Last week we opened one box from the Entomology unit and found over a hundred more inside – 286 matchboxes to be precise. With some padding on the inside, an empty matchbox would have made a sturdy container for any insect discovered during field observations.

Matchboxes as containers for insects
Matchboxes as containers for insects Image: Australian Museum
© Australian Museum

Apart from being a useful tool for scientific research, the collecting of matchboxes and anything related to matches, known as phillumeny, reveals a few curiosities about our cultural identity.

Our newly discovered matchbox collection includes iconic Australian brands such as Redhead and Federal, along with Paradise from Papua New Guinea and Koala safety matches made in Indonesia.

Bryant and May, Australia’s first matchbox manufacturer which was opened by the then Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin, released Redhead safety matches and the logo ‘Miss Redhead’ in 1946. Judging by the hairstyle, our Redhead matchboxes can be dated from the 1970s onwards and include a few samples from the series of famous redheads, Ginger Meggs and Vincent Van Gogh.

In contrast to the whimsy of the Redhead brand, the messages of the Federal and Australian matches reminded us about the dangers of driving (with cartoons), 'You want your child to be a missile? Don't let him stand up' and scenes from some of our primary industries, timber logging and sheep dipping.