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Permanent exhibition galleries

In addition to the gallery development work, the Museum continued its program of object changeover within all of the permanent galleries. These changeovers allow the Museum to update exhibits to display recently acquired items for the public and make sure objects are removed from display to ensure their preservation as part of the Museum's NHC management strategy.

The Museum changed over the following number of items:

Tangled Destinies 59 44
Nation 231 131
Horizons 33 29
Eternity 57 35
First Australians 62 139
Total 442 378

Nation: Symbols of Australia

The Nation gallery explores Australian history and culture through the lens of national symbols, both official and popular.

Significant object changeovers enhanced Nation's content during the year. These included a display about the Bali bombings, featuring items left in sympathy on the steps of Victoria's Parliament House; and a diorama depicting Governor Bligh which highlights the dramatic events of the Rum Rebellion at the start of the nineteenth century.

Recognising that the Museum has a national brief and that reaching audiences across Australia is a strategic priority, the exhibit Looking around aims to represent various community groups throughout Australia through a collection of their own photographs. This year Looking around focused on three Northern Territory communities as the Museum collaborated with the Gap Youth Centre and Royal Flying Doctor Service in Alice Springs and locals from the Narrows in Darwin.

Much of this year was also devoted to developing a new Nation exhibit that will explore the role of sport in Australian society and profile several well-known sportspeople. The Museum acquired several sport-related collections in the past 12 months and these will feature in the new exhibit.

Work also progressed on new exhibits planned for 2005-2006, including one focusing on the Australian icon, the Holden car.

Horizons: The Peopling of Australia since 1788

The Horizons gallery explores the reasons why people came to Australia, from the convict period through to the present day. Among the new migration stories added to the gallery this year have been the experiences of Afghan cameleers, German families and Irish orphans.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Afghan cameleers played a crucial role in 'opening up' the arid regions of central Australia. They provided transport for exploration, hauled supplies and trade goods, and contributed to the construction of telegraph stations, railway lines and border fencing. The Horizons Afghan exhibit features a prayer rug, Koran, camel bell and curled slippers.

Like millions of other displaced Germans, Werner and Martha Hessling were unable to find a home following the Second World War. Through a government-assisted scheme, the Hesslings and their two young children migrated to Australia in 1954. The Hessling story features personal items the family brought with them from Germany, including Werner's lederhosen and a diary that records each day of their 1954 journey to Australia.

Between 1848 and 1850, more than 4000 girls were sent to Australia as part of the government-sponsored Irish Orphan Scheme. Left destitute by the Irish famine, the girls were expected to find work as domestic servants, marry and stay on in the colonies. At the centre of the Irish orphans exhibit is a seachest issued to Margaret Hurley from Galway who, in 1850, was 17 when she sailed for Sydney on the Thomas Arbuthnot.

Work also progressed on a new introductory Encounters exhibit, which will open in Horizons in November 2005. Encounters will provide the background to the arrival of the First Fleet, discussing the prior occupation of the continent by the Australian Aborigines; the role of the Dutch in mapping and naming New Holland in the seventeenth century; the visits of William Dampier to Australia in 1688 and 1699; the trepang harvest conducted by the Macassans on Australia's northern shores; the three claims for the continent made by Tasman for the Dutch, by Cook for the British and by St Aloüarn for the French; and the earliest efforts to establish a colony at Sydney Cove.

Eternity: Stories from the Emotional Heart of Australia

The Eternity gallery examines the lives of 50 Australians, famous and not famous, living and dead. The exhibition uses these stories as windows onto larger moments, movements, events and themes in Australian history. The themes of the exhibition are based on the emotions joy, hope, passion, mystery, thrill, loneliness, fear, devotion, separation and chance.

Since opening in 2001 this gallery has maintained a dynamic program of object changeovers, ensuring that visitors are presented with a variety of new stories in each theme. This year new stories in the gallery included:

  • Bernard O'Reilly, heroic rescuer of the survivors of the Stinson airline disaster in 1937
  • Joyce Doru, a Sudanese refugee separated from her family and unsure of their fate for 10 years until the Red Cross tracing service managed to track them down
  • Ingrid Ozols, a sufferer of depression who now works with beyondblue, the national depression initiative to raise awareness of depression as an issue for many Australians
  • Juanita Nielsen, journalist, activist and murder victim.

