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Lead public discussion about ideas that matter in Australian life


  • Deliver integrated programming and communication in association with major exhibitions and research.


  • The hugely successful exhibition A History of the World in 100 Objects from the British Museum (AHOW) inspired a diverse range of programs for general visitors, while two important anniversaries provided opportunities for serious reflection on these defining moments in Australian history.


The Museum continued to build on its reputation for innovative events and programs in 2016–17 with its major Australia Day festival, discussion panels, musical performances and art classes, ensuring that we continue to connect with and educate diverse audiences about the Museum’s interests and collection. Some of the highlights are described below.

A World of History and Culture: family festival

The program for the Museum’s 2017 Australia Day festival explored themes from the AHOW exhibition, which was open from 8am to midnight on the day. With 5330 visitors attending the programmed activities between 10am and 2pm, this was one of the Museum’s most successful festivals. Themed activities on offer throughout the day catered for a variety of interests and ages, and included swordcraft and falconry demonstrations, participatory 19th-century dance, weaving and calligraphy workshops and international dance performances.

Australia Day evening program

The Australia Day celebrations continued into the evening with a range of family-friendly activities to encourage people to stay on the peninsula. About 1000 people crowded the lake’s edge to watch the Australia Day fireworks display at 9pm. In total, an estimated 9215 people visited the Museum over the course of the full day, participating in activities inside and outside the Museum building.

Celebrating Albert Namatjira

In early March the Museum conducted a range of events inspired by the Ntaria (Hermannsburg) module in the lower Landmarks gallery, developed in collaboration with social change company Big hART and descendants of pioneering Indigenous artist Albert Namatjira. Events included the media launch of the Namatjira Legacy Trust, and an exclusive screening of the feature-length documentary The Namatjira Project, which forms part of the campaign to restore copyright of Namatjira’s works to his family. The series of events concluded the following day with a traditional landscape watercolour painting masterclass, which gave participants the opportunity to learn directly from watercolourists Lenie Namatjira and Gloria Pannka, and Hermannsburg potter and emerging watercolourist Clara Inkamala.

Harvest of Endurance: A scroll and a concert

On 4 May 2017, the Museum collaborated with the Canberra International Music Festival to host a concert in the Main Hall featuring 18 musical compositions by William Yang, commissioned to respond to the 18 panels of the 50-metre Harvest of Endurance scroll. The scroll was brought out of storage for display on the evening.

Defining Moments in Australian History panel discussions

Research activities conducted under the umbrella of the Defining Moments in Australian History project continue to be embodied in exhibitions and programming. In May the Museum launched the temporary exhibition A Change Is Gonna Come, to acknowledge and elucidate the two major anniversaries of 2017: the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum and the 25th anniversary of the 1992 High Court Mabo decision. The exhibition pays tribute to the determination and resilience of activists — both black and white — who demanded change. A major programming event associated with this exhibition was the Defining Moments 1967 referendum panel discussion, one of a series of Defining Moments discussion programs that are presented in partnership with ABC RN’s Big Ideas program. The sold-out event in the Visions Theatre explored the importance of the two anniversaries with a number of key experts, including federal Member for Barton, Linda Burney; Professor John Maynard from the University of Newcastle; Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Council chief executive, Andrea Mason; and Aboriginal rights activist Ray Peckham. Other successful Defining Moments in Australian History panel discussions were themed around sport in Australia (August) and post-war immigration (September). See also Defining Moments in Australian History.

Prepare the Museum for a world that is ‘living digitally’


  • 5000 annual participants in live online engagements across Australia and Asia.
  • Launch three new Museum-developed interactive or multimedia experiences for visitors.
  • 4.2 million annual page views of the Museum’s website.
  • Develop and implement the Digital Engagement Strategy/Framework — Year 1.


