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Permanent galleries

First Australians: Gallery of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples (Gallery of First Australians)

The Gallery of First Australians represents the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia as required by Section 5 of the National Museum of Australia Act 1980, and incorporates historical collections and exhibitions.

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

A major new module on the history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander resistance was opened in late 2008. The 'Resistance' exhibit tells just four of the hundreds of stories of the way Indigenous peoples experienced the occupation of their countries. The stories have a geographical spread, from Perth, Western Australia, to Brisbane, Queensland; and a chronological one, from the 1830s to the 1930s. The stories are also featured on the Museum's website.

Research is continuing for the redevelopment of several exhibits planned to open in 2009–10.

Old New Land: Australia's People and Environment

The Old New Land gallery presents an environmental history of Australia. It examines the history of Australian attitudes to the environment, looking at the relationship of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to the land and the adaptation of settlers from Britain and Europe to the continent's diverse environments. The gallery also explores the personal and emotional attachments of people to the great range of Australian landscapes and places.

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 gallery uses these life stories to highlight larger moments, movements, events and themes in Australian history. The gallery's display is based on emotions such as joy, hope, passion and fear, and experiences such as loneliness, mystery, thrill, devotion, separation and chance. This year, four new life stories were installed in the gallery, all of which were supported by new multimedia. They were those of:

  • Tom Wittingslow, legendary sideshow man
  • Nova Peris, Indigenous Olympic gold medallist
  • Peter Cundall, Australian gardening and broadcasting veteran
  • Winnie O'Sullivan, sweetheart of boxer Les Darcy.

Nation: Symbols of Australia

The Nation gallery explores Australian history and culture through the lens of national symbols, both official and popular, and examines how the objects and events that we identify as being 'Australian' have come to be thought of in this way. It also looks at the values and ideas these powerful symbols represent, and how history has cemented these symbols into the Australian imagination.

In 2011 the Nation gallery will be replaced by the Creating a Country gallery, as part of the Museum Enhancement Program (see Museum development).

Australian Journeys

The Australian Journeys gallery explores the passages of people to, from and across Australia. The gallery traces the ways in which migrants and travellers have made homes in Australia and overseas, and have built and maintained connections between here and abroad. Australian Journeys opened in December 2008, replacing the former Horizons gallery on the upper mezzanine. It is the first permanent gallery to be renewed since the Museum opened in 2001.

The gallery includes significant purchases made by the Museum, including the First Fleet table, made of beefwood collected near Port Jackson for First Fleet Surgeon General John White in the early 1790s; and a rich collection associated with Captain James Cook, including Cook's plane table surveying frame, a striking marble bust and a copy of Banks' Florilegium. Other highlights from the Museum's collection include a motion picture camera used by Frank Hurley in Antarctica, a wall-hanging depicting Little Red Riding Hood that was given to an Australian aid worker in a displaced persons camp in Germany in the aftermath of the Second World War, and tokens engraved and left behind in Britain by convicts transported to the Australian colonies.

Australian Journeys includes a number of multimedia interactive modules: on the Little Red Riding Hood wall-hanging, the Ðàn tre (a Vietnamese musical instrument), European voyages to the Australian continent and Australian cricketing history. The Little Red Riding Hood multimedia piece was shortlisted for the Museums Australia Multimedia and Publication Design Awards 2009. The Museum also developed a substantial web feature on the gallery, which includes over nine collection highlights.

Museum curator Megan Parnell talks with artist Fatima Killeen in a studio. They stand either side of bench where a large 'ONE WAY' traffic sign is taped.
Museum curator Megan Parnell (left) discusses objects to be displayed in Moroccan artist Fatima Killeen's exhibit in the Australian Journeys gallery.

Gifts for a new gallery

A soft toy in the shape of a pig made from off-white spotted red cotton fabric. The pig has a triangular ear and is missing its tail. A curved mouth is sewn onto the fabric in black thread.

Above image: Toy pig donated to the National Museum of Australia by Erin Craig.

Objects on display in the National Museum of Australia come from a variety of sources: some are on loan, some are purchased and many have been donated. Donations are particularly important to the Museum and highlight the generosity of those who want to share their treasures with the Australian people. Many of the donated objects have little monetary value; they are valued rather because they are associated with an important or interesting Australian story.

One particularly quirky object was accepted into the Museum's collection in 2008–09 and is now on display in the new Australian Journeys gallery, which opened in December 2008. In pride of place, in an exhibit that focuses on the experiences of Australian women who married United States servicemen during the Second World War, is a small toy pig. The pig was a prize for the child with the reddest hair and was awarded to baby Erin Craig during ship-board entertainment on the SS Lurline. Erin was travelling with her mother Iris from Australia to the United States, to be reunited with Jim Craig, whom Iris had met and married while Jim was stationed in Sydney during the war. Erin treasured the pig for 60 years, donating it to the National Museum of Australia in 2007.

Gallery objects de-installed and installed


Objects de-installed

Objects installed

First Australians 28 58
Old New Land 21 8
Eternity 17 28
Nation 140 3
Australian Journeys 6 799
Total 212 896
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