Category Archives: Exhibitions & Events

Re-imagining Pandora

This blog post is part of an ongoing series titled Connecting with Collections. The series offers readers a peek inside collections at the Museum of Tropical Queensland, highlighting objects and their stories.

In 1790, HMS Pandora sailed out of England with a clear mission: to find the HMS Bounty and its 25 mutineers. Pandora reached Tahiti in March 1791, and captured 14 of the mutineers, restraining them in the makeshift prison cell on the stern deck, ‘Pandora’s Box’. Leaving Tahiti in May 1791, Pandora spent the next several months searching for the remaining mutineers on other islands in the South-West Pacific, including Samoa, Tonga, Rotuma and Tokelau. On the eventual journey home to the United Kingdom in August, after failing to track down the nine other mutineers, Pandora ran aground and sank whilst attempting to traverse the Torres Strait.

The wreck remained undisturbed until 1977. Upon discovery of the shipwreck site, the Queensland Museum conducted several archaeological expeditions between 1979 and 1999. The extensive excavations unearthed a significant amount of the buried ship’s hull, as well as the well-preserved collection of artefacts now held by the Museum of Tropical Queensland in Townsville.

When Pandora sank, so did almost everything on board the vessel. The Queensland Museum team uncovered a large assemblage of artefacts that shed light on the everyday lifestyle on board the ship during its eventful journey, as well as a range of Polynesian artefacts that the crew had collected whilst on the islands.

Among these Polynesian objects were a collection of fishhooks and shanks made from mother of pearl shell. Research on the collection deduced that the shell shanks, in particular, were parts of fishing lures used for trolling bonito fish. When suspended in water during use, the lures resemble small fish moving in the water, and attract the predatory bonito. After over 180 years underwater, the other distinguishing features of the lures – the hook and plant fibres – disintegrated prior to discovery of the wreck. The shanks, therefore, cannot be linked to one particular area, as this kind of lure was not only common in French Polynesia, but in a variety of regions across Oceania. They came in a variety of forms, colours and sizes, depending where they were manufactured.

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MA7901 Fishing/trolling lure component. Discovered at the Pandora shipwreck in the 1980s-1990s.
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MA8098 Fishing/trolling lure component. Discovered at the Pandora shipwreck in the 1980s-1990s
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MA8023.1 Fishing/trolling lure component. Discovered at the Pandora shipwreck in the 1980s-1990s.

Currently on display at the Museum of Tropical Queensland is the display, ‘Making Connections: French Polynesia and the HMS Pandora collection’. As part of the display, artist and anthropologist Tokainiua Devatine created an art installation inspired by the many pearl shell shanks from the Pandora wreck. In his artwork, Tokainiua aimed to represent the variation in the pearl shanks, displaying different sizes, colours and forms of the shell pieces in his interpretive artwork.

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Art installation created by artist Tokainiua Devatine, currently on display at the Museum of Tropical Queensland.
People in French Polynesia still use bonito lures made from mother of pearl shells to catch bonito fish. Although, today metal hooks and synthetic fibres are used on the lures, instead of the natural fibres and shell or bone hooks used when the Pandora’s crew acquired the lures.

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E40896 Bonito lure. PhD student and curator Jasmin Guenther purchased this lure in French Polynesia in 2018.

Alongside the pearl shanks found on the Pandora wreck site were several pearl fishhooks. Fishhooks used in French Polynesia at the time of Pandora’s journey through Oceania also came in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on their intended use and associated region. Locals would frequently include the hooks in trade and exchange practices, and European visitors to the islands avidly collected them in the 1700s.

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MA8006 Fish hook fragment. Discovered at the Pandora shipwreck in the 1980s-1990s.

Unlike the lures, pearl fishhooks are no longer used for recreational or commercial fishing today.

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E40888, E40889. Tahitian artist Hiro Ou Wen created these fishhooks in 2018 as reproductions of the traditional pearl fishhooks discovered at the Pandora shipwreck.

To learn more about the material culture of French Polynesia, and the connection between Pandora artefacts and contemporary art in Oceania today, visit the Museum of Tropical Queensland and experience the current display, ‘Making Connections: French Polynesia and the HMS Pandora collection’.

Sophie Price, Assistant Curator Anthropology, Museum of Tropical Queensland

We remember the first explorers on the Moon, do you?

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic Moon Landing, we’re flashing back to 1969. On Monday 21 July at 12.56pm, Eastern Standard Time, Queenslanders were among the estimated 600 million people watching the Apollo 11 Moon landing television broadcast across the world.

