For those of you who don’t automatically recognize this photo it’s not just a stuffed Koala but “Sam” the Koala from the 2009 bushfires in the state of Victoria. Sam, when he was discovered, was quite badly burned and eventually nursed back to health under the loving gaze of the media and the public. Still Sam died about a year of chlamydia which is not uncommon among Koalas. Sam now lives in the Melbourne Museum, complete with a replica of its bandages that its worth noting it no longer needed by the time he died. Quite a lot of people were seriously wigged out by seeing Sam stuffed and put on display. Because, you know, it’s actually Sam. As opposed to all the other stuffed animals on display in the “Wild” exhibition, next door.
And if that weren’t weird enough he also lives downstairs from one of at least three separate representations of the famous race horse Phar Lap. I confess I knew nothing about Phar Lap, or his cultural significance, before coming to Australia and New Zealand.
The first time I saw him was in Wellington where the skeleton lives. At the time I also learned that the heart is the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. Which is kind of weird but hardly uncharted territory for museum collections. Ely Wallis told me about the ongoing debate wherein the natural history scholars routinely drive the humanities scholars to distraction by labeling Phar Lap as nothing more than a common horse.
That was sort of funny. I was not, however, quite ready to meet Phar Lap again in Melbourne. Or rather the hide of Phar Lap stretched over a wire frame instead of a replica of the skeleton. Apparently both the skeleton and the hide have been shown side by side which is … a bit unsettling, really. Is the real skeleton just a glorified wire frame? Is the hide a very elaborate halloween costume or it is simply a hoodie?