From Polyzosteria limbata to wire strainers

A life wandering in and out of museums (and why they matter)

John Pickard

In the early 1950s, a bare-foot kid wandered into the Australian Museum clutching a native cockroach for identification. Entomology curator Anthony Musgrave took John Pickard into the storage areas and showed him rows of cabinets packed full of cockroaches. So began a life-long love affair with museums which has culminated in John’s work on the Jack Chisholm Fencing Collection at Museum Victoria.

Museums have played an essential part throughout his rather disjointed career studying landscapes as a vegetation ecologist and geomorphologist working in western NSW, Lord Howe Island, Antarctica, Yukon Territory and Patagonia. All of his research has both required museums and contributed to them.

Museums and other warehouses of knowledge matter because we cannot understand landscape (and social) changes without integrating information from disparate sources: libraries, herbaria, museums, archives, oral history and interviews.
The nearly 400 strainers in the Jack Chisholm Fencing Collection are exemplars of tools following new technology, and they provide insights into wider social changes. The talk will be illustrated, and a number of strainers from the Jack Chisholm Fencing Collection will be on display.


Museum Victoria Honorary Associate John Pickard describes himself as an eclectic naturalist fascinated by landscapes. In trying to understand landscape changes he has moved from vegetation ecology and geomorphology into the social and technological aspects of land settlement, with a particular interest in fences. This led to a PhD Lines Across the Landscape: History, Impact and Heritage of Australian Rural Fences (Macquarie, 2010). He is currently completing two books on fences: Australian Wire Strainers: History, Models and Patents and Encyclopaedia of Australian Rural Fences.

This lecture was part of History, Culture & Collections, our monthly lecture series held at Melbourne Museum.

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