The event received extensive coverage in television, radio and print media. These editions of Brisbane’s Courier Mail, published on 21 and 22 July, feature articles about the Apollo 11 mission and crew, along with public and political views on the Moon landing.

The newspapers show the broader impact and excitement around the event, with advertisements for “prices out of this world” at David Jones, and cameras with a lunar connection such as “Minolta lands on the Moon!” The Courier Mail also highlighted a Queensland connection to the Apollo 11 mission, with titanium from the Tin Can Bay area used in the manufacture of the command ship, lunar module lander, and the Saturn V rocket. At that time, a large percentage of titanium used around the world was refined from Australian rutile.

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One small letter from Michelle Chooke, Queensland

A Letter from Neil Armstrong

The story of the landing on the Moon was not only a global event but a personal one for all who waited and watched. Michelle Cooke was a 16 year old school girl from Scarborough, Queensland, fascinated by space. When Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, she sent a letter congratulating the astronauts on their massive achievement. To her delight space hero Neil Armstrong replied, thanking her for her best wishes and ensuring these would  be passed on to ‘Mike and Buzz.’ She still treasures this letter to this day, alongside her copy of the National Geographic magazine commemorating this historical event.

Next stop, the Moon

Can you imagine the excitement of a crowd chanting “Go! Go! Go!” while a rocket ship tears up the sky on its way to space? Perhaps, you were actually there amongst the crowd as a young child, or know someone who was? On July 21, according to The Montreal Star that’s exactly what was happening down on Earth as the population, and traffic stood still. Motor vehicles came to a grinding halt in a 50 mile long traffic jam around the Cape Kennedy Space Centre in Florida,  as people flocked to see history in the making.

These old newspapers were courtesy of Queensland Museum’s Event Manager, Luke Diett’s Mother. Do you still have any Moon landing mementos?

Your Moon landing memories

Do you remember the excitement of watching Neil Armstrong’s first step foot on the Moon? Share your Moon landing memories with us along with any images by using the hashtag #SpaceQM and tag @qldmuseum for a chance to be reposted on social media and featured on our blog.

Here’s some helpful prompts to jog your memory:

  1. Where did you view the Moon landing on 21 July 1969?
  2. Who were you with?
  3. How did you feel seeing the rocket ship launch into space?

The ultimate Moon landing memory, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s footprints, are probably still etched into the lunar soil thanks to the lack of atmosphere on the Moon.

Make sure to stop by NASA – A Human Adventure to explore the extraordinary collection of more than 250 artefacts from the United States and Soviet Union space programs including items that have actually been to space. Skip the queue and book online here to save time.



Branch Commissioner (Cub Scouts) Tim Gibbings
received a signed photo from Neil Armstrong as a child with a letter. Since that time 12 men have stood on the surface of our nearest celestial neighbour, 10 of them were Scouts, 1 of them was a Cub Scout and the first, Neil Armstrong, carried a World Scout Badge with him in his pocket during his historic walk. NASA even notes that 2/3 of past and current astronauts were in Scouting!

moon landing memories

Alison Mann, Assistant Collections Manager at Museum of Tropical Queensland was 10 years old and at Garran Primary School in the ACT. “That day all 317 pupils were herded into the school hall and made to sit and wait for this momentous occasion. There was one black and white TV perched up on some blocks way way way down the front of the assembly hall. I was in almost the back row of chairs, unable to see the TV, mucking around with my friends and missed the whole thing.”

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“I was almost 23 years old at the time and working at the American Embassy in Canberra. The whole staff, the majority of whom were Americans, as well as those of us who were locally employed were all crowded into the Boardroom to watch the Moon landing. What made it special for me was the pure excitement and pride of my American colleagues that their country had achieved what many thought was an impossible dream. I was also the only Queenslander in the room!” – Claire M

“We had all the grade 1 and 2 classes jammed in a room together, watching it on a little B&W TV during and after lunch. And despite the lack of amenity, we still saw it as utterly astounding.” – Barry R 

“With 300 or so crowded into a double teaching space watching it on a small portable tv. Then my mother came and collected my sister and I to go home to watch it as we had only recently purchased a tv in order to watch this.” – Kim A

“Grade 8. We had a sleepover at a friends and stayed awake all night..had to go to school next day. We were all half asleep. Ah, no TV, only radio.” – Susan J

