Keeping a collection of Tasmanian Flora and Fauna
Natural History collections tour
11am to 1pm
Tuesday 17 September
A rare opportunity to explore the QVMAG Natural Sciences collection, meet the staff responsible for their care and get some tips on starting or maintaining your own collection.
As this networking event is being organised by David Maynard, an AMaGAT Committee Member, I took the opportunity to share some of David's background and passion for his job as Curator of Natural Sciences.
When did you first become interested in a career in science?
I first became interested in the aquatic environment as a teenager when I dammed the local creek (as kids do) and found to my surprise all these animals appear in the waterless creek. Don't worry, I quickly released the water and everything survived. But this exposure to life below the water's surface was a formative experience. I quickly became a professional-amateur in freshwater fishes, and this in turn led to me studying fisheries and the marine environment at the Australian Maritime College (AMC).
Did you collect bugs or rocks or shells as a child?
As a child I spent a lot of time outdoors catching frogs and fish or exploring the natural environment. I bought a lot of animals home to keep in Mums terrarium. Mum let a lot of animals go! I spent holidays in Tasmania's central highlands, a very different environment to suburbia. We explored a lot - kicked out of the shack after breakfast and expected back before dark. Insects, reptiles and fish were always being discovered.
You have been working with QVMAG for many years. Do you remember how you felt when you first saw the natural sciences collection?
I have been working at QVMAG for seven years now. I have fond memories of the Museum from my childhood. Later I volunteered (after uni) for a short time. I was FACINATED with the collections. I felt privileged to go into the collections. I felt responsible for the specimens and data. Suddenly, working in the Museum was my priority but I never really expected that the opportunity would arise.
I spent 13 years lecturing at the AMC/UTAS in my specialist area. Near the end of this time I had the opportunity to curate a photographic exhibition of underwater photography. This was a great success and the timing was perfect as the curators position soon became vacant. It was a significant career change. My lack of experience in the curatorial sector has not held me back. If anything I was able to bring fresh eyes, new ideas and passion to the role. I believe that you never stop learning, and I was (and continue) to learn from my peers.
QVMAG has collections of animals, plants, geology and paleontology. Do you have a favourite group? What about a favourite specimen or drawer?
The collections are vast and each time I go through an area I look in a different draw or cabinet. Every time that I think I have a favourite I find something new that rivals it. Amongst the older collection objects are botanical specimens collected by RC Gunn in 1854 - these remind me of the role that I have (this collection needs to last in perpetuity). Or fish and shark mounts that predate 1897. Or megafauna remains that date to 40 000 years ago, when the first Tasmanians entered the landscape - again, the history of the collection is inspiring. In the newer parts of the collections are Papua New Guinea birds of paradise - beautiful representations of the evolutionary process. What I am passionate about now is the contemporary collection of spiders and insects - this is because I have helped to focus the Museums efforts on these groups, and I have helped expand the collections and been able to publish our research. Systematically growing a collection and interpreting it is very rewarding.
Why do you think its important to have such a collection?
Our job is to preserve a physical record of biodiversity through time and across the region. A collection of fauna and flora is like a library. It tells you what lived where and when. It tells stories, like changes in habitat or climate. We can learn a lot about the past, present and forecast the future. Also, on a national scale our collection is one piece of a nationally distributed collection of natural history. This makes our collection important as it both differs and crosses over with many other collections. Together these many collections record Australia's biodiversity.
What are your top three tips for small museums who have a natural sciences collection?
Know what you have (species/core data/provenance/get a database), understand their significance (scientific, historical, cultural) and understand their care and maintenance needs (environmental, appropriate storage, appropriate handling, pest control.
What about your best tip if a small museum would like to start such a collection?
Be very sure that this is something that the museum wants to commit to for the long term.
Understand what is most appropriate for the museum to collect (maybe a particular group, or maybe a cross-section from a particular location).
Understand the legalities of collecting and keeping a collection.
Be able to curate, conserve and house a growing collection well after current staff have moved on (storage area, storage furniture, environment, expertise).
Seek advice, build relationships.
QVMAG is opening the vaults on 17 September. Apart from meeting you who else will be on hand to answer their questions?
Judy Rainbird and Simon Fearn, Collections Officers will be on hand to talk about their areas of expertise and their experiences. We will try to answer all of your questions on the day but we do expect to have homework!
Sounds great David. What a privilege to see this august collection. We can't wait.
RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or 63233798 by 15 September.
Charge: free to members; $10 for non-members. Includes refreshments.