"Weird and Wonderful: The First Objects of the National Historical Collection"

Robin, Libby | from Multimedia Library Collection:

Robin, Libby. “Weird and Wonderful: The First Objects of the National Historical Collection.” reCollections 1, no. 2 (September 2006).


Sir Colin MacKenzie started collecting Australian marsupials during the very early years of the twentieth century because he was afraid they were rapidly becoming extinct. His collection of ‘wet specimens’ preserved the marsupials’ anatomical and physiological material for scientific study. The significance of this collection to the nation was recognised by legislation in 1924, which proposed that the collection should ‘form the nucleus of an Institute of Zoology to be established later at Canberra’. MacKenzie’s collecting was praised at the time as ‘an act of practical patriotism the merit of which it would be hard to over-estimate’.

The story of how these zoological specimens became ‘history’, and among the first objects covered by the legislation for the National Historical Collection under the National Museum of Australia Act 1980, reveals as much about the changing nature of museums and national collections in the twentieth century as about the aspirations of the original, rather eccentric collector. (Excerpt from the article)

© Libby Robin 2006. Click here to view the article.

reCollections is an independent, peer-reviewed journal from the National Museum of Australia. It focuses on two main areas: museology and museum practice; and the history and interpretation of objects and the social and environmental history of material culture. It welcomes contributions relating to the role of museums in society, museum practice, and the history, collection, interpretation and display of museum collections. Articles should relate specifically to Australia and the Asia-Pacific region, or confront issues that are broadly relevant to museums or material history.


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