Category Archives: News

Contemporary collecting: Recording history as it happens

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

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Global Strike for Climate march in Townsville, September 2019. Image by Sophie Price, Queensland Museum

What springs to mind when you think of museums? How about words like old, ancient, artefact or taxidermy? That’s not surprising.  Museums have a long history of collecting and displaying ‘curiosities’ just like that – ancient artefacts, taxidermy specimens, dinosaurs and mummies. In movies, they are often portrayed as dark, musty places filled with forgotten things.

But the concept of museums, and the theory behind what we collect and why, is constantly evolving. This topic is even more prominent right now, with the COVID-19 pandemic engulfing everyday life.

People all over the world are realising that we are living and experiencing a key moment in history, the likes of which have not been experienced since WWI, and the ‘Spanish flu’.

Covid-19 will be recorded in history books, and perhaps more importantly, in the form of quarantine memes and tik toks. It begs the question of how we can preserve these iconic moments in time, when they are happening around us.

Contemporary collecting is necessary in museums – world history isn’t just ancient history. It’s modern, it’s current, it’s happening as we speak and, it’s defining us.

History in real time

In March last year, Queensland Museum Network began collecting items associated with another contemporary, current phenomena: the School Strike for Climate movement.

The movement originally gained worldwide attention in August 2018, when the unwavering 15 year old Swedish student, Greta Thunberg, began striking from school outside the Swedish Parliament, to call for stronger action on global warming and climate change. Now the public face leading the worldwide movement, Greta is renowned for her hand-made sign which she used at this protest, with a simple yet effective message: “Skolstrejk för klimatet” (School strike for climate).

By September 2019, more than 7.6 million people joined Greta for a week of protests and strikes for climate action worldwide. In Australia alone, more than 300 000 school children and adult supporters took part in over 100 separate rallies during the nationwide strike on 20 September, to protest the lack of climate action by Government bodies and politicians. In Australia, 2,500 businesses allowed employees to take time off to participate in the strikes. To date, the September strikes are the largest climate mobilisation and protest in history.

The student driven School Strike for Climate movement focuses on one of the most important social and environmental issues of the 21st century: climate change and climate action.

There were three key demands of the September strikes and the School Strike 4 Climate movement in Australia. They were no new coal, oil and gas projects, 100% renewable energy generation and exports by 2030; and, for the government to fund a just transition and job creation for all fossil-fuel workers and communities. The campaign emphasised how Australia is already in the grips of the climate crisis, with the effects of prolonged drought, flash flooding, bushfires, cyclones and heatwaves causing damage to people and environments throughout the country.

The movement recognises that, as one of the greatest threats to future human existence, global warming and the ongoing effects of climate change directly threaten the future of today’s children. Young people will continue to drive the movement with unwavering passion.

Preserving the movement inside the museum

As the September 2019 strikes neared, staff at from Queensland Museum Network looked for ways to record the historical event. The answer was clear: what better way to capture the meaning of the movement than through documenting the messages of the protestors?

The following collection of protest posters and signs highlights the attitudes of the young people involved in the Townsville School Strike for Climate rallies, and whose livelihoods and futures depend on the outcomes of the protests. These items are now officially part of the State Collection, recording this moment in our history for generations to come.

High Res_Alice de Fouchier_photographer Matthew Lewandowski
Alice de Fouchier has carried her homemade protest sign in three climate rallies. She kindly donated the sign to Museum of Tropical Queensland after the September strikes in Townsville. The sign reads, ‘we need to save the world’. (Object no: H49889). Image by Matthew Lewandowski
Tia Goltl, William Loveday
James Cook University students Tia Goltl and William Loveday with their protest signs. Tia’s sign reads, ‘don’t be a fossil fool’, and William’s reads, ‘the climate is changing, why aren’t we?’ (Object no: H49893). Image by Sophie Price, Queensland Museum
Brookyln O'Hearn,
Local school student Brooklyn O’Hearn at the Townsville rally. The reverse side of Brooklyn’s sign reads, WORD OF THE WEEK ‘CLIMIGRATION’ (Object no: H49890). Image by Sophie Price, Queensland Museum

Extinction Rebellion (XR), an international socio-political movement with a primary focus on nonviolent civil disobedience produced the following two signs: The Rebel Agreement – a summarised understanding of the movement, and a poster that was distributed to participants.

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This poster was produced by Extinction Rebellion, a global grassroots organisation who promote nonviolent acts of civil disobedience in the protest for climate action (Object no: H49891)
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The Extinction Rebellion ‘Rebel Agreement’ (Object no: H49892)

Sophie Price, Assistant Curator, Anthropology, Museum of Tropical Queensland

World-famous Wollemi Pines have been saved by firefighters

A good news story from the devastation caused by the bush fires – the only known native stand of the world-famous Wollemi Pines has been saved by firefighters. Queensland Museum Palaeobotanist Dr Andrew Rozefelds wishes to acknowledge the work done by the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service and NSW Rural Fire Service for responding effectively to help save this unique plant community.

