Inside the Collection

Once Upon a Try: MAAS Collection on Google Cultural Institute

A digitally produced graphic designed to look like a paper cutout artwork. The graphic features planets, speceships and an astronomer looking through a telescope, against a landscape of green and blue mountain-like features. At the top of the image is a real photograph of the Space Shuttle launching.
Once Upon a Try: A journey of invention and discovery. Image: Google

Google Cultural Institute is an online platform which brings together the collections of hundreds of museums and galleries around the world. Its goal is to make these amazing collections free and accessible to all. Using the latest technology, Google have partnered with cultural institutions to digitise collection objects, interpret them through new online exhibits, and reveal 360-degree views of their buildings and grounds.

MAAS has been part of the Google Cultural Institute since 2015. Through the platform you can explore our Powerhouse and Sydney Observatory sites. We’ve created online exhibits that help reveal the breadth and depth of our collection, from high fashion to health and medicine, and digitised more than 250 individual objects for online visitors to explore.

3 separate images in a grid. Top left: top down-view of an plastic medical case with a transparent blue lid. Inside are several indicator lights, receptacles, and a syringe. Top right: A coiled series of thin plastic tubes, within which can be seen wires and 1cm long metal sensors. At one end of the tubes are bright green plastic clips or plugs. Bottom: top down view of an open metal case with a dark blue lid. Inside the case are a series of nozzles and a vial and below that a pen-like insulin injector.
Examples of Australian medical innovations. Top left: Spray-on skin processing unit, Avita Medical Ltd, WA, 2013, MAAS Collection: 2013/106/1. Top Right: Fibre optic manometry catheter, designed and made by John Arkwright, Ian Underhill, Neil Blenman, Simon Maunder, Australia, 2005- 2008, MAAS Collection: 2017/10/1. Bottom: HumaPen insulin injector, Eli Lilly and Company, Australia, 1997-1999, MAAS Collection: 2013/24/1. Images: MAAS

This week, Google launched a new theme Once Upon a Try: A journey of invention and discovery, which explores and celebrates the way in which we, as humans, are constantly pushing the boundaries in all facets of our lives – and what happens when we do. Ranging from serious and thought-provoking to humorous and bizarre, the objects offered by different institutions look at the sometimes-stumbling journey from idea to success, the risks taken by explorers of Earth and Space to bring us new knowledge, and the everyday inventions we rarely think of that have changed our lives.

As part of the Once upon a try theme, MAAS has released a new online exhibit called Ingenuity and Innovation. The MAAS collection celebrates human ingenuity in all its forms, and in this exhibit, we’ve focused on Australian contributions – some you might have heard of, and others less well-known.

Two images above one another. Both images are banknotes designs from an Australian $10 note. One side depicts an Aboriginal man with body painting. The other shows a tall ship moored in a cove.
Safeguarding our money with science. Plastic Banknotes, Reserve Bank, Australia, 1988, MAAS Collection: 90/598. Images: MAAS
Two images side by side. Left: highly polished dark grey sphere on granite stand. Reflections of the lab in which the photograph was taken can be seen. Right: cylindrical metal device with several concentric rings of metal leading to a hollow interior.
Scientific progress and discoveries. Left: Silicon sphere, made by CSIRO, Sydney, 1994, MAAS Collection: 2016/32/1. Right: Feedhorn, Parkes Radio Telescope, CSIRO, 1969-1973, MAAS Collection: 97/289/1. Images: MAAS

The set naturally includes examples of science and technology, and stories of both early and modern-day explorers – but also looks at how human ingenuity is expressed in the fields of art, design, architecture and fashion, and highlights the often-unrecognised scientific knowledge and engineering skills held by Indigenous Australians, which existed long before white settlement. There are medical and safety devices that are improving people’s lives, and developments in renewable energy that are helping sustain our planet.

Two images side by side. Left: A red dress which appears to be made of red petals or scales, on a white mannequin. Right: Ceramic peacock sculpture featuring deep blue and green glazes.
Pushing the boundaries in fashion and art. Left: Kinematics Petals Dress II, Nervous Systems Inc, USA, 2016, MAAS Collection: 2016/29/1. Right: Peacock, Mintons, England, c. 1873-75, MAAS Collection: A9868. Images: MAAS
Two images side by side. Left: Model of a green submarine. There are various panels and instruments on the exterior of the vehicle. Right: Black and yellow weatherproof jacket with fur around the hood. There is an Australian flag on one sleeve and the name 'CAS' written on the chest.
Exploring the Earth’s surface and oceans. Left: Model, DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible, designed by James Cameron and Ron Allum, Sydney, 2012, MAAS Collection: 2013/85/1. Right: GoreTex jackets from ‘Crossing the Ice’ expedition, MAAS Collection: 2013/62/37. Images: MAAS
Two images side by side. Left: simple wooden boomerang. Right: sepia photograph of a river system featuring Indigenous-designed fish traps.
Examples of Indigenous Australian innovations. Left: Boomerang, found in Sydney’s Eastern suburbs, MAAS Collection: 2013/23/15. Right: Photograph, ‘Brewarrina Fish Traps’, possibly taken by Henry King, c. 1880-1900, MAAS Collection: 96/79/1. Image: MAAS
Two images side by side. Left: A glass prism to with are attached various strips of metal. Right: a rectangular metal box with 'Danger HOT' sign and various analogue and digital displays on the front. There is also a cylindrical metal 'pipe' protruding from the front of the furnace, through which materials can be fed.
New technologies for renewable energy and recycling. Left: Photovoltaic mini-module, ‘Spectrum Splitting Prism’, Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics, UNSW, Sydney, 2014-2016, MAAS Collection: 2016/46/1. Right: Furnace, SMaRT group, UNSW, MAAS Collection: 2016/4/1. Images: MAAS

But perhaps my favourite inclusion of all is the humble dual-flash toilet cistern. Our bathroom habits are something most of us spend little time thinking about, and yet the flushing of toilets accounts for a considerable chunk of any household’s or business’s water consumption. By introducing separate half (3L) and full flush (6L) buttons, this Australian invention has drastically reduced water usage. The dual flush has been almost universally adopted around Australia and is now mandatory in all new buildings. And in a country plagued by drought that is a great thing.

Front on view of a toilet cistern with white plastic top with half and full flush buttons visible. The cistern is made of clear plastic to reveal the inner workings.
Saving water in drought-plagued country. Dual-flush toilet cistern, dual made by Caroma Industries Limited, Adelaide, 1990. MAAS Collection: 92/282. Image: Ryan Hernandez, MAAS

You can explore MAAS’s Ingenuity and Innovation set here, and see the contributions of all 119 institutes involved in the Once Upon a Try project here. MAAS’s entire collection of more than 500 000 objects is also available through our Online Collection.

Ingenuity and Innovation was curated by Assistant Curators Sarah Reeves and Nina Earl, with Digital Production by Media Production Coordinator Ryan Hernandez.

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