  • The Museum engaged with audiences across Australia and the world by live-streaming content on Facebook Live, YouTube Live, and through its Robot program. Across these various platforms, the Museum exceeded 90,000 engagements with its online audiences.
  • The Museum launched three new interactive and multimedia experiences for visitors in 2016–17.
  • The Museum’s website received over 4.9 million page views during the year.
  • The Museum launched the Digital Strategy 2016–2020.


This year the Museum began implementing the Digital Strategy 2016–2020. Two major website projects commenced: the redevelopment of the Museum’s website and its Collections Online interface.

New interactive or multimedia experiences for visitors

The Museum delivered three new onsite digital experiences for visitors in 2016–17:

  • an audio tour for A History of the World in 100 Objects
  • two multimedia interactives and an interactive wall in the newly developed First Australians gallery Welcome Space
  • a virtual reality (VR) experience featuring two immersive 360-degree films starring Sir David Attenborough: First Life and Great Barrier Reef Dive. First aired on 26 December 2016, this experience has remained popular with audiences, and VR is now an ongoing part of the Museum’s programming.

In 2016–17 the Museum developed onsite digital experiences for delivery in the next financial year:

  • an immersive sensory dome experience for the Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters exhibition, which results from an Australian Research Council-funded partnership between the Museum, the University of New South Wales and other partners
  • an interactive based around an installation of life-sized tjanpi (grass) figures for Songlines
  • an Indigenous-led audio tour for Songlines
  • a dramatic interactive wall in the Museum’s Main Hall featuring key historical events identified in the Defining Moments in Australian History project.

Online participation and engagement

The Museum connected with audiences across Australia and the world by live-streaming content on Facebook Live, YouTube Live, and through its Mobile Robot Telepresence Education program (the Robot program). Across these various platforms, the Museum exceeded 90,000 engagements with its online audiences. A big contribution towards this figure was the popularity of the Facebook Live broadcast of an interview with the CSIRO scientists responsible for developing wireless technologies, an event associated with A History of the World in 100 Objects.

Museum website

During 2016–17 the website received 2,100,015 total visits, a 17 per cent increase on the previous year and 24 per cent over the target. Unique page views were 4,957,574, a 22 per cent increase on 2015–16 and 21 per cent above target. A large proportion of this was due to the success of the section of the site devoted to A History of the World in 100 Objects, which received over 321,058 page views. Overall, the Exhibitions section was the most visited area of the Museum’s website, with page views increasing by 43 per cent to 1,015,680. The Defining Moments in Australian History section saw significant growth over the past year, increasing by 94 per cent to 366,404 page views.

Connect with academic, social, commercial, physical and online communities


  • Secure support and funding for the Encounters Indigenous Cultural Workers Scholarships program in association with The Prince’s Charities Australia.
  • Deliver Indigenous Cultural Rights and Engagement training.


  • Six recipients from across Australia participated in the inaugural 2016 Encounters Indigenous Cultural Workers Scholarships program.
  • The Museum delivered two Indigenous Cultural Rights and Engagement training sessions to 33 Museum staff.


Encounters Indigenous Cultural Workers Scholarships program

The Encounters Indigenous Cultural Workers Scholarships program was established by the Museum following extensive consultation conducted during the development of the Encounters: Revealing Stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Objects from the British Museum exhibition. Jointly sponsored by the Museum and The Prince’s Charities Australia, and supported by grants and private donations, the scholarships program was designed as a dynamic new learning opportunity for Indigenous cultural workers living in regional and remote communities. The innovative three-way partnership model enabled the six inaugural scholarship recipients to undertake professional development at the Museum in Canberra, and the British Museum and The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts in London.

A key aim of the program is to build capacity in regional and remote communities, which will be evaluated through a review of the project. Another key objective is to support the individual participants in developing cultural heritage management skills through researching and accessing collections nationally and internationally. The program supported the six inaugural scholarship participants to establish long-term relationships with museum professionals at leading cultural institutions in Australia and in the United Kingdom.

