Doing the smelly, gross work that’s invaluable for science

Posted November 21, 2017 09:00:00

It’s often messy, smelly and a little bit gross, but the work of a vertebrates collections manager is vital for science.

Belinda Bauer is responsible for maintaining the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery’s collections of animal specimens, both on display and in storage.

She also has the job of preparing specimens in the wet lab at TMAG’s collections facility in Rosny.

“A lot of skinning goes on down here,” she said.

“Just yesterday I washed out a few skeleton macerations, so that’s the smell, it’s the smell of the bones drying.”

To prepare an animal specimen as a disarticulated skeleton, Ms Bauer uses the water maceration method.

Basically, she skins the animal, takes off as much flesh as she can and then puts the remains in a bucket of water.

It is left there until the remaining flesh has rotted off the bones.

The bones are then washed with a diluted ammonia solution and dried.

On the day the ABC visited, Ms Bauer was taking feather samples from penguins for a study by the Lund University in Sweden.

She was also preparing the bodies to be skeleton specimens.

“I’ll pluck part of them and send some feathers off and take some detailed photographs of the skin patches for those researchers,” she said.

“I’ll prepare both specimens as skeletons, disarticulated loose skeletons, that will be available for researchers and will become part of our reference collection.”

Before macerating the specimen, Ms Bauer takes a lot of detailed measurements and other notes and the information is kept in a database.

“Without that information it can be of little use for research,” she said.

“It’s more than just skinning and stuffing; it’s more about maintaining a collection that represents Tasmanian biodiversity and making sure that is accessible for researchers around the world.”

Ms Bauer also works with the curators at TMAG creating public displays of animal specimens, working out the best way to display them in a way that best tells their stories.

“We’re not here to make beautiful things, I’m not a taxidermist,” she said.

“By preserving physical evidence of Tasmanian biodiversity, it means that researchers can access it now, and if we do a good job of our preparation, they will be able to do so for the next 150, 200 years.”

And it is not just animal bodies that need to be prepared for display and recording.

Ms Bauer also prepared a number of specimens of Tasmanian devil poo for an upcoming exhibition to show what wild devils eat.

“You could have a photograph or an observation of an animal and that’s useful, but having a specimen means that it’s verifiable,” she said.

Topics: zoology, library-museum-and-gallery, research, research-organisations, human-interest, people, careers, rosny-7018

Rare German WWI tank kept safe inside a bubble

Posted November 20, 2017 12:39:20

Mephisto, the world’s only German A7V tank from World War I, is being housed in a massive plastic bubble west of Brisbane.

“Only 20 of these tanks were made,” said Jennifer Wilson, senior curator at the Workshops Rail Museum in Ipswich.

“Germany was late to tank warfare in WWI.

“The tank has been put in a protective cocoon so we can control the humidity, keep it dust free and safe while it’s with us.

“It’s certainly a very big bubble.”

The imposing A7V Sturmpanzerwagen had quite the journey before arriving in Queensland.

“This tank was out on an advance to take back the area around Villers-Bretonneux on the Western Front in France,” Ms Wilson said.

“It got stuck in a hole and the manoeuvrability wasn’t quite there yet, so it remained.

“The German crew left the tank and the Allies retook that ground and salvaged the tank as a war trophy for Queensland in 1918.”

Queenslanders and Tasmanians from the 26th Battalion took the tank under the cover of darkness.

“They got it on a ship and across the water to Australia and it has been on display as part of the Queensland Museum since that time,” Ms Wilson said.

It arrived at Norman Wharf in Brisbane in June 1919 and was towed to the Queensland Museum on Gregory Terrace by Brisbane City Council steamrollers.

In 1986, Mephisto was then relocated to Queensland Museum at South Bank until the 2011 floods.

It also spent time in Canberra at the Australian War Memorial in 2015 to mark the 100th anniversary of WWI.

“It’s back here to rest,” Ms Wilson said.

“It’s being prepared now to be placed back into an exhibition at the Queensland Museum about WWI and Queensland history which will open late 2018.

“The operation to get it back there will be a big one and will involve shutting down roads and multiple cranes used to get the tank in place.”

Topics: world-war-1, library-museum-and-gallery, community-and-society, human-interest, ipswich-4305, brisbane-4000

From Russia (to Sydney) with love: ‘Cute, cuddly’ frozen woolly mammoth arrives

Updated November 17, 2017 10:18:32

Lyuba was just 35 days old when she died in a mudslide and now, 42,000 years later, the world’s oldest and most intact mammoth has arrived in Sydney.

The baby mammoth, whose name means “love” in Russian, made the long trip from Siberia in a crate, having to be placed in a refrigerator at Dubai airport while accompanied by a minder from the Shemanovsky Yamal-Nenets District Museum in Siberia.

“She’s an extraordinarily delicate thing,” Australian Museum creative producer Trevor Ahearn said.

Mr Ahearn said Lyuba’s arrival was “extremely nerve-wracking, [but] at the same time a thrill”.

“She’s come from the Arctic Circle, which is clearly a very different climate to Sydney. We’ve had to put her in our special store, which is climate controlled and she had to stay there for 24 to 48 hours to acclimatise before we could crack open the case,” he said.

Now, out of quarantine and painstakingly examined and mounted, Lyuba is the drawcard for the Australian Museums’ Mammoths: Giants of the Ice Age exhibition.

“I guess the star of the show is Lyuba the baby woolly mammoth from Siberia,” the Australian Museum’s director Kim McKay told the ABC.

Lyuba was discovered in 2007 in north-western Siberia by a family who were reindeer herders.