Two new stories in the gallery are the result of exciting additions to the NHC. John Collison Close accompanied Sir Douglas Mawson on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911-1914. Close was assistant collector on the expedition and later published many journal articles on his findings. The Museum has recently purchased a significant collection relating to John Close. Part of this collection, his telescope, is now on display as part of his story in the theme of loneliness.

Olive King, daughter of wealthy Sydney businessman and philanthropist Sir George Kelso King, has been added to the theme of thrill. Olive was visiting her sister in London when war broke out in 1914 and immediately purchased a second-hand lorry and had it converted into an ambulance. She served in France and Greece, ferrying wounded soldiers from the battlefront to field hospitals. She later joined the Serb Army and was decorated for her bravery. This year the Museum purchased Olive's commemorative medallions, some of which are now on display in Eternity.

The gallery's 'Your Story' video booths, in which visitors can contribute a story of their own lives to the exhibition, continued to capture moving stories from visitors throughout the year.

Tangled Destinies: Land and People in Australia

Mitchell Baum examines platypus specimens on show in Tangled Destinies.
Mitchell Baum examines platypus specimens on show in Tangled Destinies.
Photo: George Serras.

The Tangled Destinies gallery presents an environmental history of Australia. It entwines the stories of Indigenous and non-Indigenous attitudes to environments, and the adaptation of non-indigenous people, plants and animals. The gallery also explores the personal and emotional attachments of people to the diversity of Australian landscapes and places.

New displays installed during the year feature objects from the Northern Territory and Western Australia including:

  • a piece of the Perth-to-Kalgoorlie water pipeline on loan from the National Trust of Australia (WA)
  • a camel water tank on loan from the Western Australian Museum, Kalgoorlie-Boulder
  • a silver trophy for 'champion garden' in Kalgoorlie in 1905, on loan from the City of Kalgoorlie-Boulder.

These objects were part of a major change in the gallery that saw the replacement of the Cities exhibit with a new exhibit called Australians living inland. This relates how people have interacted with water and focuses on the areas of Alice Springs, Kalgoorlie and Wagga Wagga.

First Australians: Gallery of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

Dulcie Greeno gathers shells for jewellery making on a Tasmanian beach.
Dulcie Greeno gathers shells for jewellery making on a Tasmanian beach.
Photo: Dean McNicoll.

The First Australians gallery represents the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia as required by section 5 of the National Museum of Australia Act 1980, incorporating Indigenous historical collections and exhibitions.

To improve audience understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture, the First Australians gallery presents stories, objects and images that explore Indigenous experiences from time immemorial through colonisation to contemporary Australian life.

This year saw enhancements to the existing Tasmania exhibit with inclusion of new material on community connections to land and sea and caring for the country. Another key changeover was the replacement of the Wik display with Indigenous material from Victoria that examined links between ancestors and contemporary community and cultural regeneration.

The history and reproduction of possum skin cloaks are explored in the First Australians gallery.
The history and reproduction of possum skin cloaks are explored in the First Australians gallery.
Photo: Dragi Markovic; b&w images La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria.

The upgrading of these exhibits brought improvements in exhibition content and interpretation, visitor circulation, and relations between the Museum and Indigenous community groups.

Other activities during 2004-2005 were:

  • development of a major new exhibit, Goolarri media, epresenting an Indigenous community radio station that broadcasts from Broome to the Kimberley and Pilbara region, expected to open late 2005
  • development of two temporary exhibitions Our Community and Pooaraar, opened 30 June 2005
  • redevelopment of the First Australians gallery temporary exhibition space
  • a primary research project on Aboriginal breastplates
  • development of Batmania, an online interactive on John Batman's Melbourne Treaty of 1835
  • production of two editions of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Program's magazine, Mates.