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Phar Lap's heart too risky to send to NZ

19 JANUARY 2006

The National Museum of Australia in Canberra has decided, in consultation with the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, not to send the preserved heart of the race horse Phar Lap to the Wellington museum for a short-term loan.

It had been planned to loan the heart to Te Papa to coincide with a celebration marking the centenary of the Wellington Racing Club's track, Trentham.

"We did our level best to loan the heart," said the Museum's general manager in charge of collections, Freda Hanley. "We knew the risks, and did our best to mitigate them."

Advised by vibration experts that keeping the heart in its preserving fluid could subject it to damage in transport, in preparation for travel, Museum conservators removed it for the first time in some 20 years to assess the heart's condition. In doing this they saw the tissue was unexpectedly fragile and discovered a tear about 1.5 centimetres long.

Having weighed the risk and in consultation with Te Papa, the Museum has decided to keep the heart in Canberra.

"As custodians of this national icon, we agreed that moving the heart would be unwise," Ms Hanley said. "The tear will be repaired and the heart will continue to be seen and enjoyed by visitors for many years to come."

Te Papa's Chief Executive Dr Seddon Bennington said today that while he was disappointed he understood and supported the National Museum's decision.

"Under the circumstances, the decision to withdraw the loan of the heart is the right one. The Museum's primary responsibility is to care for this unique object. Te Papa would have done the same if it was part of our collection," Dr Bennington said.

Phar Lap's abnormally large heart, weighing 6.2 kilograms (the average horse's heart weighs 4kg), came to the National Museum in Canberra from the Institute of Anatomy, where it had been preserved since the 1930s.

After conservation treatment, Phar Lap's heart will return to the National Museum's Australian Sports display next month.

For interviews or more information please contact Leanda Kitchen at the National Museum on 61 2 6208 5338, 0061 438 620 710 or Sandy Forbes on 0061 2 6208 5351, 0061 409 916 481 or email media@nma.gov.au; or Paul Brewer at Te Papa on 0064 21 532 920.