Science Week Begins With Melbourne Museum Stealing My Heart

museum victoria qantassaurus


Melbourne Museum – I could totally live in you. I know that sounds like something a psychopath would say, but there’s no other way to put it. And it doesn’t have to be the whole entire building, just the Science and Life Gallery would be fine. And yes, both floors please. Just rope it off and everyone else can go crazy everywhere else. Quietly. I get the dinosaurs and the taxidermy and the insects.

Except you’re going to have to move the spiders elsewhere, particularly the live ones and particularly the live ones that aren’t even in boxes. What is that, MM? I honestly stood there for like five minutes straight trying to come to terms with the fact that there’s literally nothing except a giant room-sized web between those orb-weavers and us, and I know they aren’t particularly dangerous and have no reason to come out of their giant room-sized web and mingle with the humans, but that’s not the point. They’re still spiders, MM. You’re playing with fire in a giant room-sized web.

Science on Show

National Science Week - Science on Show

Science on Show - Mammology Display

National Science Week kicked into gear yesterday and Melbourne Museum was the absolute best place to spend the first day. And I’m not just saying that because that’s what I did and obviously have no comparison. But…

* Live insects

* Museum experts

* Australia’s best scientific illustrators

I rest my case.

I began with Science on Show, which involved half a dozen display tables filled with stuffed, bottled and boxed specimens, Australian megafauna fossils and a model crab the size of a curled up human child and so on, all manned by various experts from the Museum. I got to pat a taxidermied tapir and made some dumb comment about how it looks like it’s stuck in a really powerful wind tunnel with that posture (well it does), rifle through a trolley’s worth of poltergeist-esque sea creatures in jars, and get mad at the terrestrial invertebrates expert for holding up two huge bottled spiders and making me compare their fangs. DO NOT WANT, as they say.

Then I may or may not have rendered myself the creepiest person in the building by deciding I wanted these for my livingroom:

National Science Week - Science on Show

Science on Show - Ornithology Display

Yes. Rows and rows of tiny dead birds. That’s what I want in my house. Jesus. But it might come as less of a shock to you now when I tell you I want this room as my bedroom:

Exhibition – WILD

Melbourne Museum - WILD

WILD image by Peter Wilson

Not a Science Week event, but still totally worth a mention, the museum’s WILD exhibition is something you have to visit to fully understand how breathtaking it really is. Winner of the Australian Interior Design Award for Installation Design this year, for obvious reasons, it’s home to more than 780 birds, mammals and reptiles from around the world, including a secretary bird, snow leopard and Tasmanian tiger. It’s like one giant taxidermied version of The Animals of Farthing Wood, with hundreds and hundreds of animals who should be eating/running away from each other just hanging out, being mates, and possibly plotting to embark on a some kind of epic journey to somewhere nice.

These guys have already formed their own unlikely trio, and will probably be separated from the rest of the group because of a traffic incident or something, turning theirs into a more Homeward Bound-style epic journey.

Melbourne museum - WILD Exhibition

Melbourne museum - WILD

It’ll be like, “Hey I’m going to go make friends with that porcupine because I’m a reckless loose canon. Yeah. Nothing horrible involving quills to the face is likely to happen in that scenario.”

“Something horrible involving quills to the face is likely to happen in that scenario but you must discover that on your own.”

“Does this journey make me look fat?”

I can’t tell you who said what, because while the exhibition has these fantastic little terminals which allow you to virtually tour the room, choosing any animal you want the name and a 3D view of, I obviously forgot. So I’ll spare you the “goaty-looking thing” references. Except for this one. You can see more pictures of the exhibition at Peter Wilson’s site here.

The Art of Scientific Illustration

John James Audubon Northern Hare Winter

It’s not very often (never in my case) that you get to see some of Australia’s best scientific illustrators talk about their craft, and three metres away from a corridor of dinosaur skeletons. Another Science Week initiative from Melbourne Museum, they brought in marine illustrator Rhyll Plant and dinosaur reconstructionist Peter Trusler plus curator John Kean to talk about the museum’s upcoming travelling exhibition about the history of scientific illustration.

“You haven’t got a lot of time,” said Rhyll of her experience drawing squids, fish and nautiluses, “When you’ve got seabirds hanging from the rafters, specimens laid out everywhere and people throwing up while you’re trying to draw these soft-bodied animals which fall apart, and quickly lose their shape, colour and spines.”

