Category Archives: Research

Celebrating women in science

We celebrate the achievements of women, known and unknown, remembered and forgotten, who have forged the way for those of us in science today, and to give an opportunity for children: girls and boys, to choose role models in science – Princess Nisreen El-Hashemite, BSc MSc MD PhD

This coming 11 February is International Day of Women and Girls in Science and to celebrate we’re featuring some of the incredible scientists and staff involved in the scientific field across the Queensland Museum Network. Their hard work and excellent contributions often help inspire women and young girls who are interested in following a path in science. We delve into why they chose to get involved in science and what they’ve found most rewarding.

#goals #inspo

Marissa McNamara
Lab Manager and Collection Manager (marine for crustacea)

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I work with preserved crabs, prawns, lobsters and other amazing creatures from around Australia, and I get to see the incredible diversity and beauty of life every day. I also help members of the public identify crustaceans they find (often on the beach or the reef), and it’s fantastic to see what people discover. I feel like I learn something new every day! As an added bonus, for Halloween I get to dress up and show off our ‘creepiest’ looking specimens!

Rebekah Collins
Manager, SparkLab and Discovery Centre

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It is really rewarding to create experiences that support visitor learning, hearing people share their memories, stories and connections with the Museum and the Sciencentre, and seeing how much it means to them, especially those who later go on to study or be involved with science.

Joanne Wilkinson
Senior Fossil Preparator and Geosciences Volunteer Coordinator

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At age 9 I asked for a Chemistry set for Christmas. That’s when my love of litmus paper and the test tubes began. Many years later, combining my interest in fossils and my love of test tubes and laboratories, I find myself Senior Fossil Preparator at Queensland Museum. The most rewarding part of working in the fossil scientific community is the discovery of new sites and new species which add to fossil record of Australia and ultimately to the fossil record of the planet.

Susan Wright
Collection Manager, Terrestrial Environments (Entomology)

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The best part of my job as a Collection Manager is that I get to help a wide range of people, from scientists to artists, to conduct fascinating (sometimes bizarre) research regarding insects, our collections and the people that contribute to them. I learn something new every day.

Chae Swindell
Learning Officer, Future Makers

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The most rewarding part of my role is using our collections and research to develop resources that inspire and excite students, teachers and the community about science!

Christine Lambkin
Curator of Entomology

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I became an entomologist and evolutionary biologist because I am fascinated by the interaction between the incredible beauty and unbelievable diversity of insects, and our attempts to mathematically estimate the relationships between species based on morphology and genetics.

Rochelle Lawrence
Research Assistant and Honorary, Vertebrate Palaeontology

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I chose to get involved in science because of my fascination with the natural world, especially our unique fossil fauna and how they can help us better understand the present and impacts or future environmental change.

Kristen Spring
Collection Manager, Geosciences

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I got into science because although there is too much to discover in one lifetime, I was certainly determined to try!

Susan Turner
DAAD Professor and Honorary Research Fellow, Geosciences

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I got hooked at around eight years old by reading a book on dinosaurs – the joy of finding the right mentor led me into vertebrate palaeontology in my twenties. Five decades on I still get excited knowing I am the first person to see a new fossil specimen, and sometimes have the joy of identifying and naming it for posterity.

Jessica Worthington Wilmer 
Research Fellow and Molecular Identities Lab Manager

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I became a biologist (evolutionary geneticist) to better understand the world I live in and to use that knowledge to help save threatened and endangered species.

Carole J Burrow
Honorary Research Fellow

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The most rewarding aspect of my work in vertebrate palaeontology is working out new information about very old things (300 to 400 million year old fossils) to help our understanding of how the earliest back-boned animals with jaws are related to each other.

Amy Boulding
Head, Lifelong Learning 

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Amy (back) and Rebekah officially opening the doors to SparkLab

I originally got into science because I loved that I could ask lots of questions and go find the answers by getting my hands dirty and exploring the natural world. I’m super proud of now leading the Lifelong Learning team, and seeing all of the ways that my team create and facilitate those life-changing, enlightening, inspiring moments with people on all different themes and stories within the Museum.

Sue-Ann Watson
Senior Curator (Marine Invertebrates)

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Making new discoveries is the most rewarding part of science. Being the first to know something is really exciting.

Barbara Baehr
Arachnologist and “Australian Spider Lady”

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Barbara with her daughter

I chose to get involved in science because it’s great to be at the forefront of discoveries and I love to be a role model for my daughters.

Jessica Johnson 
Learning Officer, SparkLab, and Forensic Scientist

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I chose science when I held a real human brain in my hands and realised that this was a person, that 1.5kgs was everything that made someone them, and there’s nothing more rewarding then seeing the look on a child’s face when they understand something new and exciting about science.

