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How do you ship a T-Rex?

Shipping a 13-meter dinosaur from Japan to Sydney sounds like a logistical nightmare, but that’s nothing. The museum needs upgrading to display it.
How do you ship a T-Rex?

Image courtesy the Australian Museum

A life-size Tyrannosaurus Rex model was recently gifted to the Australian Museum (AM) by the international mega-company National Geographic. While such additions to a collection are wonderful news, in this case it also represented one very large problem.

‘You can solve any problem – it just takes a little more thought,’ said CEO and Director AM, Kim McKay.

In some ways, moving a dinosaur for a museum is as simple as wrapping it up, whacking it in a crate, and sticking it on a truck.

But how do you do that with a 13-metre long model – dubbed T. rex – that has to come to Sydney from Japan? It was a task given to the shipping company International Art Services (IAS). CEO Kingsley Mundey told ArtsHub that it was one of the more eccentric items they have had to transport.

As a sponsoring partner in this project, IAS will not only deliver T. rex to Sydney audiences safely, but will take her on a tour of five regional NSW venues over the next six months, while the Museum prepares to receive her.

Dinosaur as celebrity

This is not just any T. Rex model – Sydney is welcoming a celebrity. ‘She had her own TV series – how many specimens can claim that?’ said McKay.

The model was made in the UK for National Geographic documentary program T. rex Autopsy, a kind of Reality-TV meets Jurassic Park info-drama released in 2015. It opens with an aircraft arriving at a top-secret location – pseudo military – with T. rex carried to a lab behind barbed wire fences, where a team of four set about dissecting the 65 million year old beast.

Its Sydney arrival was a little less dramatic; but the intrigue for viewers is expected to be equaled.

‘I would love to know what it is in people’s DNA that fascinates us about dinosaurs,’ said McKay, who noted that the gift will generate new audiences for the Museum.

Dissecting a dinosaur

The model is the world’s first anatomically complete creation of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, and was created by a team of 17 experts over a six month period. It is made of fiberglass, latex and silicone rubber, and held 34 gallons of stage blood for the autopsy.

It features removable organs including a heart the size of a Morris Mini-Minor, eyes the size of grapefruits, and teeth more than 30 centimetres long. The only part that disassembles for transport is the tail.

Image supplied Australian Museum

But this T. rex autopsy is hardly food for a Flintstones BBQ: valued at more than $600,000 it is a significant addition to the collection, and potentially the largest of the Museum's 18 million objects.

AM is even refurbishing its Dinosaur Hall (due to open next October for the Dinosaur Festival, on the occasion of the Museum’s 190th birthday) to accommodate this treasured model.

‘We always knew it would be a challenge fitting a dinosaur of this scale through the doors of the Australian Museum – some which date back to 1850. Do I take the roof off and crane her in?’ laughed McKay.

Doorways will be widened as part of the upgrade.

McKay said the Museum’s team is currently working with the manufactures of T. rex on her display design, adding that one of the exciting aspects of viewing this dinosaur is that people will be able to see it in an intimate engagement, rather than craning their necks skywards towards a looming skeleton.

Image supplied courtesy the Australian Museum

Support of gargantuan proportions

The Tyrannosaurus Rex will be displayed at the AM thanks to almost $1 million in combined sponsor and donor support.

‘In addition to the support from National Geographic and IAS, we've also just secured a philanthropic gift from a donor who will help fund the new exhibit installation, and a donor sponsoring the exhibition tour,’ confirmed McKay.

‘Nothing happens quickly – it is a matter of putting the blocks together. The guarantee of IAS’s support was critical in guaranteeing that T. rex came to Australia,’ she told ArtsHub.

The dinosaur's arrival marks the second 'model' donation the AM has received from National Geographic. In 2004, the AM received 'Super Croc' – a life size recreation of an ancient crocodile found in the Niger desert.  

In a curious twist – and in a demonstration of the longevity of strong partnerships – McKay was the Head of Global Marketing for National Geographic in the States and pivotal in the tour and gift of Super Croc to Australia.

The Australian Museum will be running a naming competition for T. rex, allowing ArtsHub readers to make your own mark in history.

T. rex Autopsy will be screened in partnership with National Geographic during the Dinosaur Festival next year (2017) to coincide with the unveiling of the model in her new home.

No image supplied

Gina Fairley

Thursday 29 September, 2016

About the author

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW.

Twitter: @ginafairley
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