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Published October 18th 2017
Rare & curious objects from Australia's oldest museum
The Australian Museum's newest permanent exhibition, 200 Treasures of the Australian Museum, opened on 14th October 2017, in the renovated Westpac Long Gallery. The exhibition celebrates the greatest treasures in the museum's vast collection of around 18 million objects, as well as recognising 100 people who have shaped the nation.
Rainforest Shields from Cape York and the extinct Paradise Parrot
The Long Gallery is a fitting space to marvel at the unique collection of treasures from all around the world, as this was the first ever gallery in Australia's first museum. The Australian Museum was established in Sydney in 1827. At the time it was known as the Sydney or Colonial Museum, until it was formally named the Australian Museum in 1836. The museum officially opened to the public in the current location in May 1857. The aim of the museum when it was established was to procure "rare and curious specimens of Natural History", a feat they have certainly achieved.
Some of the "rare and curious" specimens in this exhibition that I found fascinating included:
An Egyptian mummy and coffin excavated from a tomb in the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes (now Luxor). This mummy was originally thought to have been the body of a middle-aged man. However, in 2004 the museum conducted a CT scan which revealed the mummy was actually a woman, mummified around 2800 years ago. The hieroglyphs on the coffin, showing the deceased making offerings to the gods, are absolutely amazing.
A large platypus skin rug made from the skins of 75 platypuses around 1883, at a time when the animal was not protected by the law. In fact, platypuses were often considered pests by farmers and were hunted for their fur until 1905, when finally the practice was outlawed.
Top - Platypus Skin Rug, Centre - Tasmanian Tiger Pup
The Jubilee Gold Nugget which was discovered near Gulgong in 1887. It is the only surviving example of a large gold nugget from the early years of gold mining in NSW. This nugget was thought to be lost until discovered in a Treasury box in 1956 that the officers had been using as cricket stumps. How very Australian!
Roro Feather Headdress - This amazing headdress made by the Roro people from the Papua New Guinean highlands is made from feathers, cane, shells and turtle shell and dates from 1923. It was worn by men of high status for special ceremonies.
Kiribati Armour - Have you ever seen body armour like this before? This armour from the Pacific Islands of Kiribati is thought to be the most sophisticated form of traditional body protection in the Pacific. It is closely woven from coconut palm fibre on a netted frame and is surprisingly strong. It can deflect spears, shark-tooth weapons and European knives and bayonets.
An Irish Elk skeleton which is an example of megafauna from the Pleistocene epoch. The Irish Elk was around 2 metres tall with antlers spanning more than 3 metres. While it survived the Ice Age it is thought to have become extinct around 7700 years ago. The bones of this skeleton were preserved in the peaty bogs of Ireland, which gives the bones their dark colour.
Opalised pliosaur - a fossil of an animal that swam in the "inland sea" of Australia during the Cretaceous period, around 100 million years ago. Nicknamed "Eric" it was discovered by an opal miner in Coober Pedy in 1987.
Of course, there are many other treasures to discover in this exhibition as well as the fascinating stories behind them. Other treasures include Australia's first banknote, extinct animals, skeletons, fossils and skins, masks, paintings, books, shields and much more.
Upstairs on Level 1 of the gallery, the exhibition continues with 100 People Who Shaped Australia with their contributions to history, science, nature or culture. They are grouped in categories such as the Revolutionaries, the Curious, the Resilient, the Underdogs, the Innovators and the Spirited. There is a photo and a short description for each person and a few interactive displays throughout this part of the exhibition.
On the far wall of the gallery, you will find three interactive panels featuring pictures and photos relating to the featured people. If you tap on a picture as it cascades down the wall it will expand to show you more information about the person or particular photo. I think kids will absolutely love this interactive section of the exhibition.
This interactive display will e a highlight for the kids
The Westpac Long Gallery has undergone a $9 million and two-year restoration process funded by the NSW government, Westpac Bank and corporate philanthropy. It is the perfect location for this exhibition and to showcase the museums 190-year history. It is fascinating to learn that when the Long Gallery first opened in May 1857, nearly a quarter of Sydney's residents visited the museum within the first week. I'm sure the museum would be happy for visitor numbers of that magnitude again.
In more recent times the role of the Museum has changed and is now focused on research and science, preservation of the past and conservation for the future. The exhibition is a poignant reminder of what has already been lost - the extinct Paradise Parrot and Tasmanian Tiger - but also of some wonderful finds - The Night Parrot thought to have been extinct since 1912 until recent sightings in 2013.
The Australian Museum is open from 9.30am - 5pm every day, except Christmas Day. Entry to the 200 Treasures Exhibition is included with general admission. For general admission prices please click here.
For information about visiting the Australian Museum please click here.