Who Put the Squid in the Elevator Shaft?

South Australia has several great things in abundance: wine and sunshine. This alone makes for a very good reason to visit. I recently had the pleasure to spend a long weekend in Adelaide and the McLaren Vale wine region visiting a friend, and was blown away by how awesome it was- constant sunshine, rolling hills of lush vineyards, and kangaroos nibbling on grapes, all surrounded by sparkling turquoise ocean and surf beaches.  Many well known vineyards call this area home- though it’s lesser known than the famous Barossa Valley, it may be the best-kept secret of SA.

Museum of South Australia, Adelaide

Side note: South Australia is the driest place in Australia, and the second driest place in the world, only beat out by Antarctica (a place that, despite the ice, gets little to no rainfall) This makes for beautifully sunny days, but is bad for crops and bushfires, so take short showers when you go! (Think of the grapes…)

However, before embarking (or imbibing) on South Australia’s wine country, I did a bit of sightseeing in Adelaide, a small but friendly city, whose inhabitants had a bit of struggle understanding an American accent, but were nonetheless very pleased that someone from so far away had stumbled across their town. (Girls- take note of this fact and you won’t pay for a drink all night.)

Among Adelaide’s many charms is the South Australian Museum, located in the heart of the city, admission free. At the front entrance one may notice a comical looking t-rex, who growls when a dollar coin is put in his mouth. This was much to my delight, but terrified an entire preschool field trip. I could tell I’d like this museum already. After spending a couple hours roaming around, and taking on the free guided tour (approx 45 minutes, 11am, but check the museum website to confirm times-www.samuseum.sa.gov.au), I thought I’d share with you the more unusual items I cam across. Even if you are short on time, this museum is pretty interesting. Plus, you’ll make your mom proud if you stop off for a bit of culture before you hit the vino, which is what you came for anyway..but still. So here’s my top 5 list of unique things not to miss:

1. Giant squid– As far as elusive sea creatures go, the giant squid comes close to taking the cake. Rarely ever seen in the wild, and even then, they are usually not alive or still in one piece, so the odds of coming across one on your weekend fishing trip are pretty low. Not to worry, the SA Museum has come up with an ingenious solution of displaying their life-size model of a giant squid, a replica of the largest ever squid found in New Zealand- put him in an old elevator shaft!

I know what you’re thinking- I thought giant squids preferred to take the stairs too, until my visit to Adelaide. But actually, turning an old shaft, spread over about 4 stories, is a great way to display the squid. Visitors to each floor can get a different view of the squid, and all doors and the top floor have been replaced with glass panels. Displayed in darkness, seemingly to recreate the ocean depths, lit with flurecesant-type lighting, this exhibit is one of the more creative displays I think I’ve come across. Man-eating kraken or misunderstood monster? You be the judge.

Giant Squid, courtesy of National Science Musuem of Japan

2. Fijian cannibal forks– There is a pretty large exhibit to be seen here on Pacific cultures, featuring artifacts from the traditional people of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Vanuatu, and a few other locales. Among the tribal masks, shrunken heads (yes, really), and other cultural items, one may find some unusual looking pronged forks. These belong to the Fijians, and were wooden forks designed to pry the flesh off bone. Human bone, that is. While we think cannibalism is wrong in western culture because society tells us that humans are not meant to eat other humans, this was not the case in the traditional Fijian way of life. That being said, next time you think you’re having a rough day, spare a thought for the guy on the receiving end of the fork.

3. Fossilized opals– Ever seen an ancient fossil that has turned into an opal? Neither had I, nor did I know such a thing could exist, but there’s a whole wing dedicated to these specimens. Worth a look.

4. Aboriginal exhibit– The largest collection of Aboriginal artifacts in the world can be found here, and is proudly presented over 2 stories. Very well presented, this exhibit is well done. Check out the Schoolhouse doors, which were painted with traditional aboriginal art, and removed from a school in the Northern Territory.

Sir Douglas Mawson, assumingly after he’d thawed out. Courtesy of Wikipedia

5. Mawson exhibit– A few months ago, I was watching a documentary about a failed Antarctic expedition led by an explorer called Mawson. I guess it’s all relative whether or not the mission was a failure, but it’s pretty obvious that things quickly went terribly wrong for Mawson and his crew. Many men died, not long after starting off, and soon only two men were left, the Australian Mawson and Swiss Mertz. After Mertz fell into a crevasse, Mawson was left alone, having to eat his dogs, and trek through the treacherous conditions alone, despite being poisoned from eating too much of the dogs’ liver.

After somehow surviving this epic journey, even falling into a crevasse himself at one point, he hoisted his exhausted body out, brushed off the ice and onwards he went, making it back to base camp just in time to see his ship pulling away and heading home. Luckily a few of his crew remained behind with supplies to wait for him, but unluckily for Mawson the window of safe passage into the Antarctic was only once per year, so he had to hang tight another 12 months to make it home. That’s a pretty short summary, but there’s a wealth of info out there if you want to learn more.

As luck would have it, Mawson was from South Australia, and the museum contains a huge amount of artifacts from his trip, including his sleigh, which he had to saw in half with a pocketknife so it could be light enough for him to pull on his own once the dogs were gone.

Ok, science and history lessons over. Time for the wine.

Wise words from the Ekhidna Winery
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