Museums are the ultimate reflection of our cultural traditions and value system

— Out the back with Narelle Jarry

I have always been more intrigued by the 95% of things hidden in the back rooms of a museum or art gallery than the highlights on display (I rather like those things too) but to have access to collection material not readily available to the public is something I covet. It is very hard to lose me in a museum. As a conservator, I’ve spent my professional life caring for artwork and you will find me literally centimeters away from a display trying to determine how something was made, what it looks like in microscopic detail or how it has been installed.

To me, museums are the ultimate reflection of our cultural traditions and value system. Why was that particular object acquired? Why is it significant? What story does it tell? Museums and art galleries are repositories of what we value or historically valued as a society, and they act as safe houses for those cultural traditions. The collections held are like time capsules that represent intellectual movements, philosophies and ways of thinking in the era they were made.

A natural history museum has the same ability to capture the world at a specific point in time, only it is the biological world we are interested in, not human cultural traditions.

Like a library of life, natural history collections are made up of samples of the world around us, kept in a stable, protected environment, a snap shot of what was happening at a specific location on a specific date. With this information, collections become a crucial markers in time – a resource for comparative studies into the natural world.

To see the vast array of specimens in storage at the UNE Natural History Museum is a wonder. The full collection is as varied as the focus areas of the scientists themselves and reflect their personal and professional expertise. Our specimens reflect a wide range of zoological and entomological studies: the morphology of parrot species, the diversity of echinoderms and mollusks, the dung beetles so crucial to our agricultural systems, threatened and endangered native animals, and the diversity of ant species – the list goes on.

Our collections are a crucial resource for the teaching of the zoological profession. To be student at UNE means you have access to specimens across the biological world: vertebrate and invertebrate, specimens stored wet for sampling and testing, skulls and skeletons for measuring and comparison based research, skins and hides taxidermied for study of physiology and function.

Never has there been a better time to visit the UNE Natural History Museum or study with us. The opportunity to delve into the storeroom is vast and it is here for your benefit (and my guilty pleasure).

– Written by Narelle Jarry, UNE Natural History Museum curator