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Bring the stories of Australia to life through innovative exhibitions and programs


  • Annual visitation to temporary exhibitions over 201,000.
  • Annual visitation to travelling exhibitions over 220,000.
  • Complete content brief of gallery redevelopment.


  • The Museum displayed eight temporary exhibitions at its Acton site during 2016–17, with total visitation of 232,915.
  • The Museum toured eight travelling exhibitions nationally, with total visitation of 589,548.
  • The Museum toured one international travelling exhibition reaching 35,802 visitors; exhibited its two travelling graphic-panel displays in 25 countries, with an estimated 206,257 people viewing the exhibitions; and took another display based on the Defining Moments in Australian History project on cruise liners in the Asia–Pacific region, with about 204,000 holiday-makers viewing the displays.
  • The content brief for the Gallery Redevelopment program has been completed, for implementation in 2018–19.


The temporary and touring exhibitions mounted by the Museum this year brought the stories of Australia to life for record numbers of people, and also reached national and international audiences in places as diverse as Wagga Wagga and Mexico City.

Temporary exhibitions at the National Museum, Canberra

ACO Virtual

An interactive installation featuring musicians from the Australian Chamber Orchestra, this exhibition opened on 9 May and closed on 17 July 2016. In 2016–17, ACO Virtual attracted 6027 visits.

Happy Birthday Play School! Celebrating 50 Years

Celebrating the 50th year since the Australian version of Play School first aired, this exhibition, which featured a giant cake and all the Play School toys, opened at the Museum in Canberra on 7 May 2016 and closed on 24 July 2016. During 2016–17, Happy Birthday Play School! attracted 17,851 visits.

A History of the World in 100 Objects from the British Museum

A History of the World in 100 Objects from the British Museum (AHOW) has been the most popular exhibition ever mounted by the Museum.

An international touring exhibition, AHOW has received a remarkable response from visitors worldwide, and the Museum was delighted to be able to celebrate the milestone of the one-millionth global visitor to this blockbuster exhibition while it was on display in Canberra.

Visitation was at a peak over the December 2016 – January 2017 period, with the Museum extending its opening hours to cope with the demand. The highest number of visits to AHOW in a single day was 3055, recorded on 26 January, when the exhibition stayed open from 8am to midnight in conjunction with the Museum’s Australia Day festival. The exhibition continued to draw impressive visitor numbers until it closed to the public on 29 January. The exhibition was redesigned by the Museum for its Canberra venue, and Museum staff also assisted in the consultation with the Port Essington community over the Australian basket on display. The Museum contributed the ‘101st’ object to the exhibition from its collection: the WLAN prototype test-bed, developed by CSIRO scientists, that led to wireless technology as we know it today.

As well as raising a significant amount of revenue for the Museum, the exhibition provided a solid foundation for increasing overall visitor numbers for the year, and strengthening the profile and reputation of the Museum with the Australian public.

This exhibition was on display between 9 September 2016 and 29 January 2017 and attracted 178,220 visits.

Freewheeling: Cycling in Australia

Developed in 2014, this exhibition explores the history of cycling in Australia through the Museum’s collection of bicycles and related objects. Freewheeling opened at the Museum on 13 April 2017 following its national tour, and will close on 9 July 2017. During 2016–17 Freewheeling attracted 30,817 visits.

Kaninjaku: Stories from the Canning Stock Route

This exhibition, which featured stunning Aboriginal artworks from the Museum’s Canning Stock Route collection, was on display in the First Australians Focus Gallery throughout 2016–17, closing on 17 April 2017. Visitation numbers for this exhibition are included in the permanent gallery visitation figures for the First Australians gallery.

A Change Is Gonna Come

This exhibition opened in the First Australians Focus Gallery on 24 May 2017. Inspired by the 1964 civil rights song ‘A change is gonna come’, it explores the ongoing struggle to achieve equal rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through significant events such as the 1967 referendum and the 1992 Mabo decision, and other remarkable stories of resistance. Visitation numbers for this exhibition are included in the permanent gallery visitation figures for the First Australians gallery.

Evolution: Torres Strait Masks

First displayed at the Gab Titui Cultural Centre on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait and opening in the First Australians Focus Gallery on 19 May 2017, this exhibition celebrates the rich and continuing tradition of mask making in the Torres Strait, exploring the form of masks as contemporary expressions of artistic and cultural revival. This exhibition will travel from December 2017. Visitation numbers for this exhibition are included in the permanent gallery visitation figures for the First Australians gallery.

