Taxidermy on a Tuesday
With Joe busy in the boardroom,
I spent a solo morning exploring the oldest museum in Australia (founded in 1827.) The Australian Museum is across the park from our hotel and even on this rainy morning I was awed on my way by views of St. Mary’s, a Gothic revival style cathedral and the massive trees in Hyde Park.
Isn’t it odd to see leaves changing and falling at this time of year?!
I ducked into St. Mary’s to see the collection of stained glass, over 40 pictorial windows in the Gothic Revival style as well as a more painterly style of the early 20th century. Love.Stained.Glass. I keep expecting buildings here to be as old as they are in Europe and forget that Australia is a young country.
After my stroll through the cathedral, I paid my student admission (thank you Duke for not putting dates on our student cards) and was ready to get lost in the museum for a couple hours. While nowhere near as impressive as, say, the National Museum of American History, the Australian Museum had some interesting exhibits and I would especially recommend a trip if you are in Sydney with kids. Their collection includes vertebrate and invertebrate zoology, as well as mineralogy, paleontology, and anthropology.
I enjoyed the section on indigenous species, finally laying eyes on a kangaroo and a koala, albeit ones that had visited a taxidermist. My illusions about Australia have been shattered: not everyone is a surfer and kangaroos aren’t bopping around the streets.
Trivia: what Australian mammal after digesting its food, leaves behind piles of cube-shaped pellets, resembling a set of pungent dice?
The purpose in having cube shaped scats is so that the wombat can better mark its territory. Wombats leave scats to mark their territory atop rocks and logs, and cube shaped scats are less likely to roll away from the wombat’s territory. NowYouKnow
Another museum feature is randomly placed taxidermy tucked in corners and on top of displays. This dingo scared the dickens out of me when I saw it out of the corner of my eye.
The skeletal exhibit was a bit macabre for my tastes…..
But the Chapman Mineral Collection was extensive and took me back to my childhood visits to the mines of Hiddenite, NC. Anyone?!
The museum’s Aboriginal section features traditional clothing, art and weapons. I was excited to learn more about the Aboriginal peoples and was disappointed that the museum seemed a little light on their (sad) history.
When the British began settling in Australia in 1770 they brought with them a wave of epidemic diseases such as chickenpox, smallpox, influenza and measles, which wiped out huge numbers of the native population.
The combination of disease, loss of land and direct violence reduced the population by an estimated 90% between 1788 and 1900. Entire communities in the southern part of the continent simply vanished without trace, often before European settlers arrived or recorded their existence.
The exhibit highlighted the tragic history of The Stolen Generations, or children of Aboriginal descent who were removed from their families by the government agencies and church missions from 1909 until the 1970’s. Australian historians believe approximately 20,000 to 25,000 children were removed between 1910 and 1970.
In 1998 the first National Sorry Day was held, and reconciliation events were held nationally, and attended by over a million people. This was followed by a letter expressing “deep and sincere regret over the removal of Aboriginal children from their parents” passed by the federal parliament in August 1999.
My college roommate (Louise!) has a small collection of Aboriginal art so I think of her every time I see it. These beautiful, vibrant “Dot paintings” consists of various paint colors like yellow (the sun), brown (the soil), red (desert sand) and white (the clouds and the sky).
The verdict: check out the Australian Museum for a quick overview of Australian history and the chance to look at some native species up close. For a more in depth study of the Aboriginal populations check out: Aboriginal Australians: A History Since 1788