudding in the attempt to find one.

Christmas pudding charms, circa 1950. Christmas pudding charms, circa 1950. Such sterling silver pieces were put at random into the Christmas plum pudding. They were light-heartedly used to suggest the 'fortune' of the recipient for the next year. (HT 3131)
Source: Museum Victoria

4. We owe our health to many pigs. They have been a source of medicines like insulin, heart valves and skin for transplanting into humans.

Pig display, Human Mind and Body Human Mind & Body exhibition shot of case with pig from the (now deinstalled) Biotech and Beyond section. Genetically engineered 9 month old pig used in transplant trials and exhibited at Melbourne Museum in 2000.
Image: Ben Wrigley
Source: Museum Victoria

5. A cast iron pig would have started off as ‘pig iron’ which is raw iron extracted from iron ore that flowed into sand moulds that must have looked like little piglets, hence the name.

White pig iron
"White" pig iron manufactured by Bolckow, Vaughan & Co of Middlesbrough, Yorkshire and exhibitied at the 1888 Centennial Exhibition in Melbourne. (ST 019338)
Source: Museum Victoria


I wonder if people who collect cute pig ornaments are vegetarian. Oink at me if you find something interesting about pigs.

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