There is a curious building set in amongst the well kept gardens and forests of the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide. It is rather large and yet from the back you wouldn’t even notice it. After many public declarations of fun and wonder while visiting the Immigration Museum and the South Australian Museum, a small persistent group of people strongly suggested that I should visit the Museum of Economic Botany. I had my doubts after visiting the South Australian government’s website on the Museum of Economic Botany. If you happened to click on the link by now, you will find that it sounds rather drab and uninteresting. I am here to tell you that it isn’t and that it is one of the best kept secrets in Adelaide.
Growing up, I loved watching Indiana Jones and still do, (just don’t mention the fourth installment). The museums in the movies have always looked so old and places to wander in with your own personal treasure hunt. Upon entry into the Museum of Economic Botany, I felt that I had found such a museum though there is no chance of getting lost in there. Just as well because I lost vast amounts of time just stepping onto the wooden floorboards.
I was fortunate to speak with the Manager of Cultural Collections, Tony Kanellos when I visited about the museum’s collection and seemingly haphazard layout. The Museum of Economic Botany originally opened in 1881 and it is the last such colonial museum in the modern world. Museums such as these were set up during colonisation the great nations of Europe were building their wealth on cash crops. Plants were seen as sources of spices, medicines, food, construction materials and economical growth.
The exhibits are not just of plants and seeds. Objects include the products that are derived from plants. This is the first museum that I have seen whisky, vodka and absinthe on display in one piece and then in another a display, samples of wood from different trees and the furniture and carvings that they have been transformed to.