Museum Time – Museum of South Australia

(pic - Story) SA Museum - Title

Okay, I’ve actually been here quite a few times (actually more times than I can count) though in recent times it has been more because of a special exhibition as opposed to simply going to the museum to look around. The problem with special exhibitions is that after you have seen them you generally don’t want to go and look around the rest of the museum. Anyway on my recent trip to Adelaide I decided to take my brother to see the museum as the, well museum (and fortunately the special exhibition had to do with opal mining, which I seriously was not interested in, so I basically wasn’t distracted).

The one great thing about the South Australian Museum is that it is free, which is a huge bonus because you have to pay to go and visit the museums in Melbourne and Sydney (though the Brisbane one is free as well). So, after sitting outside on the museum lawns finishing off the rather large cup of tea that I had purchased from Adelaide’s answer to 7-11 (OTR, otherwise known as On The Run, and the main reason why you won’t find a 7-11 in Adelaide, not that you are missing all that much), and watching a pigeon unsuccessfully attempt to pick up some female pigeons for whatever male and female pigeons do when humans aren’t watching them, we went into the museum.

(pic - Story) SA Museum - Pigeon Play
He’s not having much luck

The museum has changed somewhat since I was a kid. I remember that it used to have two huge whale skeletons in the two windows on each side of the entrance. I used to think they were dinosaurs, namely because they were skeletons, and using my rather warped sense of logic I assumed that they must be dinosaurs (since the only skeletons, so I believed, that you would find in a museum would be that of a dinosaur). However my Dad would repeatedly point out that they weren’t dinosaurs, but whales.

It’s not surprising that they have whale skeletons in the museum namely because there used to be a lot of whaling going on off the coast of South Australia. In fact some of the towns in the south-east (such a Beachport) used to be major stops for whaling ships that would ply the Southern Ocean. These days though towns such as Beachport are little more than holiday towns – the era of the whaling ships is now long gone.

Actually, this is a pygmy whale
Not one of the original skeletons.

Actually, they do have what looks like a dinosaur skeleton at the entrance to the museum, standing on the roof of the cloak room glaring down at you, however a part of me doesn’t believe that this is an authentic skeleton. In fact it looks like a model skeleton, namely because dinosaur skeletons aren’t actually bones – they tend to be plaster. The reason for this is that since they were buried under layers of rock for millenia, the bones had rotted away and were replaced with something else, meaning that when the paleontologists dug them up they weren’t digging up bones, just rock.

(pic - Story) SA Museum - Dinosaur
A fitting welcome

Actually, just inside the entrance, where the entrance to the special exhibitions is located, there does happen to be some more realistic remains of a dinosaur, one that was discovered somewhere around Coober Pedy (thus sticking with the theme of the Coober Pedy story). As can see, the skeleton actually isn’t complete, which is one of the big problems that paleontologists face – they have to resort to guess work when trying to work out what the dinosaurs (and megafauna) actually looked like.

(pic - Story) SA Museum - Opal Dinosaur
It certainly isn’t complete

Anyway, they have since done up the entrance gallery since I was a kid, and as well as adding a cloak room there is also a small cafeteria, which I have been to on occasions when friends of mine would have lunch there on a Friday. Mind you I was never all that impressed with the cafeteria, but the main reason I went there was for the company. However, one thing that I did notice was the turtle skeleton hanging above the entrance.

(pic - Story) SA Museum - Turtle Skeleton

The Animal Room

One thing that I have found in a number of museums (in particular Melbourne, but I believe I might have seen something in Brisbane as well) is that they have a room dedicated to stuffed animals. I’m going to have to say that this is probably my least favourite part of the museum, namely because I find it quite boring. Okay, considering the rate at which species are becoming extinct, there will probably be a time when the only place we will be able to see a lot of these animals is in a museum, however I generally prefer to go to the zoo where you at least get to see the animals wandering about (or sleeping as is generally the case, unless you come along at lunch time, which ends up being the animal’s most active period during the day).

As such I didn’t spend all that much time in this gallery because, as I mentioned, it was boring. In fact I didn’t really find anything all that interesting, so I took a few photos and then moved on to the next gallery.

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Okay, I probably have to admit that some people will find this gallery interesting, especially since there is going to be more variety than you would get in a zoo, particularly since some animals are either extinct, or simply not used to the Australian climate, however since they tend to be static I tend not to be anywhere near as interested in the room as I am with other parts of the museum.

Indigenous Galleries

The thing with the South Australian Museum, which seems to be the case with the other state museums around Australia, is that they tend to be quite general with what is on display. They aren’t necessarily focused entirely on natural history, but rather a mix of both cultural history as well. However, obviously, you won’t necessarily find art in the museum, unless of course it is related to a specific topic, and the South Australian museum is actually located in the State Library.

However one of the major parts of the museum does involved anthropology, in particularly that related to the Australian Aboriginals. However, since the topic is deserving of a post to itself, I’ll simply mention here that the Aboriginal gallery covers two levels and is incredibly detailed (and also includes Aboriginal art, but basically explores every aspect of Aboriginal life, though the second level looks at the various nations that where scattered across the continent). Here are some photos from the galleries as well:

The indigenous galleries didn’t just consist of the Australian Aboriginals, but also a gallery dedicated to the Pacific Island nations, in particular those that were close to Australia. One of the interesting things that you see as you wander around these galleries is the variety. This is not surprising considering the tribes of Papua New Guinea don’t communicate with each other all that much due to the mountainous terrain of the region, and the fact that the only way people can get there is by helicopter (or by trekking through the jungle). While the tribes along the coast are more accessible, those found further inland are still cut off from modern society. If you look at a map of New Guinea you will noticed that it is only around the major centre of Port Moresby that there is any real development.