Australian of the Year Awards 2017

This annual exhibition, developed by the National Museum of Australia in collaboration with the National Australia Day Council, was on display at the Museum from 15 December 2016 until 11 February 2017. It features objects chosen by the Australian of the Year finalists from each state. Due to its location in the Main Hall, separate visitor statistics were not recorded for this exhibition while it was on display at the Museum.

Parks Changing Australia

Developed in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects, this exhibition featured 13 influential public spaces that have contributed to the cohesion, character and liveability of contemporary Australian cities. It was displayed from 27 October 2016 to 7 May 2017. Visitation numbers for this exhibition are included in the permanent gallery visitation figures.

National travelling exhibitions

The Museum toured the following travelling exhibitions nationally during 2016–17:

  • Happy Birthday Play School! Celebrating 50 Years: 43,354 visitors
  • Warakurna: All the Stories Got into Our Minds and Eyes: 13,816 visitors (FY 2016–17); 94,208 total visitation
  • Australian of the Year Awards 2016: 93,759 visitors
  • Australian of the Year Awards 2017: 116,065 visitors
  • Freewheeling: Cycling in Australia: 67,555 visitors (FY 2016–17); 752,555 total visitation

The Art of Science: Baudin’s Voyagers 1800–1804

This exhibition, in which the Museum is a partner, displays sketches and paintings created by Baudin’s artists Charles-Alexandre Lesueur and Nicolas- Martin Petit during the 1800–04 voyage of the Géographe and Naturaliste. This exhibition has been displayed at three Australian venues to date: the South Australian Maritime Museum, Adelaide (June to December 2016), Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston (January to March 2017) and Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart (April to July 2017). During 2017–18 the exhibition will travel to the Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney (August to November 2017) and open at the National Museum in March 2018. The exhibition reached 72,858 visitors in total during 2016–17.

National travelling exhibitions: non-traditional venues

The Museum has expanded its travelling exhibition program to non-traditional venues as it explores new partnerships and ways of delivering Australia’s stories to new audiences.

Governor Lachlan Macquarie

This exhibition on the legacy of Governor Macquarie is a collaboration between the Museum and Macquarie Group Limited. Since opening in 2014, it has remained on display at Macquarie Group’s Sydney headquarters in Martin Place. It has been visited 60,311 times, including 34,961 visits during 2016–17.

I Like Aeroplane Jelly

In August 2015, the Museum opened its first display at the Canberra Airport terminal. The 1920s Model T Ford truck used to advertise Aeroplane Jelly was installed along with multimedia equipment to allow airport users to search the Museum’s collections. Over 147,000 airport visitors are estimated to have been reached by this display.

International travelling exhibitions

The Museum toured the following travelling exhibitions internationally during 2016–17:

One Road: Aboriginal Art from Australia’s Deserts

One Road is a touring exhibition of contemporary artworks from the Museum’s collection and brings the artistic, cultural and natural worlds of the Aboriginal people of Australia’s remote deserts to an international audience. It contains 34 paintings, a small selection of objects, audiovisual content and landscape images. It toured to four venues in Japan (Osaka, Takamatsu, Tokyo and Hokkaido) and received a total of 35,802 visitors.

Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route and Old Masters: Australia’s Great Bark Artists

In partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Museum routinely tours two graphic-panel displays that are made available for local display via Australian diplomatic posts throughout the world.

During 2016–17 the graphic-panel displays attracted 206,257 visitors in 25 countries: Argentina, Chile, China, Croatia, Denmark, Egypt, the Federated States of Micronesia, France, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Mongolia, Nigeria, the Philippines, Portugal, the Republic of Kiribati, the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Russia, Samoa, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Ukraine. See also Travelling graphic-panel displays.

Complete content brief for the Gallery Redevelopment program

A content and narrative plan was drafted during the year, setting out the high-level structure and approach to content and narrative across the Museum’s diverse platforms. Part One of the plan outlines critical high-level content and narrative issues pertaining to the range of the Museum’s activities — both on the Acton site and in the digital realm. Parts Two to Four focus on the implications of the plan for the Museum’s Forecourt, the Main Hall and permanent exhibition galleries. It offers a roadmap for gallery redevelopment and the modular redevelopment and changeover that will follow.

