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The NHC originally comprised objects transferred to the Museum by the Commonwealth Government following the Museum's establishment in 1980. These were mostly from the former Australian Institute of Anatomy, the former Institute of Aboriginal Studies, the University of Sydney as well as a number of government departments and agencies. Since 1980 the Museum has acquired objects through donations and, to a limited extent, by sponsorship and purchase.

Collecting policies and practices

The Museum's collecting activities are guided by:

  • the Collections Development Policy - this details collecting practices and ethics, the structure and use of the NHC, the criteria for acceptance of objects into the collections and the Museum's approach to custody and ownership of material
  • the Collections Development Framework - this defines collection domains and identifies priority collecting areas for 2002-2007.

The Collections and Gallery Development Plan (see Review of activities) reconfirmed the Museum's commitment to the core business of collecting, documenting, researching and exhibiting artefacts that reflect Australian experience. In late 2003-2004, the Museum established a collections and gallery development team to manage the Museum's acquisition program and to identify and source objects at auction, sale and through private contact to address gaps in the NHC.

New acquisitions

Photo of Mat Trinca
Curator Mat Trinca with examples of the Bendigo pottery collection. Photo: George Serras.

Council approved 46 significant collections during the year for acquisition to the NHC, the details of which are in Appendix 3.

Highlights included:

  • royal memorabilia, most of which relates to the reign of Queen Elizabeth II with a large component devoted to Prince Charles, Lady Diana and the Queen Mother. This collection featured in the Museum's Royal Romance exhibition.
  • a portion of the No. 2 West Australian rabbit-proof fence built in an effort to halt the western spread of European wild rabbits. By 1908 three fences stood in opposition to the invasion. The fences only slowed the process of rabbit colonisation. By the 1920s rabbits plagued the state's southern districts.
  • Coogee Beach Dolphins commemorative Rugby League jersey and photograph. This jersey, from the World Sevens tournament, summer 2003, and signed by Rugby League stars and relatives of the Coogee Dolphins Rugby League Club lost in the Bali bombings of 12 October 2002, was worn during the tournament's three matches. The photograph is of the 2002 season Coogee Dolphins 'A' team, including the six team members who were killed in Bali.

Other significant collections acquired by the Museum during the year included:

  • Port Phillip Association manuscript memorials to the Secretary of State for the colonies. One, from John Batman and 15 other members of the incipient Port Phillip Association, is a plea for the recognition of Batman's treaties with the Aboriginal people and openly acknowledges the association's debt to the chiefs of the tribe, who are in fact the owners of the soil. The other, written by the association's surveyor, John Helder Wedge, is concerned with the urgent need for food to be sent for the Aboriginal people as well as a request for assistance in securing a pardon for the 'wild white man' William Buckley, whom Wedge realised would be of invaluable help in continuing good relations with the Aborigines.
  • Max Dupain's iconic photograph, Sunbaker
  • the Derham family Bendigo pottery collection, comprising historic pottery from the 19th and 20th centuries, a comprehensive range of 1970s Bendigo pottery and related artefacts. It is a remarkable collection that represents the history of one of Australia's leading pottery works over more than 140 years.
  • an original issue Wedgwood medallion made with clay from Sydney Cove in 1789. In 1788 Governor Arthur Phillip sent a sample of clay to Joseph Banks to have the clay assessed for its potential for making china. Banks passed the sample to Josiah Wedgwood who declared the clay to be 'an excellent material for pottery' and set about making the Sydney Cove Medallion. The full title of the medallion is 'Hope encouraging Art and Labour, under the influence of Peace, to pursue the employments necessary to give security and happiness to an infant settlement'.