Ongoing contact has been maintained with each participant and the Museum has established a program of continued support for 2017 as they progress their projects in their communities. An extensive evaluation and review period will inform planning for the next program.

Establish meaningful and long-lived local, national and international relationships


  • Four current partnerships with international museums or organisations.
  • Deliver digital travelling exhibition program in partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to promote Australian history and culture internationally.


  • The Museum continued to deliver outcomes and share benefits and exchanges under the terms of five memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with international organisations during 2016–17.
  • The Museum successfully delivered the international touring exhibition One Road: Aboriginal Art from Australia’s Deserts to four venues in Japan, reaching 35,802 people.
  • The Museum continued to develop and tour travelling graphic-panel displays of Indigenous artworks from the collection in partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), reaching more than 206,257 people.


The British Museum

The National Museum opened the second of three major exhibitions under its MoU with the British Museum. A History of the World in 100 Objects from the British Museum opened on 9 September 2016 and closed on 29 January 2017 (see A History of the World in 100 Objects from the British Museum).

National Heritage Board, Singapore

The Museum’s MoU with the National Heritage Board, Singapore, provides opportunities for collaboration with the National Museum of Singapore (NMS) across a broad range of museum practices, including exhibitions and loan exchanges; curatorial, conservation and staff exchanges in the fields of public programs and education; community engagement; museum management; research; and workshops and seminars.

Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery

Together with the Australian War Memorial and the National Gallery of Australia, the Museum has an MoU with the Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery (NMAG) to support exhibition delivery and the development of a masterplan for NMAG.

Muséum d’Histoire naturelle du Havre

Under its MoU with the Muséum d’Histoire naturelle du Havre, the Museum has worked with five Australian institutions to tour The Art of Science: Baudin’s Voyagers 1800–1804. The exhibition was on display at three Australian venues during the year: the South Australian Maritime Museum, Adelaide (opened June 2016), Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston (January 2017) and Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart (April 2017), with two other Australian venues to follow, including the Museum in Canberra in March 2018.

National Museum of China

The Museum continued its collaboration with the National Museum of China (NMC), renewing its MoU in September 2016 for a further five-year period.

An exhibition exchange with NMC will result in Old Masters: Australia’s Great Bark Artists being displayed in Beijing from June to September 2018 and, in return, the Museum will display an exhibition from the NMC, which will draw on its rich collections.

The Museum hosted three staff members from NMC in December 2016, who were able to view some of the bark paintings from Old Masters, talk about the interpretation of the objects and speak with Museum conservators. In exchange, the Head of the Museum’s Research Centre, Dr Michael Pickering, visited NMC in March 2017 to learn about its collections, exhibition and professional practice and hold preliminary discussions about the NMC exhibition.

One Road: Aboriginal Art from Australia’s Deserts

One Road is a touring exhibition of important contemporary artworks from the Museum’s collection, based on the Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route exhibition. The exhibition was on display at four venues in Japan and over the course of the year attracted a total of 35,802 visitors.

Travelling graphic-panel displays

In partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Museum regularly tours two graphic-panel displays that are tailored for display at embassies, missions and other venues and are made available for local display via Australian diplomatic posts throughout the world. More than 206,000 people viewed the two displays internationally in 2016–17.

The Museum developed another large-scale graphic-panel display drawing on its Canning Stock Route collection of Aboriginal art, which opened in Mexico City on 24 October 2016. The 62-panel exhibition was displayed at the Paseo de la Reforma, a prominent boulevard in Mexico City. Two million people are estimated to have seen the exhibition while on display, although formal visitation numbers were not obtained.

In partnership with Princess Cruise Lines Ltd, the Museum developed a new graphic-panel display based on the Defining Moments in Australian History project for installation on five Princess Cruise liners in the Asia–Pacific region. From November 2016, the Museum delivered the exhibition on 68 cruises, including nine cultural tours hosted by Museum presenters on board the Emerald Princess, with a total audience reach of over 204,000 people.

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