Claire Chakrabarti
Learning Officer, SparkLab

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I was the child that always asked why and I chose to pursue a career in science as it provided the answers.

Susan Wightley 
Information Officer, Discovery Centre 

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I have always been fascinated by the huge variety of animals, the adaptations to their environment and how they interact with it and each other. I am in my dream job helping people understand and appreciate the complexity and awesomeness of the natural environment around them.

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A Toy Train for Christmas

“I remember clearly the Christmas my parents decided I was old enough to have a model railway all of my own. Saturday mornings were spent in the local hobby shop. I was awe struck by the rows of gleaming model locomotives in glass display cabinets, with little handwritten price tags propped up neatly next to each engine. The present I opened up on Christmas day was a complete surprise, I missed the Hornby Train set high up on a shelf in the shop containing a little blue steam engine (that I named Bob) a few goods wagons and a circle of track. It was magic and the start of something much bigger” – David Hampton, Curator of Transport, The Workshops Rail Museum.

For many train travel and Christmas are closely linked. The excitement of train trips home to spend the holidays with family and friends conjure up fond memories. For more than a century trains were the way most people completed long distance travel. Letters, cards and gifts also crossed the country by rail, connecting people across vast distances and communicating love and well wishes between those that couldn’t be together for Christmas.

For others, like myself, the origins of a lifelong passion for railways began with the gift of a toy train for Christmas. The tradition of giving toy and model trains as Christmas presents is almost as old as the railways themselves, tracing the advance of technology and changing tastes in leisure activities. Originally marketed as toys for boys, today model railways are a pastime enjoyed by people of all ages the world over. The trains themselves, once robust and simple caricatures are now delicate and detailed scale models representing as accurately as possible the real thing.

The Workshops Rail Museum in Ipswich is home to hundreds of model and toy trains, most of which are held safely in the museum’s collection store. However, as Christmas treat I’ve gone through the collection and picked out some of my favourites to share with you.

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Until the First World War toy trains were large, expensive and exclusive. Most were made in Germany and were play things for the rich. They were mostly powered by clockwork mechanisms or live steam.

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Things changed after the war. German made goods fell from favour and mass production made toy trains more affordable. A demand for British made products inspired Frank Hornby –creator of Meccano – to branch out into toy trains in the early 1920s.

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Hornby became one of the most popular toy train brands in the world.  Produced in O Gauge the range developed into a comprehensive toy railway system that included locomotives (available with either electric or clockwork mechanisms), rolling stock, track, signals, buildings, figures and scenery.

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But even in the 1920s people were running out of room as houses and living spaces became smaller. The toy trains available took up the floor of a room for even a basic railway set up. An early attempt to make a more compact railway system was the Bing Table Top Railway, which as its name suggests could be set up and played with on the dining room table.

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After the war toys were still scarce. In Australia brothers George and Bill Ferris couldn’t find train sets to buy their children for Christmas 1946. They decided instead that their car radio business would start manufacturing their own range of O gauge trains. Ferris Electric Trains was one of a number of small ventures that made toy trains in Australia in the 1940s and 1950s. These toys were based largely on Australian trains – the first time models of trains running on Australian tracks were made in commercial quantities.

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As technologies and manufacturing techniques changed in the 1950s, so too did model railways. Trains were being made in plastic rather than tin, smaller scales like HO/OO became more popular and the old O gauge trains fell from favour.

By the 1960s model trains were struggling to adapt to changing tastes and interests. The influence of television, cheap imported toys and declining interest in railways contributed to companies like Hornby suffering financial difficulties and eventually closing down.

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Despite this decline in popularity model trains endured. Marketing shifted from toys for children to accurate and detailed models for serious collectors. Models Railways became a pass time for model builders, researchers and enthusiasts.

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Model train collections come in all shapes and sizes. One of the most remarkable collections in Australia is that of business man Marsden Williams. Mr Williams amassed a collection of 20,000 individual pieces of rolling stock in various scales from across the world between the 1970s and 1990s. After Mr Marsden passed away half of this collection was donated to the Workshops Rail Museum.

Until the 28th of January 2019 visitors to Cobb & Co Museum in Toowoomba can see a small display of Marsden’s collection including locomotives from Europe, America and Japan. Out at the Workshops Rail Museum in Ipswich the process of researching and conserving the various collections of model and toy trains in the museum’s care continues behind the scenes. Out on the museum floor an enormous model based on the railways of Queensland operates every day, capturing the imagination of visitors young and old. I wonder if there is a future Curator of Transport amongst them.

