The cassowary and the taxidermist

UNE’s Natural History Museum will soon be home to a new exhibit – there’s a cassowary on its way!

Cassowaries are as tall as a person, with a high helmet on their heads. They have a vivid blue neck and long drooping red wattles. The southern cassowary is found only in the tropical rainforests of north east Queensland, Papua New Guinea and some surrounding islands. The southern cassowary is Australia’s heaviest flightless bird, but the emu is taller. (Ref:

UNE’s cassowary was found near Mission Beach in Queensland after being caught in a pig trap several years ago. At that time, Dr Hamish Campbell from UNE, was undertaking a cassowary research project nearby and managed to secure a permit to have the bird transported to UNE in Armidale. Intact adult cassowaries are very difficult to obtain as the majority of deaths are caused by traffic strike so although it was an unfortunate accident resulting in its death, it was a real find for UNE.

The bird was placed in UNE’s Zoology freezer room and was used for modelling purposes and to answer specific scientific questions around its mechanical features. Over the ensuing years, the cassowary remained in the freezer, its future undecided. When Narelle Jarry, UNE’s Curator, Cultural and Teaching Collections, heard about the bird, she hatched a grand plan. The cassowary would make a fantastic addition to the UNE Natural History Museum!

Narelle contacted Alison Douglas, Senior Preparator and Taxidermist, at the Queensland Museum and they began working together to bring this cassowary a new lease on ‘life’, one that will enable our visitors to the museum to see a cassowary up close and learn more about this unique, native bird.

As a side note, for the past 16 years, Alison has been a senior preparator and taxidermist at the Queensland Museum (QM) as part of a skilled team delivering exhibitions across the network.

After completing a degree in Visual Art at Queensland University of Technology majoring in painting and sculpture, Alison worked in the public art sector as a mosaicist, sculptor and designer. In 1993 she moved to England where she worked as a prop and puppet maker and later a set designer specialising in children’s theatre. She returned to Australia in 2000, excited to take up a permanent position at QM that would combine her love of natural history with her artistic and taxidermy skills.

For the last 2 years, Alison and a small team of skilled preparators have been taxidermying mammals and birds and casting and painting reptiles and fish for “Wild State”, the museum’s latest permanent exhibition showcasing Queensland’s unique wildlife and habitats. (Ref: World Science Festival 2018)

Bec Fisher interviewed Alison about her job and also tried her hand as a taxidermist as part of her “40 work experience jobs at 40” project: Read the interview here.

The cassowary is almost ready and will be transported from Brisbane down to Armidale. We can expect to see it in the Natural History Museum by mid-October. We’ll be welcoming the cassowary back to Armidale with a “Name the Cassowary” competition so keep your eye on your next Discovery newsletter for more details.