Ensure our collections are safe and accessible, physically and digitally, for all time


  • Eighty per cent of the National Historical Collection stored in accordance with appropriate museum standards and the Strategic Property Plan to enhance collection storage and ensure efficient usage of technical areas.


  • The Museum continued to place the highest priority on maintaining a safe, secure and accessible collection, with 82 per cent of the National Historical Collection stored in accordance with appropriate museum standards.


The National Historical Collection is the Museum’s core collection, comprising more than 230,000 objects. Storage of the collection is a continuing challenge for the Museum. At any time, about three per cent of the collection is on display or on loan. The remainder is stored at repositories in Mitchell, on Canberra’s outskirts.

During 2016–17 the Museum continued its implementation of the Strategic Property Plan (SPP), which provides an overview and analysis of strategic options for the management of Museum buildings and facilities. The SPP identifies issues, risks and opportunities related to the Museum’s storage and collection management needs over the next 10 years.

Improvements to the Museum’s storage facilities

Successful implementation of the SPP will ensure that the Museum can continue to meet its obligations under the Museum Act to collect, preserve and display the National Historical Collection. Specifically, it will enable the Museum to make better use of current storage space, improve storage for important collections, plan for short- to long-term storage developments and explore options for providing increased access to the collections into the future.

In 2016–17 several improvements identified in Section 2: Gap Analysis of the SPP were made to the Mitchell storage facilities. At 9–13 Vicars Street, Mitchell, these included:

  • creation of a new digitisation studio in preparation for the Museum’s three-year digitisation program
  • increasing the frequency and intensity of the pest control service in and around the collection.

At 90 Vicars Street, Mitchell, progress included:

  • creation of new office facilities as part of the Annexe relocation project
  • creation of a new library facility to house the Museum’s collection of rare books, National Historical Collection books and archives (see also Annexe Relocation Project).

Develop the best ideas, research and scholarship to underpin our programs


  • A Research Centre that supports organisational outcomes.
  • Two online editions of reCollections published.
  • Three partnerships in place that support core themes of the Research Centre.


  • The Research Centre Plan 2016–18 was launched to support research activities across the Museum.
  • The Museum’s scholarly e-journal reCollections was not published during 2016–17 as a new format is under consideration for 2017–18.
  • The Museum maintained seven Australian Research Council (ARC) grants with partner organisations, as well as continuing to foster formal and informal research partnerships across Australia and internationally.


Research and scholarship are central to the Museum’s collection, exhibitions, publications and other activities. This research includes Australian history, care of its collection, and museological areas including audience evaluation and outreach, and is supported by the Research Library. Museum staff also regularly publish in industry journals and give presentations on Museum research activity.

Research Centre Plan 2016–18

It is the ambition of the Research Centre, as set out in the Research Centre Plan 2016–18, to establish a growing program of rigorous and innovative research activities across the Museum, and to increase public access to Museum research through outreach programs and other dissemination strategies, as well as providing professional development opportunities for Museum staff.

Two online editions of reCollections

In early 2016 an external consultant conducted a review of the scholarly e-journal reCollections, which had been published for 10 years and promoted museological work by Museum staff and external researchers, disseminated information and analysis, and stimulated awareness and discussion of issues relating to museums and collections. It was recommended that the journal cease publication in its current format. The new format of the e-journal will be considered in 2017–18.

Research partnerships

The National Museum of Australia has successfully supported its mission by establishing a number of partnerships through the Australian Research Council (ARC) grant scheme. The fruits of one major project, ‘Alive with the Dreaming! Songlines of the Western Desert’ (Australian National University; Ananguku Arts and Culture Organisation; The Palya Fund; University of New England; NPY Women’s Council; Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa; Archaeological and Heritage Management Solutions; Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities), which was funded from 2011 to 2015, will be realised in the major exhibition, Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters, that opens in September 2017.