“I was in grade 9. We watched it at school on a TV on a high trolley. All TVs were black and white then. I clearly remember the moment Neil Armstrong stepped down and said those immortal words. There was a wonderful feeling that the whole world was stopping to watch it. The tension of the cold war just melted away. That tension was very real, all pervasive, rather like the fear of climate change today. I remember my Mum telling me about what to do if an atomic bomb dropped and when President Kennedy was shot.
That day all seemed safe and wonderful. We were all sent home early from school. I remember people watching TVs in shop windows in town on the way home.” – Geoff T

“I also watched it at school on a tiny black-and-white TV, with a bunch of other over-excited 7 year olds! Later at home, my dad got out our little moon globe and showed my sister and I the Sea of Tranquility.” – Janelle G

“I remember being allowed to go home from school to watch on our tv. Even At 9 years of age I knew it was an amazing thing. 😀My mum made me go back to school after the Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.🙁” – Lynette G

Been missing our Discovery Centre critters?

Never fear, they’re all still here and safely tucked away behind the scenes throughout the Discovery Centre’s renovation. Our staff continue to bring in the tasty eats they like best – bundles of fresh gum leaves for our stick insects, dried leaves for the giant cockroaches and even frozen rats for our green tree pythons. The baby scorpions, born in the museum, are thriving on a diet of tiny crickets.

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The museum’s display and research specimens need to be kept in a controlled climate so they do not deteriorate, meaning that the museum is constantly air conditioned. But our live animals require humidity and every morning their enclosures receive a fine spray of water to keep them happy and healthy.

The stick insects continue to lay eggs daily. These are sorted from the droppings and leaf fragments and placed into separate containers, and every morning there are new hatchling nymphs to care for.  The nymphs live in separate enclosures of gum leaves, away from the adults, to make them easier to look after and avoid ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’ when there’s a change of foliage.

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It seems that some of the animals are making the most of their well-earned break from the constant public gaze. The cockroaches have given birth to live young, so the leaves in their enclosure are now resounding with the pitter-patter of tiny new feet!

Can the live animals still be seen? Yes, during our Daily Discoveries at 11.00am and 2.00pm we often bring some of them out to meet the public. You can even find out what’s on in advance if you call us on (07) 3840 7555. The schedule may be subject to change – but whatever is on – it’s always bound to be interesting!

What will our future hold?

Guest contributor: Jodie Muraca, Visitor Services Officer, Hadron Collider: Step Inside the World’s Greatest Experiment exhibition

As a Queensland Museum Visitor Services Officer I have the opportunity to engage with visitors about the compelling story of CERN and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).  Alongside the fascinating exhibition objects, we utilise four engagement tools developed here at Queensland Museum, including the enchanting ‘New Discoveries Time Capsule’.
Continue reading What will our future hold?

Behind the scenes of exhibition development: In three dimensions and full colour

Written by: Geraldine Mate, Senior Curator, The Workshops Rail Museum

One of the most exciting parts of pulling an exhibition together is seeing an idea that has been in your head turn into a full colour, three-dimensional solid entity.  A lot of time goes into the writing of text for labels and panels, the identification and selection of objects and choosing from the myriad of photographs available.

Continue reading Behind the scenes of exhibition development: In three dimensions and full colour

Passionate about science? FameLab are searching for the most exciting new voices in science.

Queensland Museum Fame Lab

Passionate about science?  You have 3 minutes, no Powerpoint and no jargon… do you have what it takes? FameLab  applications are now open.

International FameLab, the world’s leading science communication competition, aims to find, develop and mentor young science, mathematics and engineering communicators, building a celebrated network of researchers, who are able to get everyone – from school kids and adults to government officials and business figures – talking science.
Continue reading Passionate about science? FameLab are searching for the most exciting new voices in science.

Out of the Box Festival : We chat to the jellyfish from Songs of the Sonar

The Out of the Box Festival is returning to Brisbane tomorrow and bringing along 8 days of fun workshops, musical performances & lively concerts for children 8 years and under. This year’s festival is all about the many relationships children have with living creatures, both real and imaginary – an absolute must for your child’s calendar.

The Queensland Museum is thrilled to have hybrid human jellyfish, and mystical sea songstress Deepstaria Enigmatica, join us for 10 days of under the sea activities that feed on mystery, music and fun! She took time out of her busy sea-schedule to invite us into her cavernous underwater realm to discuss Songs of the Sonar, learn about her deep ocean friends and chat about the discovery of her musical talent.
Continue reading Out of the Box Festival : We chat to the jellyfish from Songs of the Sonar