Old Museum Stories

Sharing stories about the old museum in Brisbane

Identification and encouragement

I think this was about 1970, I was a nerdy kid of about 10, really interested in the environment around me. (Way before ‘environment’ was understood). It was probably the summer school holidays, and there was this explosion in spiders, including a really fascinating one that made this complicated web. It came in several colours of the abdomen, green and brown and red. The web was large with an intricate net like dome where the spider sat and a chain of egg sacs rose up in the web. My parents had not recalled seeing such a spider before and we had dozens in our yard. This is before the internet, and the encylopaedias we had did not describe this spider. I was desperate to find out what they were. Eventually my Mum took me to the Museum, to the entomology department and asked if there was anyone who could identify the spider. A lady scientist came out and looked at my live specimen in a honey bottle. She told us it was a dome building spider. (This has remained a common spider in Brisbane since). I was delighted. I had an answer and the lady kindly suggested a spider book which my Mum could buy for me to identify my own spiders in the future. (I still have that well used book today). But also there was the encouragement she gave me to keep looking around me and that a girl could be a scientist! I have never killed a spider in my life, I remain fascinated by them. I went to University and studied medicine 7 years later. I think the Museum experience played a part in that choice.

A note from the editor: Thanks to Geoff Thompson for commenting on this story, and revealing the identity of that lady scientist—Dr Valerie Todd Davies (1920–2012)—and providing a link to her obituary.

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2 Comments

  1. That lady scientist would have been the late Dr Valerie Todd Davies. She was curator of spiders, a wonderful person, friend and scientist.

    • Wendy Greenham

      5 August 2016 at 11:10 pm

      Wow, so nice to know her name after all this time. I remember saying to my Mum, “we can’t go to the entomology department, spiders aren’t insects!” But they must have worked in the same area.

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