MAAS Magazine

Life and Death in the Museum

The MDC’s Life and Death in the Museum tours offer fascinating stories on Museum objects that have impacted on the life and death of people around the world.  

Antarctic boots used during the 1966 ANARE at Mawson station
Antarctic boots used during the 1966 ANARE at Mawson station. MAAS Collection

The Life and Death in the Museum tours are run by volunteers Lesley Cherry and Peter Martin at the Museums Discovery Centre (MDC) in Castle Hill. They explore a variety of objects that have impacted on or continue to impact on the life and death of people throughout the world. The concept is examined through objects of art, design, technology, science, mythology and, above all, stories of the human experience.

The tours are inspired by a similar one that was run a few years ago by former MAAS curator Sandra McEwen, who took a group of volunteers through H Store in Castle Hill. Lesley and Peter were keen to extend this idea for the MDC after the site’s major refurbishment was completed in 2016.

Topics covered in the Life and Death in the Museum tour include improved health care, weaponry, sanitation, worker safety, maritime safety and harm prevention. From chairs to miners’ safety lamps, and model snakes to ceramic figures, the tour gives insight into the fascinating stories behind the objects that have helped sustain human life or, in certain instances, represent its demise.

One example is the surf lifesaving reel from about 1960. Surf lifesaving clubs originated in Australia in response to drownings at Sydney beaches. In 1906 Lyster Ormsby of the Bondi Surf Bathers Lifesaving Club made a model of a surf reel using a cotton reel and two hairpins. The first full-sized reel was built by Sergeant John Bonds and was subsequently improved by local coach builder CH Olding, whose final design was used until 1993. It is said the first person saved on Bondi Beach by a lifesaving reel was a nine-year-old Charles Kingsford-Smith.

Protective clothing used during the 1966 Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions (ANARE) at Mawson, Australia’s first permanent station on the Antarctic continent, demonstrates how harm prevention has helped prolong life. Conditions on Antarctica are physically demanding, with temperatures at the Mawson base often plummeting to below -30 degrees Celsius.

Surf reel from South Curl Curl Surf Life Saving Club
Surf reel from South Curl Curl Surf Life Saving Club, about 1960. MAAS Collection.

The boots, goggles and mittens on display at the MDC constitute parts of a complete set of outer clothing issued to the ANARE, and were donated to the Museum by Dr Peter Towson, geophysicist to the party.

Medical equipment is also a feature of the tour, focusing on innovations that have improved health management. Sydney-based inventor Stan Clark designed and made the first portable musical blood-glucose meter for a diabetic child who was blind. The device played different tunes to indicate different glucose levels, making it an excellent example of design for people with specific disabilities.

Visit the Museums Discovery Centre for more information.

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