Read The Sydney Morning Herald story Incredible, secret firefighting mission saves famous ‘dinosaur trees’.

The discovery of Wollemia in 1994, just 200 kms from Sydney in the Blue Mountains was unprecedented and this discovery of a previously unknown genus of conifers was completely unexpected. The Wollemi Pines are restricted to narrow canyons in the Blue Mountains and occur in one remote area of the Wollemi National Park.

The landscape in the Blue Mountains is highly dissected with the fire prone areas on the tops of the cliffs and ridge lines. These areas are dominated by Eucalyptus and other plants that have evolved in response to fire and can survive less intense fires. The wet gorges and canyons are relatively fire free. Fire in these communities is rare and the plant communities are dominated by temperate rainforest species.

Air photos of the landscape highlight the contrast between the grey-green of Eucalyptus woodlands with the bright green foliage of the rainforest occurring in the gorges and these gorges are the home to the critically endangered Wollemi Pines. It is not by chance that these trees survived in these canyons – being fire sensitive it is the only place in this landscape where they can survive due to protective landscape of steep cliffs and the wetter conditions in the gorges.

Wollemia is most closely related to the Kauri Pines (Agathis) that occur in the rainforest of North eastern Queensland. The origins of the Wollemi Pines can be traced back to the time of the dinosaurs and from the fossil pollen record we can trace the history of the Wollemia-Agathis lineage back 90 million years. While the fossil record offers up some tantalising clues, few fossils of Wollemia have been confidently identified, although the insights from molecular studies would suggest that the Wollemi Pines would have evolved some 70 million years ago.

The fossil record does show us that as the Australian continent has moved northwards it has slowly dried out, the wetter forests have retreated to fire free, often upland areas and these refugia remain the last hold outs for many species of rainforest animals and plants. Under the drought conditions experienced in eastern Australia and Tasmania in recent years we have seen rainforests burn. This “New Normal” is not a continuation of gradual change we have seen in the past – the scale and intensity of the fires in SE Australia has changed, and are likely to continue to become more severe as predicted in the Garnaut Climate Change Review in 2007. The impacts of these changes have severely felt by communities in Australia and extend beyond the environment to all areas of the economy as we have seen recently.

These new conditions pose unprecedented threats to the animals and plants in all fire-sensitive communities in Australia.  The protective vertical rampants that have in the past helped to protect the Wollemi Pines from fire may not be enough to protect this fragile community in the future. Without the intervention of the Parks and Rural Fires staff and volunteers this last population of this remarkable rainforest conifer, that is 70 million years in the making, may well have gone up in smoke. It is perhaps remarkable that it has survived so long.

Digi Youth Arts in Queensland Museum

Written by Alethea Beetson, Indigenous Engagement Coordinator, Queensland Museum  and Imelda Miller Curator, Cultures and Histories, Queensland Museum

All year Digi Youth Arts unsettle artists and mentors have been engaging, discovering, interacting, activating, calling out, evaluating, commenting, questioning and creating new artworks inside and outside Queensland Museum. As artists in residence, Digi Youth Arts have been focused on producing new works across six art forms – street art, theater, film, dance, visual art and music. This year alone, artists from four of these art forms have showcased new works developed in collaboration with industry mentors.

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Women in Science, Queensland Museum

Happy International Women’s Day! In the lead up to 8 March 2015,  Queensland Science have been busy celebrating International Women’s Day by shining the spotlight on women in science on their Facebook & Twitter pages and via the #womeninscience & #makeithappen hashtags. During the week a number of Queensland Museum scientists put their hand up to provide an insight into what inspired them to pursue a career in science and offer a few words of encouragement for all the young women and girls out there enthusiastic about science.
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Meet the Museum Teams of Tomorrow – Everyday Einstein student challenge

By Maryanne Venables

On Saturday 23 August, National Science Week may have been winding down, but here at Queensland Museum, we were cranking up!

Twenty one students from years 7-9 participated in a workshop called the Make your Museum student challenge. This (mutual) learning experience was generated in partnership with Queensland Academies as part of their Young Scholars program.
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71 new Australian Goblin spider species named by QM researcher

Written by: Dr Barbara Baehr, Research Scientist, Terrestrial Environments (Arachnida)

Minute goblin spiders with orange armour are widely distributed but hidden! Goblin spiders have a worldwide distribution but are most common in the tropics and subtropics. Goblin spiders are mega diverse however most of the species are short range endemics living in habitats ranging from forests to deserts. The name Goblin spiders was chosen only a few years ago because of their grotesque body shape. Most of the Goblin spiders are orange colored with an armored body.

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