Vincent van Gogh, Napoleon Bonaparte, Al Capone and King Henry VIII all allegedly had it. According to the 2008 Annual Surveillance Report, the rate of men diagnosed with this more than doubled, from 3.1 per 100,000 to 6.6 per 100,000 and if left to its own devices, it can evolve into an infection of the central nervous system causing meningitis, dementia and seizures. I’m talking about syphilis. Well, Melbourne Museum experts will be talking about syphilis, as part of the Melbourne Museum’s second-coming of SmartBar, their entertaining-and-educational over 18s night. However before you worry about turning up to one big high school sex-ed chat, the subject of this up-coming evening is in fact the brain, how it works and how it can just as easily not. Lauren Ellis is the public programs officer at the Melbourne Museum and helped put together the upcomingSmartBar, in order to try and make us question, just Where Is My Mind?
Similar to Scienceworks and their Big Kids Night Out, SmartBar was an opportunity for the Melbourne Museum give an older crowd the chance to explore what was on offer, Ellis explaining that while children often come in as part of school excursions, there was a large gap in visitation from people in their 20s and early 30s; “We really wanted to create an event that would attract that audience that had really been missing out.” The inaugural SmartBar was held only back in March this year, and concentrated on Australia’s wildlife, such as native animals and conservation, “We were just so please with how interested people were with natural sciences. What we have here at the Museum, our native flora and fauna collections are really unique, and we were able to offer an experience and learn about something that wasn’t really on offer anywhere else.”
Moving on from our own backyard and into our own heads, SmartBar’s July event plans to “delve into the deepest depths of the human mind”, Ellis hoping it will encourage the same level of fascination; “It’s a really rich topic, and the way we’ll be looking at it from a whole range of different facets- the physiology, the body, as well as the emotional and psychological.”
Schizophrenia and sexual transmitted diseases are certainly not the most comfortable subjects to discuss, which is why SmartBar have taken it upon themselves to choose topics that serve a purpose and create the perfect balance between education and entertainment, “All the people that will be discussing the subjects on the night will be experts, leading in their field. They’ll be treating the topics with great respect, and hope to raise people’s understanding of them. Being an adult’s event, it gives older people the opportunity to have conversations about some of these subjects that can be confronting.” Part of the exhibition includes the Psychiatric Services Collection, with artefacts such as an isolation cell, straitjackets and locked gloves on display, “It is quite confronting and there are a lot of shocking stories told through the exhibition and some quite sad stories, but I think it’s a really interesting window into Australian medical history, our scientific history and it shows just how far we’ve come.”
So why discuss the syph’? “It’s an interesting one because it was something that, once upon a time in the 1800s, it was attributed to almost half of the admissions to Australia’s psychiatric institutions. And then the discovery of [penicillin] saw huge reductions in the number of patients. It’s an interesting example of the connection between the body and the mind, because it begins and a bacterial infection but the symptoms you can end up displaying are very much psychological. Delusion, euphoria and even psychosis.”
Before things get too serious, there is also plenty of opportunity to visitors to go and experiences the Museum’s other exhibitions, such as the Science and Life sections. This means all the bugs and dinosaurs will be available for your viewing pleasure, there are plenty of chances to get your hands dirty and listen to some scientists as they debunk the myths about various venomous animals.
Also happening on the night will be tunes being spun by popular comedian and “part-time DJ” Andrew McClelland, the music however will be programmed by you, on the proviso it is somehow related to the big globe of grey matter we call ‘the brain’, Ellis’s own suggestion introducing a little Elvis Presley action to the night with Suspicious Minds (my own would be The Music Goes Round My Head by The Easybeats, though preferably the Saints’ cover.)
SmartBar is not strictly educational, nor is it strictly entertainment. It is an evening that hopes to encourage young people to “consider the Melbourne Museum as interesting,” Ellis explained, “We hope that people will be more aware of the positive experiences you can have here, and just enjoy our exhibitions!”
BY ALEXANDRA DUGUID
SmartBar is happening on Thursday July 26 from 6pm till 10pm at the Melbourne Museum.