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A Man From Glamorganvale

Mephisto, the world’s only remaining German First World War tank is without doubt a unique and fascinating object. Visitors come from across the world to see it, and many words have been written about it. It is also a treasured object to many Queenslanders who remember it out the front of the old Museum on Gregory Terrace, or lurking menacingly in the Dinosaur Garden of Queensland Museum at Southbank. But it is also close to the hearts of Museum staff and volunteers – one more than most.

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Lance Barrett, Queensland Museum Volunteer, 2018.

My name is Lance Barrett, and I am a Front of House volunteer, meeting and greeting the public when they visit the museum. My paternal Grandfather William Joseph “Bill” Barrett played a part in the history of the Mephisto tank. As my grandfather passed away some years ago, I am only now coming to realise the significance of his experiences. During the 1980s my grandfather was interviewed by Queensland Museum and attended a function here but I would have been busy working at my job at Telstra then and missed it. Years later, when I joined the Sciencentre and the Museum, I began to understand that he was actually present around the time of the capture of the Mephisto and was interviewed when he was 90 about his experiences.

My grandfather enlisted in 1916, a boy from Glamorganvale, just 18 years old and fresh of the farm when he signed up. Before leaving he planted a number of Moreton Bag Fig seeds in the plot on his family farm, in case the worst should happen. By March 1917 he was on the Western Front, was wounded in battle at Broodseinde (Belgium) and returned to his unit in France in July 1918. In October he was transferred to the 26th Battalion who retrieved the tank and sent it on its way to Brisbane. At the interview with then Queensland Museum Curator, Mark Whitmore, my grandfather spoke about how he saw Mephisto when he was relieving troops holding an outpost beyond the tank.

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William Joseph “Bill” Barrett, circa 1916.

In my role as a Front of House volunteer I regularly visited the display Courage of Ordinary Men. It made me think about my grandfather’s war experience, and really personalised the First World War for me. In 2012 my Dad visited the European battlefields, including Villers-Bretonneux, to see where his father had fought. When he brought home photos, it made me feel so connected with my grandfather and his experiences. Added to this, other relatives have served in the military over the years, including both World Wars and Vietnam. One distant cousin received a DCM in World War 2, and my Dad served in peace time. With all these family connections, and talking to visitors to the Courage of Ordinary Men exhibition, I felt everything fall into place because so many of my relatives have served our country – a family history of service. I have wondered whether I could do that – it seems to me the ultimate bravery.

Members of the Barrett family in 1986, with Mephisto. L to R : Darrell and Elaine Barrett (nee Harding), Barbara Douglas (nee Barrett), Elaine Barrett, Bill Barrett (centre), Glenda Barrett, Vivian Griffiths and Kelvin Barrett.

Now, when I talk to visitors about war time, I challenge them to think about what it really meant for the men and women who served. And today as I look at Mephisto, newly installed in the Anzac Legacy Gallery, I find myself thinking again of my grandfather, standing at an outpost on the Western Front, looking across at this tank, just after it had been captured. And once again feel that wonderful connection to my grandfather, William Joseph “Bill” Barrett. I think about our family, my Aunts and Uncles, most of who are still with us, who are so proud of Grandad, their Dad, and his role in the First World War.

Stories in living colour

By Dr Geraldine Mate, Principal Curator, History, Industry and Technology, Queensland Museum

When I was asked to say a few words at the opening of the new Anzac Legacy Gallery, I thought “yes, that would be great”…then they said three to four minutes and I thought that would be impossible. I could talk for an hour, but how could I fit so many incredible stories into four minutes?!

And there are literally hundreds of incredible stories. Stories about bravery under fire, quiet moments in war, about women who cared enough to devote months and even years of their lives to giving to others, of cruel internment, of men who stoically bore injuries and illness as an aftermath of war, and of those who never returned.

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This gallery, however, is not just one of wartime one hundred years ago. It’s also about the Queensland we live in today, a Queensland where unexpected events are tied by filaments back to the First World War, where tea cosies, place names and even robots can be seen through the lens of time as having a link to the war.

But this war, and its link to Queensland, was not in sepia, or black and white, but affected and embroiled real people. And people are at the centre of the stories presented here, stories that we are privileged to be able to tell. These stories could not be told without the objects that were loaned and or donated to us by the descendants of the original owners of the special objects that make up the gallery.

I would like to thank all of you, from the bottom of my heart, for your involvement in the gallery – in ways both big and small. It may not seem much at times – a phone conversation about your grandparents, lending us a photograph, or coming in briefly to look at something donated years ago – but for me as one of the curators for the gallery, it meant an enormous amount, allowing us to get a more personal glimpse into the lives of the men and women we are telling these stories about.

