Spoiler alert: there are many, many photos of spiders down below. Just be warned.
This week has been one of the most fulfilling weeks since I have been in Australia. It involved parrots, researchers, and big spiders. I had another conference in Sydney this weekend. I had applied to present at the Australasian Science Education Research Association when I applied to come to Australia. The conference was at the University of Technology Sydney this week.
On Monday before I headed down to Sydney, I went to the University to do some work. I was invited to have morning tea with the Vice Chancellor and the Education Department. It was a fascinating look at the politics in higher education in Australia. Every country has its own set of issues. The highlight of the afternoon, though, was a pair of rainbow lorikeets hanging outside my window. I’m sure the Deputy Director in the office next to mine was wondering what all the paparazzi was for.
This is why I have taken to bringing my camera with me everywhere.
On Tuesday I took the train down to Sydney again. I had a couple missions I wanted to complete before attending the welcome session at the conference. I went back down to the Rocks, the part of Sydney where I stayed last time. It is quite a little warren of streets and side streets and unexpected sights. As I was trying to find the Spirit Gallery, I came across a series of spaces with old furniture in it. It must have been the part of historic Sydney that they were excavating in the hostel I stayed at when I went down for Vivid.
I was looking for the Spirit Gallery because it is all aboriginal art and didgeridoos. I have been threatening my best friend with bringing her son a didgeridoo as a gift. The art was absolutely beautiful and if I had a bit more of a disposable income, I would have bought several. I particularly liked the ones with sea turtles and some smaller ones that showed people fishing. After exploring the art, it was time to head to the conference.
I won’t write much about the conference other than to say it was absolutely wonderful. I came away with a lot of new connections and some help getting my research rolling. Everyone at this conference was so kind and welcoming and it was an amazing experience. I had a lot of good feedback from my session as well. I was actually disappointed I had only planned to be there for the first day of the conference. It would have been nice to continue networking much longer. Thanks to social media, I was able to get a photo of my presentation.
During the conference, I happened to speak to one of the organizers about my interest in museum educators. It turned out she had a wonderful relationship with the Director of Education at the Australian Museum. Thanks to a couple quick emails, I had a meeting scheduled with her for Thursday morning before I headed back to Newcastle. This gave me an opportunity to explore the Australian Museum.
The Australian Museum was the first public museum in Australia opening in 1827. I was very excited to have a chance to visit the museum as I heard it had an amazing exhibit on spiders. So after my very productive meeting with the education director, she took me into the Spiders exhibit. It was very well done and I could see it doing well in the US. There were several exhibits with live spiders as well as hands-on interactive pieces to help people learn more about spiders. I learned that Australia has a version of the black widow called the redback spider.
In addition to the live exhibits, they had a live feeding demonstration where the educator got out several spiders and fed them. He started with a scorpion and used a blacklight to show off their structural color. They glow green under blacklight. It is part of their exoskeleton and does that whether it is alive, dead, or fossilized.
In addition to the scorpion, he also tried to feed several spider but only one wanted anything to do with the crickets. That was the funnel-web spider. These are very venomous spiders and can be deadly if you are bitten. In the video I took, you can actually see the venom dripping off of her fangs:
After the funnel web spider, he brought out one more spider. The final spider he brought out was very big and apparently very harmless. He took it out of his container and put it up on the window for everyone to see.
Being so close to such a large spider was very uncomfortable for a lot of people. I wonder if they noticed that several of the spiders were kept in Tupperware.
After the feeding, I left the spiders exhibit to go explore the rest of the museum. They had a wonderful exhibit on the aboriginal peoples of Australia. There were historical artifacts as well as current art. It reminded me of our trip to Santa Fe and the Native American Art Museum where the younger generations talked about the importance of letting their culture adapt and change. That it is unfair for people to expect their traditions and crafts to stay unchanged because others don’t want them to evolve with the times.
The rest of the museum was mostly focused on natural history. There was a large room full of taxidermied animals from around the world. It was neat to see some of the local species as well. I found it strange that they used sharks eyes, a shell also called the moon snail, to replace the eyes in some of the species like this crocodile.
The museum totally caught me judging the state of their animal artifacts. A lot of them look very rough. I forgot that they have been collecting them for about 180 years.
I headed up to the next floor which was full of dinosaurs as well as a space talking about how humans interact with wildlife. It was interesting to see them use animal artifacts to show where you find them in everyday life (such birds in your trash). While I was trying to find the gemstone floor I ended up in an area where you were actually allowed to touch the specimens. I think it is very important that museums have opportunities like that because it is the only opportunity most people will have to do so. It also cuts down on people touching things they shouldn’t. I took advantage and touched an echidna.
While at the bookstore the other day, I found a book called the Echidna and the Shade Tree. It explains why the echidna looks as weird as it does. You can see it here.
The lab area also had a variety of stick insects. You could help them look for stick insect eggs that got left in the leaf litter from their cages. You could even ask for a starter kit for your own stick insects.
From the lab, I found their gemstone area. You may not know it, but the first “ologist” I ever wanted to be was a geologist. So I have a soft spot for rocks. I won’t bore you with any photos as they never look as nice.
It was a lovely morning at the museum. I topped it off by heading back to the conference to say goodbye to everyone while they were at lunch. When I had left the night before, I realized I had done so without telling anyone I wasn’t coming back. It was nice to finish up some wonderful conversations with my new connections. I’ve made plans to see many of them in Dublin when we head to ESERA in August.
I had a great time in Sydney once again. Do you enjoy natural history museums? How about Spiders?