All the pretty colours

Microscope slides in our Townsville exhibit. (Photo: Jen Wilson)

Curator Jen Wilson has been watching our Townsville exhibit come to life ahead of our opening this week.

As the Townsville showcase came together, the team noticed a surprising array of colour emerge in the nerdy scientific material.

The Townsville exhibit in Landmarks is focused on the story of the Australian Institute of Tropical Medicine, established and located in Townsville from 1910 to 1930. As each of the 28 objects in the Townsville was installed, I was reminded of the valuable insight they offer into the work of the institute and the communities which it served.

An assemblage of items – albuminometer, chemical slide rule, differential thermometer and hydrometer – carefully mounted together. (All photos: Jen Wilson)

The instruments are placed on their shelves one at a time.

Between 1910 and 1930, more than 90 staff and visiting scholars worked at the institute. They published hundreds of research papers, articles and books on a variety of medical subjects, from mental health to nutrition and parasitic infections, as studied in the particular conditions of Australia’s tropical north. The institute’s young staff became leaders in their fields, studying diseases within Australia, Papua New Guinea and neighbouring islands, treating patients, mapping disease patterns, and collecting and identifying new infection-carrying parasites and insects.

Mark and Sonja hard at work, with the showcase slowly filling.

Janet cleaning glass so that all the pretty colours could be more greatly appreciated.

In 1930, the institute was relocated to the University of Sydney, despite arguments that it should remain close to its subject of study. Over fifty years later, James Cook University re-established the institute in Townsville. Today, the institute, renamed the Anton Breinl Centre, studies and teaches about public health problems in tropical Australia and its near neighbours, with a special focus on rural and regional Indigenous communities.

A collection of 108 items of laboratory equipment from the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, into which the institute was incorporated when it was relocated to the University of Sydney, was donated to the National Museum of Australia in 1986. Thirty of those items were originally used in the institute in Townsville.

Sonja carefully places a tray of microscope slides into their mount.

Andrew adjusts the photo-micrographic apparatus.

Through generous loans, the Landmarks Townsville exhibit reunites the laboratory equipment with parasites and mosquitoes collected by the institute.

Sonja and Duncan admire the parasites from the other side.

The Townsville case features a back window, so that visitors will catch a glimpse of this strange assemblage of items from the other side of the gallery, hopefully instilling them with curiosity to investigate further.

The final step. Sonja places a finished ‘tick’ on the case.

A very satisfied install team. (Photo: Georgie Benson)

The photo above shows the team assembled, representing a large crew of staff, contractors and advisors who have worked on this story. Captured here are those long dedicated to the Townsville case and its contents, from beginning to end – (l-r) curator Jen Wilson who spent years choosing and researching parasites and microscopes; Janet Mack who ploughed through much of the extensive cataloguing of the microscopes and oversaw their installation; Sonja Kundsen who assessed all of the objects and then installed them; and conservator Andrew Pearce who took care of the objects and spent too much time with parasites and ethanol.

Many thanks to all involved!

Hooray for the tick!

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