Early aircraft aloft in Melbourne Museum Pygmy Blue Whale skeleton Tilting windmills Colt Navy revolver – slightly extruded by lens Polynesian canoes The Moon and me Airborne skeleton My species and other animals Look at me Carved by someone consigned to mental asylum Who’s lunch? One of my favourite exhibits Take 2 Fish and boat Ghosts Bikes Heavier duty bikers
We were issued with identities when entering the Titanic exhibition at the Melbourne Museum today. I turned out to be Wallace Henry Hartley, the bandmaster who – according to survivor accounts – courageously kept the band playing until the moment the waves swept them away. He had already been across the Atlantic 80 times, apparently. Makes me wonder whether I’m doing the same, speechifying about the risk of icebergs while the collective vessel speeds ever deeper into the ice-field?
As we went through the mock-up for the first-class cabins, The Beautiful Blue Danube was playing, one of my 16 Desert Island Disks. The exhibition, despite the crowding, is one of the best I have been to. You touch a wall of ice that gives a sense of how cold the waters were that night – and the exhibits that most moved me included a pair of children’s marbles, a pair of pince-nez spectacles and a cracked porthole.
One of the unquestioned rogues of the piece (in terms of cutting corners on lifeboat provision and making good his escape when so many others perished) was Bruce Ismay, buried just across the Common from us, in Putney Vale Cemetery. Many years ago, we met one of his descendants (initials DI) in Pembrokeshire, via my godmother Kay, who worked for her. My main memory of her is that she had just finished hand-grinding a telescope lens – a fact that stuck in my mind given that the lookouts on the ship didn’t have binoculars: those had been left behind, it seems, in the rush to put out to sea on that ill-fated voyage.
Melbourne Museum itself is brilliantly laid out and designed, the exhibits a constant source of wonder and new information. Later, we went to see James Cameron’s 3D film, of his Titanic expedition, Ghosts of the Abyss, which was extraordinary, with robot arms extending to inches in front of our nose, even while the full display was seven stories high. Really brought home the horrors of the disaster.