The Origins Gallery at the new Western Australian Museum Boola Bardip

NSB Wednesday, 21st April 2021 Meeting
Wednesday 12th May 2021 Golly Walk

Our two April events were scheduled to dovetail, starting with an evening talk by Dr Peter Downes, the Curator of Minerals at the new museum, to be followed the next Wednesday by a guided tour with Peter through the Origins gallery. But due to the COVID lockdown, the museum was forced to close. However, we did finally make our visit on the 12th of May, albeit with only 12 people as a few of the original number had to withdraw due to other commitments.

Peter commenced his evening talk with a brief history of mining in the colony and the origin of the museum’s mineral collection.

Although we often consider it was the gold discoveries in the early 1890s that initiated the State’s mining industry, in fact, pig lead (semi processed ore) from the Geraldine Mine and Warribanno Hill smelter on the Murchison River was being exported via Port Gregory as early as 1853.

Galena and Quartz, Geraldine Mine – Photo credit: WA Museum

The first public collection of rocks, minerals, and fossils in Western Australia was established in 1881 under the care of Reverend Charles Nicolay, chaplain to the Fremantle convict establishment, and was foundational to what later became the Western Australian Museum. It included mineral specimens from classic European and American localities received from the British Museum (Natural History) in exchange for a piece of the Youndegin iron meteorite, the first discovered in Western Australia in 1884. The other significant contributor to the early knowledge of the State’s minerals was Edward S. Simpson.

Simpson came to Western Australia in 1897 to fill the newly created position of Mineralogist and Assayer to the Geological Survey. He collected and arranged systematically every piece of fresh information on the mineralogy of the State that came to his notice. His manuscript for “Minerals in Western Australia”, was completed after his death and the three volumes became a standard reference. The very rare aluminium tantalum niobium oxide mineral Simpsonite was named in his honour.

Simpsonite – Photo credit: WA Museum

Peter then explained the concept behind the Origins gallery and what we would be able to see. Minerals and mineral crystals lend themselves to photography and Peter’s photos of numerous minerals were outstanding.

Upon entering the gallery there is an opportunity to view a short film narrated by the indigenous elder, Dr Noel Nannup, who marries the indigenous and scientific explanations for the creation of the universe and how the two cultures visualise the star patterns.

At the next stop, visitors can learn that it was not only our flora and fauna that evolved but there was also a mineral evolution. However, unlike the biological specimens whose numbers waxed and waned, the number of minerals increased through time with diamond and graphite among the first minerals in the universe, formed in the gaseous envelopes surrounding the first supernovae. Over time, the formation of the Earth, changes in the atmosphere, the formation of oceans, volcanism, metamorphism, plate tectonics, and large-scale fluid-rock interactions have all lead to new minerals being formed.

The Western Australian Museum (WAM) has the largest collection of meteorites and both complete examples such as the Mundrabilla meteorite weighing 12.4 tonnes and shiny slabs of iron, stony-iron and stony meteorites are on display. The State’s current financial wellbeing owes much to its iron ore mining. While hematite and magnetite iron ore are dull to look at, when layered with other minerals, particularly silicon dioxide and the blue form of asbestos, it can form the eye-catching banded iron formation and tiger eye.

Brockman Tiger eye chert, Pilbara – Photo credit: WA Museum

It is impossible to describe all the crystals, minerals, and rocks there are to see, from the hard-to-find tiny pink and green (watermelon) tourmaline crystal to the impossible to miss slab of copper-rich malachite- chrysocolla. So, check it out for yourself. It’s free – at least for a while.

But the displays are not just about minerals specimens. You can learn about the formation of some of our popular landforms, such as Purnululu (the Bungle Bungles) and Bandilngan (Windjana Gorge).

The gallery encourages touching some of the rocks, and in other parts of the gallery, you can find interactive screens displaying the rate of physical weathering of different rock types and the relative positions of the continents over time from long past into the future with Australia pushing through Indonesia and eventually crashing into China.

Spiral staircase, WAM Boola Bardip – Photo credit: Don Poynton

The new museum is impressive both externally and internally. The latter includes the magnificent golden spiral staircase. It is not by accident that gold is a predominant colour inside the museum as our State owes so much to this valuable mineral which was the inspiration for the décor.

Don Poynton