“They knew not to touch her because they were animists and didn’t want to bring bad luck,” Ms McKay said.

A very traumatic end to life for a very little mammoth

The baby mammoth is mostly intact, however wild dogs have bitten off her tail and part of her ear.

“She’s been more studied than any other woolly mammoth on earth,” the director said.

“There’s fur on her body, she even has her milk tusks as well as her milk teeth.”

The Australian Museum’s curator of palaeontology, Dr Matthew McCurry, described Lyuba as “the most complete mammoth that we have”.

“Most fossils that we find are tiny and fragmentary. Lyuba is almost complete,” he said.

Scientists believe the baby mammoth was frozen and preserved by lactic acid-producing bacteria.

They were able to see that Lyuba’s last meal was grass.

“She died in a mudslide, we know that because inside her trunk, inside her air passages there’s mud preserved,” Dr Matthew McCurry said.

Mr Ahearn told the ABC how the staff handling Lyuba were very fond of the little mammoth.

“It’s not difficult to imagine she would have been cute and cuddly.” Mr Ahearn said.

Topics: library-museum-and-gallery, palaeontology, animals, sydney-2000

First posted November 17, 2017 10:11:16

How a national institution was modernised in a 10-year ‘extreme makeover’

On a visit to Australia, the director of the Netherlands’ Rijksmuseum, Taco Dibbits, reflects on the complete transformation of a national institution.

Retired train drivers bring WWI locomotive back to life

A train once used to deliver supplies on the Western Front during World War I is fully restored in Ipswich and now calls south-east Queensland home.

Glitz and glamour on display at National Gallery’s Cartier exhibition

By Narda Gilmore

Updated November 02, 2017 15:33:17

Diamonds may well be a girl’s best friend but the National Gallery of Australia’s forthcoming exhibition promises to impress everyone.

Cartier – The Exhibition opens at the gallery in Canberra next March and will run until July.

More than 300 pieces from the French jewellery house will be brought together in the biggest display of its kind in Australia, but one of its biggest drawcards is the halo tiara the Duchess of Cambridge wore at her wedding to Prince William.

Cartier’s director of image, style and heritage Pierre Rainero travelled to Canberra for a preview of the exhibition.

“It’s probably, in terms of the number of pieces and in depth study of the evolution of Cartier style, it’s really one of the most important exhibitions ever” he said.

“Cartier represents the poetic amalgamation of art, passion and style.”

The exhibition charts Cartier’s history throughout the 20th century and gives an insight into its famous international clients.

“Really interesting and glamorous people owned them. Great celebrities, royalty, aristocracy and film stars” NGA director Gerard Vaughan said.

‘One of the most valuable’ exhibitions ever displayed

Several items from the Royal Collection will be on display, including some of Queen Elizabeth’s favourite pieces.

Elizabeth Taylor’s matching ruby and diamond necklace and earrings will be on show, and a whole section of the display will be dedicated to International opera star Dame Nellie Melba.

“We didn’t realise just how many pieces she purchased. She was a major client,” Mr Vaughan said.

But he said bringing the exhibition together was a massive logistical exercise.

The jewellery has to be delivered in separate shipments leading up to the exhibition.

“We are not able to talk about the value of this collection, but I think you can work out that this is going to be one of the most valuable assemblages ever displayed in the history of Australia” Mr Vaughan said.

Topics: arts-and-entertainment, library-museum-and-gallery, royal-and-imperial-matters, human-interest, canberra-2600, act, australia

First posted November 02, 2017 15:25:11

Global GIF contest makes use of public pictures

Posted October 31, 2017 13:15:25

An international competition is encouraging people to chop up the collections of some of the world’s biggest libraries — virtually, of course.

This is the fourth year of GIFITUP, which awards prizes to the best animated GIFs made from digitised cultural heritage collections from across the globe.

Artworks can use public domain images from digital archives Europeana, Digital Public Library of America, DigitalNZ, and the National Library of Australia (NLA) website Trove.

Trove’s Cheney Brew said the Australian online archive had been involved in the competition for the past three years.

“We just want to raise awareness of all the open licence content in our collection,” Ms Brew said.

Python-esque entries feature UFOs, fights

Many of the GIFs entered are reminiscent of Terry Gilliam’s cartoons for Monty Python, with characters from old books and drawings brought to life as animations.

“Children playing instruments, people getting married, characters dancing — there’s all kinds of things going on,” Ms Brew said.

She said her favourite entry in this year’s mix so far was based on the Johannes Vermeer painting View of Delft.

“Someone’s GIFed in some UFOs over the scenery, so that’s quite nice.”

Ms Brew said the competition always received good entries from Melbourne’s Monash University Library.

“This year they’ve animated a book plate of two characters having a bit of a fight.”

How can I enter?

Ms Brew said making GIFs out of images in Trove’s online archives helped people get a sense of ownership of the collection.

“We want to encourage people to have fun and to make things.”

She said the competition was “raising awareness of the kinds of things you can do with our reuse and adaptation licences”.

“I don’t think people were previously aware that there are plenty of images in publicly available online libraries that you can take and create your own artworks from,” Ms Brew said.

The competition page includes links to tools first-time GIF makers can use to help them create their animated masterpiece.

If you are feeling inspired to enter you will have to be quick, because entries close at midnight tonight (October 31).

This year a major GIF website has come on board as a corporate sponsor.

“It’s quite exciting that they have come on board with us this year because we’ve got some extra prizes to give away, including prizes for things like first-time GIF makers, which we haven’t had before,” Ms Brew said.

Topics: library-museum-and-gallery, internet-culture, animation, melbourne-3000, canberra-2600, monash-university-3800