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Dry Facts and Wet Specimens on show

15 SEPTEMBER 2003

A rarely seen collection of historical specimens, including a thylacine carcass and two-headed snake, will be on display during a special backstage tour at the National Museum of Australia this Wednesday.

The collection of more than 2000 rare and endangered animals is held in jars of preserving fluid and includes an early developmental sequence which helped unravel the mystery of platypus reproduction.

"This wet specimen collection not only includes valuable biological samples, but it shows us how early scientists grappled with the curious biology of Australian marsupials and other animals," National Museum Director Dawn Casey said.

Most of the wet specimens were collected and preserved by Melbourne surgeon Sir Colin MacKenzie between 1919 and 1938. Sir Colin gave the collection to the Commonwealth and it ended up in Canberra, where he was the first director of the Australian Institute of Anatomy.

This collection was transferred to the National Museum in 1984, and some artefacts are displayed in the Museum's Tangled Destinies gallery, which explores the environmental history of the Australian continent.

The Dry Facts and Wet Specimens tour takes a behind-the-scenes look at the bulk of the collection, which is kept in the Museum's repository, due to space limitations.

Curator Mat Trinca and conservator Patrya Kay will explain the continuing relevance of the collection, how it is conserved and the tension between its scientific and historical values.

The Dry Facts and Wet Specimens tour is being held at the National Museum of Australia's Mitchell repository, 9-13 Vicars Street, from 10-11.30am this Wednesday, 17 September. Media are welcome. Public bookings: 6208 5048.

NOTE: One of the National Museum's other significant Institute of Anatomy objects, Phar Lap's heart, was last week removed from display.

The heart has been on show at Acton since the Museum opened in 2001. It will be returned to the galleries once a new permanent display system has been designed.

For more information please contact Public Affairs Director Martin Portus on 02 6208 5351, 0409 916 481 or email m.portus@nma.gov.au