Off the beaten track – quite literally tucked away in St Mary’s Quad – this interactive and immersive museum tour offered a refreshing change to a typical On the Rocks event. This guided tour of the Bell Pettigrew Natural History Museum incorporated performances in between informational sessions about various exhibits. While not a large museum space (the museum consists of mainly one room), its glass cases were filled with specimen and fossils, ranging from birds, to crocodiles, to butterflies.
The tour began with a quick introduction to the museum, interrupted when Bell Pettigrew ‘himself’ appeared to tell us about his interest in flight, alluding to a flight machine he was attempting to build.
The tour was led by various tour guides, who took us through particular parts of the museum. As they talked, guests were free to wander and take pictures of the room, inspecting the displays in detail. While the transition from one guide to another could have been more seamless, we were effectively led through the whole room and given a diverse range of talks. We were told about Pettigrew’s contemporary colleagues, McIntosh and Darcy, and were treated to light-hearted anecdotes about their rivalry and teaching escapades. The tour included a ballad about a horse and a passionate David Attenborough impression. The guides wholeheartedly immersed themselves in their performances, going as far as to comically enact the mating dance of the Bird of Paradise.
The guides also flagged up important questions and concerns that such a museum calls forth, such as the extinction of certain specimen and the current danger that climate change and our human presence still poses to many of these animals. The most poignant of these tales was that of Callum the Cassowary, told in the mode of a bed-time story. A young Callum, whose family has been threatened by human expansion, is taken in by a compassionate emu; growing up different from the other ‘emus’, Callum struggles with his identity until he finally jumps into an oil spill to change the color of his feathers. Saved by a human preservation team, Callum joins a range of other saved animals, finally meeting another cassowary. A sweet story, mingling coming-of-age and the threat of humans to wildlife, this type of off-beat narration encapsulated the tour.
The tour was comically rounded off with Bell Pettigrew testing his flight machine and successfully ‘taking off’ into the sunset. At the tour’s close, we were also encouraged to come back and explore the many more exhibits the museum has to offer.
This unique event was informative, quirky and fun; just under an hour, it gave a range of information in a range of mediums, allowing what could have been a straightforward, fact-heavy tour to be light-hearted, enjoyable, and exciting.