She walked us through solutions to problems only a marine illustrator could have such as how to draw the scales of a fish that has see-through scales, and how to make a drawing of a paper nautilus shell look as light as spun glass. She’s currently working with Museum Victoria’s Julian Finn, who is studying a family of nautiluses (also known as argonauts) for his PhD research while doing some less scientific, more adorable artworks on the side (see below).

Rhyll Plant - Squid Row

Rhyll Plant - "Squid Row"

You might not know the name Peter Trusler, but you’ve almost definitely seen his work in the news, on t.v. and even on postage stamps. One of the country’s most respected wildlife artists and Australian prehistoric fauna reconstructionists, he’s had the earliest known monotreme named after him (Teinolophos trusleri), won a Eureka Award and had his work on the cover of Time Magazine.

When you’re dealing with a task that requires a full reconstruction of an animal’s appearance based on a few fossilised bones, it can take up to a year to get everything right. “It’s a struggle between the scientific facts and evidence and my imagination,” Trusler said.

Sometimes you’ll have brilliantly preserved fossils like that of the Dromornis stirtoni, in which you can find tiny details such as the traces of blood vessels running through the bridge of its beak, whereas other times you’ll be stuck with partial fossils missing limbs, skulls and tails.

“Fossiled fish are like squished objects on stone plates,” Trusler said of his work with ancient placoderms, lungfish and lobe-finned fish. “When something like tail is missing from the fossil, you can either be courageous, or you can play the chicken card and find some way to leave it out of the picture altogether.”

Albertus Seba's South American O'Possum

Albertus Seba's South American O'Possum

Museum curator John Kean then ran us through a history of scientific illustration from the surreal humanised hands of the Enlightenment Period to today’s electron-scanning microscopy. On the way there were seven-headed hydra hoaxes, tiny dragon lizards and a demonic o’possum, the opening of whose pouch looked like the very gates of Hell (see above). “Don’t laugh, these are real animals,” Kean insisted as he ran through 18th Century Dutch zoologist, Albertus Seba’s, collection of illustrations which you should definitely see more of here.

Museum Victoria are planning to run “Eyeline – The Art of Science” (working title) – an incredible roaming exhibition of the history of scientific illustration – that will start in Melbourne from October 2011 and travel to places in regional Victoria and hopefully interstate.

I took a bunch of photos of the Dinosaurs Walk, Bugs Alive, the sea creature exhibit etc etc, but obviously couldn’t put them all here, so I’ve uploaded them all to a gallery here.

The next event I went to for Science Week 2010 was the Brains Matter From Slime to Dinosaurs live show, so look out for my review here very soon.

– bec



Filed under Animals, Archosaurs, Art, Events, Fossils, Free Stuff, Insects, Museum Stuff, Science, Sea Creatures

8 responses to “Science Week Begins With Melbourne Museum Stealing My Heart

  1. Looks like you had a lot of fun. The Melbourne Museum is a great place, but I haven’t been there for a while – probably because when it first opened I went nearly five times in a short space of time and got sick of it. I should venture to go back and check out all the new science-y things that have appeared, they look awesome.

    Sorry again that I missed the Brains Matter live show! If I could have come I would have, but I had to man the UMSS Open Day stall. People shouldn’t be allowed to be ill when I have things to do. :p

  2. James

    awe… jealous

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  4. Zach Miller

    I love Trusler’s work. There’s a particular painting he did of a dead hypsilophodont lying on the ground, which is frozen, along with the water beside him–also frozen.

    It’s in my Top 5 Paleo Illustrations. Maybe Top 3. It looks like a photograph.

  5. Thank you for your wonderful blog about our Day at Melbourne Museum to celebrate Science Week 2010, Bec! Some of the programs were new this year and we were hoping they would get people excited about science and also find out more about what we do at Museum Victoria in terms of research and collections – much more than the activities, shows and exhibitions that most of our visitors know of.
    You might’ve met Dr Mark Norman, who is the new Head of Sciences. He rallied most of his 40-strong research and science staff to put on display a small representation of the 16 million-odd items we hold in our collections at Museum Victoria and to showcase the fabulous expertise we have in our sciences staff who hide away for most of the year – busy doing research, writing papers and adding to the international findings in science.
    This weekend at Scienceworks we are holding a science careers festival with Inspiring Scientists and chemistry labs for kids.
    Thank you again – hope to see you back again soon.

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  7. caryl plant

    hi, Rhyll and I have very early links with the Museum in Melbourne. Not sure if she told you but she was probably in utero when Mum ( a shell collector) took us along to meet Hope Macpherson in the early 50’s. Shows you can’t start kids early enough! thanks, Caryl Plant

  8. The Melbourne Museum looks like a really cool place – my daughter would love it.

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