Putting him back together again

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall

All the King’s horses and all the King’s men

Couldn’t put Humpty together again

Remember that little rhyme from your childhood? Well I promise it will be ringing in your ears after this week’s post, which once again revolves around everyone’s favourite dead Australian racehorse, Phar Lap!

In November last year, the CSIRO (that’s the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) facilitated the ‘reunion’ of Phar Lap’s remains via robotic technology. To be clear, the remains all stayed where they are – the heart in Canberra, the hide at the Melbourne Museum, and the skeleton at Te Papa in New Zealand – but they were able to be viewed simultaneously by the students of three participating schools, which were located around the country in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia.

This is not the first time that there has been interest in putting the pieces of Phar Lap together. In 2010, as part of the celebrations surrounding the 150th anniversary of the Melbourne Cup, then-Racing Minister of Victoria Rob Hulls proposed reuniting the Phar Lap body parts. ‘What do they think he is? Phar Lap is unique, not Humpty Dumpty’, said racing journalist Max Presnell at the time.

Hulls succeeded in bringing the skeleton and hide together at least, but the heart is too fragile to travel anywhere, even off the Museum campus.

ImageThe skeleton and mounted hide on display at Melbourne Museum, 2010. Image: Isa Menzies

I’m really not certain what to make of this desire to put Phar Lap’s body parts back together, or at least to put them all in the same place. It seems like people expect something magical to happen – perhaps something like this?

I wonder what it says about us as a society, that we were so quick to spread his dismembered body throughout the land, relic-like, and now we are seemingly obsessed with ‘putting him back together again’?




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