28 February 2023

Curious little exhibitionist makes quite a splash at CMAG

| Sally Hopman
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Two women in front of platypus sign

CMA senior curator Dr Hannah Paddon, left with platypus collector, Karen Collins at the Canberra gallery. Photos: Sally Hopman.

When it comes to collecting things associated with the platypus, few could equal Karen Collins’ collection – despite the fact the Canberra woman has actually collected very few herself.

It started back in 2004, when her daughter gave her and husband Craig a drawing of a platypus she had made at school.

Later, on a visit to the National Museum of Australia, their son was also keen to buy his mother a birthday present and, in secret consultation with his sister, chose a platypus finger puppet.

Karen’s platypus collection had begun – pretty much without her having any choice in the matter.

Today, Karen’s collection, more than 270 platypus-related items, is on display at the Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG), as part of its regular exhibitions of things Canberra people collect. Past exhibitions have included snowdomes, typewriters and bicycles.

From clothes to ornaments, photographs to jewellery, her collection is now under lights in a CMAG gallery, in Platypus: A Curious Creature.

platypus teapot

What every platypus collector can’t do without – a platypus teapot, one of the treasures of Karen Collins’ collection.

“Grandma collected Avon bottles so my kids said I should start collecting something too,” she said. “I thought of koalas at first, but then my daughter decided to start the collection for me. I was quite pleased because I didn’t think there would be that many platypus out there.”

But she was wrong.

Her mother is also one of her best platypus finders. “She haunts the op shops and markets,” Karen said. “She lives in Woden and we were at the markets there and I heard this voice from a distance, ‘Do you have any platypus?’.

“The next thing she was handing me a bunch of platypus ornaments.”

Even though her collection is made up mainly of gifts from other people, Karen admits she now does keep her eyes open for platypus collectibles in her travels.

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“People even make things for me,” she said. “Many of my friends do and my daughter is always hunting things down for me.

“My husband buys me platypus jewellery; so far I’ve received a brooch, earrings and necklaces.

“They really are quite endearing animals … when you see them, they look like they have a happy face.”

And yes, like all proper collectors, she has a wish list. Right at the top is something she’s heard about – and would love to see it in her garden.

“I heard about this man who does chainsaw carving – and apparently he did one of a platypus diving off a log.

“I would love that.”

Platypus ornaments

Some of Karen Collins’ platypus collection now on display at CMAG in Canberra’s Civic Square.

Senior Curator, Social History, at CMAG, Dr Hannah Paddon, said displays by collectors have proven increasingly popular at the Canberra gallery.

She said the decision on what goes on show was based on a number of factors, including the unique enthusiasm of the collector themself, its likely appeal to the public and whether it was a cross-generational display – appealing to both young and old.

Karen’s collection, she said, ticked every box – and more, as the collector is often called upon to give a talk on their subject as well as answer questions from visitors.

“She can certainly speak to every item in this collection,” Hannah said.

“What she has done is combined something of unique interest to the public to the individual stories of collection.”

READ ALSO If I tell you my collecting secret, will you tell me yours?

Karen has also taken an interest in real-life platypus, working with a Molongolo conservation group to help protect life in the local river.

“Where we live is quite close to the river – but I never used to associate living somehwere like Woden with so much wildlife.

“Then all that changed when we discovered platypus live in the river below our house.

“This is why it’s so important to protect where we live and what lives here.”

Platypus: A Curious Creature is now on at CMAG, Civic Square, Canberra until 18 June, 2023. Free entry. Open Monday to Friday 10 am to 4 pm and Saturday to Sunday from midday to 4 pm.

A wide range of activities for adults and children have been organised to celebrate the exhibition . Fo more information, go to the CMAG website.

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