New Guinea was originally a colony of Germany up until the end of World War I, where the administration was then handed over to Australia. However in the 1970s it was given its own sovereignty (as a part of a world wide decolonialisation movement). Yet the country seems to have not prospered, in many cases due to the lack of authority that the central government has. It is not so much that it has very little control over the interior, which it doesn’t due to the inaccessible nature of the terrain, but rather within the population centres itself. It does appear that Australia retained sovereignty over the Torres Straight Islands (the body of water that separates New Guinea from Australia).

Mind you, the sovereignty issues, as I have mentioned, have not resulted in a prosperous society, at least by our standards. The only interests that seem to dominate New Guinea are the mining interests, and a number of years back there was a huge uproar over the Ok Tedi Mine, due to the tailings being dumped into one of the rivers causing problems for the inhabitants further down stream. However further inland you still tend to find people living the traditional tribal life, and the only contact they tend to have with the outside world is with missionaries.

New Guinea wasn’t the only part of this gallery – it also have displays from the Pacific Islands, in particular the Solomon Islands and Fiji. Personally I’ve never been out to that part of the world, and it really doesn’t interest me all that much, however you do encounter quite a few islanders here in Australia. The thing with the Islanders is that anthropologists have been amazed at how the ended up colonising the Pacific Islands with little more than a canoe. The Pacific Ocean is huge, yet they managed to find their way across this vast ocean without any of the modern navigational equipment that we know, in small boats, and with no knowledge of what lay out there. Okay, there may have been a lot of trial and error, but the fact that you find people all over the islands is amazing in and of itself.

However one interesting things that you encounter out here are what are known as cargo cults. During World War II the Americans established bases on these islands, and in many cases they were the first white people that the islanders encountered. When the Americans pulled out at the end of the war they left a lot of stuff behind, of which the islanders then took possession. However the islanders saw the Americans as gods, and the stuff they left behind as being magical artifacts. As such a form of worship development across some of these islands.

Native Species

I could probably spend a lot more time in each of these galleries and write an individual post of each, particularly the anthropological parts of the museum. However it was time to move on to what I could probably consider a less interesting part of the museum. Basically it is what I call the native species gallery, namely because it is full of stuffed native animals. I guess the different between this gallery and the other animal gallery is that you only find animals native to Australia in this room. Mind you, there is also another part of the gallery that contains undersea creatures, and they are not necessarily native animals.

One strange thing I found here though was the baby t-rex that would roar when you put money into the slot.

I did spend a bit of time wandering around here, but like the other gallery, it didn’t interest me all that much. Anyway if I want to see native animals there are plenty of other places around Australia for me to have a look.

Another interesting (or not so interesting) display was what they called the ‘back yard display’, namely creatures that you would find in your average backyard. Mind you, once again if I wanted to know what I could find in my backyard I would simply go outside and look. Usually it consists of cats, birds, and occasionally a lizard. Actually, even with my really small current backyard once again I generally find cats, birds, and the occasional lizard (though once I did find a snake, but that was back in Adelaide).

Ancient Egypt

Finally, I arrived in the gallery that would have to be my favourite in the entire museum: the Ancient Egyptian Gallery. Apparently it is the largest collection of Egyptian Artifacts in Australia, though the actual collection is really, really small. What makes it stand out from the other collections (which as far as I am aware are non-existent) is that there are a couple of mummies. Mind you, when I got here I have to say that I wasn’t as impressed as I was when I was a kid. Mind you, the mummies were still pretty cool, though since I have seen pretty much every Egyptian exhibition that has come to Adelaide (and in some cases Melbourne), as well as paying a visit to the British Museum, I have to say that I have seen my fair share of mummies. As such looking at another body that has been embalmed and wrapped in bandages doesn’t really do huge things for me anymore.

(pic - Story) SA Museum - Mummy1
Just another mummy

Mind you, they do have more things in the room than the mummies, though I suspect that the mummies are what most people come to the museum to see. They also have a number of other artifacts that have been pulled out of tombs over the ages (or as some people have suggested – looted). Mind you, there is a difference between archaeology and grave robbing, and that is that archaeologists don’t rob tombs simply to sell the stuff to the highest bidder, they go into tombs to study an ancient culture, and anything they take tends to land up on display. Mind you, a lot of these countries have now clamped down on taking artifacts out namely because most of them land up in the hands of private collectors.

Another thing that fascinates me about Egyptology collections are the hieroglyphics and wall paintings. However when I went into this room I was sorely disappointed to discover that the wall paintings seem to be little more than decorations that the curators put up especially for this room. In fact I don’t even think they came from Egypt, but rather from a brush that was bought at your local painting supply store. I guess if I want to see some real wall paintings then I’m going to have to go all the way to Egypt.


Geology Room

Well, this was the final gallery that I visited, and I have to admit that I am not a huge fan of geology (that is the study of pretty rocks). I did have a friend who was really into the stuff, and he went off to work in the mining industry (though I’m not sure what happened to him now that the industry has gone belly up, but then again he did work for one of the big miners so I wouldn’t be surprised if he still had a job).

One part of the gallery contained a collection of opal fossils, namely dinosaurs bones that had been made up of opal. Mind you there was also a mega-fauna display here as well (which had nothing to do with rocks, but I suspect they couldn’t find any other place to put them). There was also the standard collection of pretty looking rocks as well, but as I have suggested it really doesn’t interest me that much. Okay, the Antarctica gallery around the corner was a little more interesting, but by this time I was becoming a bit museumed out, so I basically took my brother and headed off to get some lunch.

Creative Commons License


Museum Time – Museum of South Australia by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.

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