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This would be a good point to acknowledge that this gallery is first and foremost a team effort. There were a large number of Curators and collection managers involved over the course of the project, as well as other colleagues in different roles who brought the project together. The project management team, Graphic Design, Exhibition Design, the Exhibition Services team, our amazing Conservation team, and last but by no means least the teams at Architectus and Romeo who brought the curatorial vision to life.

That’s one of the exciting things about doing an exhibition. You start out with a single idea – “let’s do a gallery about World War One and its impact in Queensland”. There’s the discovery phase where you look at the objects in the collection and reveal the stories about them; the hard graft stage where you write the stories, finalise the object selection, and choose photographs, and write some more; the creative phase where you work with designers to create a space that suits the gallery and case layouts that tell the stories to their best advantage; and then the final push to get objects conserved, to build and install cases, and polish the glass before opening day. As a curator, it’s pretty exciting seeing the objects and stories that have going around in your head for months or even years suddenly before you, in three dimensions and living colour.

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The idea of living colour was particularly important to me as a way to connect in the gallery with the real life stories, and this was an objective for us ­– connecting with the people – the men and women who were part of the war, or lived with its aftermath, and those who have continued to impact Queensland today.

Women like Elsie Wright who by day helped her husband farm on their soldier settlement block after his return from the war, and by night embroidered to support their family. Men like Caleb Shang, a book-keeper from Cairns who was awarded the DCM, or Henry Dalziel, an apprentice in the Railways from Atherton, who was awarded the Victoria Cross.

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These stories are yours – the families of the men and women who’s lives we reveal a little of in this gallery. Thank you again for your donations, stories and photographs. Thank you for the privilege of a small glimpse into your family’s history. I hope you enjoy the gallery, and feel proud of the stories we are telling of your loved ones to the many, many people who visit Queensland Museum.

As you look around the exhibition we hope that you find a touch point – perhaps in a story, funny or poignant, or in the sheer size of the undertaking of war and the long impact of the war in Queensland; and that you leave with a new view of the Legacy of our Anzacs.

Daily discoveries are coming to you

While the Discovery Centre is being renovated our most popular displays are still on show. Every day at 11.00am and 2.00pm our amazing Daily Discoveries will pop up anywhere! So keep an eye out for them these school holidays…

Get up close and personal with a stick insect! We have Goliath Stick Insects, among the largest insects in Australia, breeding here in the museum. There are also Children’s Stick Insects, which look like gum leaves, and bizarre Spiny Leaf Insects, with ragged leafy legs to resemble dead leaves. You will be amazed at how our stick insects have truly mastered the art of camouflage. You can even help us sort their eggs, and count the tiny nymphs that hatch out here every day.

Or maybe you prefer fossils? Fancy holding a Diprotodon tooth? That was the biggest marsupial that ever lived, a bit like a giant wombat, so it’s pretty impressive. Fossil bones of this animal turn up in many parts of Queensland. For that matter, how can you tell if a piece of rock is actually fossil bone? How are fossils formed? What’s a pseudofossil? You will find out the answers to these and much more.

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This month there will be some monkey business as we welcome Monkeys! A Primate Story, opening 29 September. This new exhibition lets you learn about our shared evolutionary history, and the weird and wonderful mammals that make up the primate family tree. We have some fascinating skulls to share as part of our Daily Discoveries, featuring our distant and not so distant relatives.  Did you know a tarsier has eyes so big they cannot move in their sockets? Or that male mandrill teeth are fearfully large and sharp to terrify their rivals? Subjects change regularly so always be prepared for something new.

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So where do you find us?  We display various objects on a mobile trolley so we get around. Ask our floor staff and they will be happy to point you in the right direction, or you can look for the Daily Discoveries banner on Levels 2 and 4. And make sure you bring your curiosity because there is plenty to learn in our Daily Discoveries!

‘Primate lineup’ – can you identify our distant and not so distant relatives from their replica primate skulls

24 – 28 September and 1 – 5 October

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Flying antennae

The helpful and knowledgeable staff of the Queensland Museum Network often assist members of the public with the identification of insect, animal, fossil and geological specimens. Our experts also answer questions about Queensland’s animals, rocks and fossils, people and history. In this section, we share some of these questions and answers with our readers.   

QUESTION:
I found this intriguing-looking insect in a sealed tank of tadpoles. Is it a cranefly and if so, how did it get there? Is that long extension from the head incredibly long antennae or its proboscis? I can’t see whether the point of attachment is the head or mouth!

Continue reading Flying antennae

Following the paper trail

When it comes to growing the State Collection, objects find their path to the Queensland Museum Network in a variety of ways. Objects are often acquired, such as the purchasing of art works or other items of significance. Other times, we receive an object through a donation or cultural gift. But in some cases, an object is so old and so rare that we aren’t even sure exactly how we received it to begin with – perhaps even through chance.

Continue reading Following the paper trail