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The crocodiles -- an open and shut case

By: Vanessa Finney, Category: Museullaneous, Date: 23 May 2011

Happenings this week on the crocodile case project ...

Emptying the crocodile case

 © Australian Museum

Ray Gurney's work on the outside of the case progressed steadily as we also began work on the interior of the case and a cast of staff from across the Museum became more involved in the project.

Outside the case

This week, Ray finally finished the laborious work of stripping the outside of the showcase.

We have decided to replace the laminex strip with a new protective strip, this time made of painted plywood. We will reinforce the corners of the case with brass strips and have a small protective wood block barrier attached to the floor around the base of the case. Hopefully the pram and trolley wheels we think responsible for much of the damage to the base of the case will be kept at a safe distance!

Inside the case

Work begins on the inside of the case ...

First, the end doors were removed. These doors have apparently not been opened in around 15 years - which makes the state of the crocodiles, almost dust-free, all the more remarkable.

With the doors off, conservation and preparatory staff crawled (carefully) into the case to remove the specimens. This delicate process, done early in the morning to avoid visitors (and Museum staff) was almost incident free and all the case contents are now in the conservation lab with conservator Sheldon Teare for assessment and treatment.

The sand that had been spread across the base of the case was also removed by Prepator Col Johnson. Our initial thinking was that we would remove the sand, clean it and replace it. Probably added around the 1970s, the sand soon began to look like more and more of an oddity and we agreed that the 'original' base will be a more appropriate look for the restored case.

Of course, even deciding what is the original base is is not simple, as there appear to be two base layers. But more on this tangle once we remove the first base layer to see what is underneath later this week.

Col also removed the sand coating from the stand holding the big croc and painted it matt black (the original colour) to match the outside of the case.

Identity checks

Getting the specimens out of the case has allowed us to see their identification tags for the first time. We are still working on finding out more about the history of these crocodiles with staff from Herpetology collections.

The beautiful snake casts were also removed. One turned out to be a rubber fraud added in the 1980s -- though there was a moment's panic when it began to wobble when we moved it!

And hidden right up the back of the case against the back wall was a beautiful hand blown glass tube with a cork stopper and a snake skin inside.

Next post: Snake models from the crocodile case

Previously: Stripping the crocodile case