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Tasmanian Connections:

What might have been

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The new exhibition, Tasmanian Connections (also called 'IGP', or Inveresk Gallery Project, in many of the earlier documents), was one of two primary focal points of work in the Natural Sciences department, and the one most fiercely resisted by my staff.

I believe that it acts as microcosm for the very essence of what went wrong:

  • My staff rejected the project as a priorty
  • They refused to engage or contribute to the project
  • The project went ahead without them through the use of volunteers and extensive contributions by senior staff
  • The outcome was compromised

Sadly, in this case, the Natural Science portion of the Tasmanian Connections was beheaded 6 months before completion, and the final product is just a haunting shadow of what it was designed to be. None of my work or the work of the volunteers was used. None.

 

Since the new exhibition opened at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery on 16 December 2010, many people have commented that it really shines. On the one hand, this makes me happy to hear, because I put my heart and soul into it. On the other hand, it makes me well up with tears to think that people are excited about something that, at least for the Zoology portion, is utterly mediocre in comparison to what it was going to be. Imagine how "wow" it would have been, if only...

It makes me incredibly sad to think about the future of the QVMAG. Here is a Museum that has long held the status of the state museums, even though it is not one of them. It has been able to exploit its City-ownership to be quicker on its feet and more maneuverable than it's red-tape-bound state cousins. The QVMAG has been punching above its weight for a long long time... until recently. The visionary Director who breathed life into its suffocating body was sacked. The stunning cutting edge exhibitions that were going to give the state museums a run for their money have been downgraded and decimated to a shell of what they were designed to be. And it is terribly sad that everyone is raving about how wonderful it is, completely unaware of what it was going to be.

 

Modern clutter-free electronic labelling

The main plinth with the mammals and birds was going to be clutter-free, with four touch-screen computers containing fact-sheet style labels for each creature, all organised photographically. These labels are all completed and really fabulous, thanks to the tireless and mostly volunteer work of Ms Jane Taylor and Ms Georgia Luck. The labelling was going to be mirrored on the internet, so that it was accessible from anywhere as a sort of Virtual Tour of the Museum. Sadly, none are apparently in use. Instead, each specimen has a small printed label in the old museum style, containing very little natural history information.

Old-style labelling, rather than the modern e-labelling with fact sheets mirrored on the web

 

Simply awe-inspiring Tasmanian biodiversity

The four glass cases around the main plinth were to be stuffed full of eye-catching and interesting specimens giving the viewer a truly stunning view of Tasmania's biodiversity, all, again, with electronic labelling on the touch-screens. There were going to be pigeon-holes with marine invertebrates, freshwater invertebrates, terrestrial invertebrates, pinned insects, wet insects, small mammals, birds, shells, nests... you name it. All there, a whopping percentage of the collection, up close and personal. The aim was to give the visitor a feeling of being behind the scenes of the Museum, where the shelves and drawers are packed with the full glory of Tasmania's flora and fauna, arranged in a biologically meaningful and electronically assessible way.

Instead, the pigeon-holes in the cases have sparingly arranged specimens that look like they were "just put there" at the last minute. Compare the photos below, and you decide which is more interesting...

A photo of one of the pigeon-hole exhibitions in Tasmanian Connections

 

Photo of what we were aiming for

A representation of what a pigeon-hole in Tasmanian Connections was going to look like, along with touch-screen labelled electronic fact-sheets for each species

 

Immigration and Emmigration that would have dropped your jaw

The small side area where the thylacine specimens are, was meant to focus on immigration and emmigration of Tasmania's biodiversity, e.g., species coming in and species going out.

  • As you walk into this room with the birds and mammals behind you, to the right you would have seen a whole wall case featuring the new species discovered by scientists past and present at the QVMAG.
  • On the far side of that, you would have seen a cabinet with pull out shallow drawers featuring some of our more stunning specimens from our herbarium collection.
  • To the left, along the back wall, you would have seen two large cases featuring the yin and yang of introduced species and extinction, presented in a way to illustrate the relationship between these two competing pressures on our delicate ecosystem. We were going to put the controversial fox specimens on display, and some of our most precious extinct and endangered specimens. It was gonna be fabulous.
  • Farther to the left, between the thylacines and the geology exhibition, there was meant to be a large wall-screen video explaining about biodiversity (2010 was the International Year of Biodiversity). The last discussion we had just days before I was removed, was deciding to ask Tim Flannery if he would be available to do the video.

None of this work was retained once I was stood down. Now, if I understand correctly, there is simply a case with two thylacines and a skull, that's all. No Biodiversity theme, no features of the QVMAG's contributions to science, no orchids, no foxes, nothing.

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