In 2016–17 Museum staff were involved in the following ARC projects:

  • ‘Return, reconcile, renew: Understanding the history, effects and opportunities of repatriation and building an evidence base for the future’ (Australian National University, University of Melbourne, University of Tasmania, Flinders University, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Department of Communications and the Arts, Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre, Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority, University of Otago, Association on American Indian Affairs, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, and Gur A Baradharaw Kod Torres Strait Sea and Land Council), 2013–16
  • ‘Restoring dignity: Networked knowledge for repatriation communities’ (Australian National University, Humboldt University, Association on American Indian Affairs, Department for Communication and the Arts, Gur A Baradharaw Kod Torres Strait Sea and Land Council, Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre, Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority, University of Amsterdam, University of Otago, Flinders University of South Australia, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies), 2017–19
  • ‘The relational museum and its objects’ (Australian National University, British Museum, Museum of the Riverina), 2015–19
  • ‘DomeLab, an ultra-high resolution experimental fulldome’ (University of New South Wales, University of Western Sydney, RMIT University, University of Canberra, The University of Western Australia, University of Tasmania, City University of Hong Kong, Museum of Victoria, Australian National Maritime Museum, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, AARNet Pty Ltd, Intersect Australia Ltd), 2015–20
  • ‘Understanding Australia in the age of humans: Localising the Anthropocene’ (University of Sydney, Australian National University, University of New South Wales), 2016–18
  • ‘A new theory of Aboriginal Art’ (University of Wollongong), 2015–18
  • ‘Heritage of the air’ (Airservices Australia, Airways Museum & Civil Aviation Historical Society, SFO Museum, University of Canberra, University of New South Wales, University of Sydney, Australian National University), 2017–20.

The Museum has also collaborated with several Australian and German institutions to develop a German–Australian Repatriation Research Network. The network will allow Australian and German repatriation experts to exchange information regarding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander remains held overseas. This project now forms part of the Museum’s International Strategy for 2017–21.

Create online collections information and access to enhance public engagement


  • Establish a sustainable acquisition and documentation program to ensure that growth in the collection is resourced appropriately.
  • 650 acquisitions.
  • 1000 objects accessioned.
  • 60 per cent of new acquisitions accessioned in the reporting period.
  • Reduce accessioning backlog to 12,550 objects awaiting accessioning.
  • 48 per cent of the Museum’s collection available online via a collections search function with reliable, discoverable information that promotes public participation.


  • The Collections Development Plan and Collections Development Framework provide the structure for sustainable growth in the Museum’s collection. In 2016–17 the Museum:
    • acquired 844 new acquisitions
    • accessioned 1414 objects
    • reduced the accessioning backlog to 11,614 objects
    • accessioned 22.4 per cent of new acquisitions in the reporting period
    • made 49 per cent of the Museum’s collection available online via a collections search function with reliable and discoverable information that promotes public participation.


The National Museum’s core collection is known as the National Historical Collection. The Museum’s collecting activities are guided by its Collections Development Plan and Collections Development Framework. The framework provides a structure and process for identifying, assessing and prioritising material to be collected.

Among the many significant acquisitions during the course of the year were the following collections:

Bedford ‘TJ’ series truck collection

The collection comprises a Bedford ‘TJ’ series truck used by Brian Manning to deliver supplies and letters to stockmen, workers and their wives during the seven-year strike by Gurindji people, which has become known as the Wave Hill Walk-Off.

Gladstone Weatherstone collection

This collection comprises a cabinet of bird eggs and nests, along with photographic negatives and slides of various bird species, a 35-millimetre camera, a list of the bird species featured on the slides, a Gould League membership badge and a farm nursery seeding device. With deep interests in birds and natural history, the Weatherstone family helped to revise Australian agriculture along ecological principles.

Maticevski Eurovision Gown collection

This collection consists of a silver and gold lamé gown worn by Jessica Mauboy during her performance at the Eurovision song contest in 2014, as well as three ink-and-paper sketches of the gown by its designer, Toni Maticevski.

National Jockeys Trust collection

The collection consists of a pair of white silk jockey breeches, signed ‘Michelle Payne 2015 # POP’, and a replica set of Prince of Penzance jockey colours framed together with photographs of jockey Michelle Payne and racehorse Prince of Penzance winning the 2015 Melbourne Cup. As the first female jockey ever to win the Melbourne Cup, Payne attracted significant public attention and many accolades.

Martumili Seven Sisters collection

This collection comprises three acrylic on canvas paintings by Martumili artists Nancy Nyanjilpayi Chapman, Mulyatingki Marney and Bugai Whyoulter. These paintings represent the Seven Sisters songline at two sites, the Parnngurr and Pangkal rock holes, that mark the beginning of the two Minyipuru (or Seven Sisters) journeys through Martu country.

Council approvals

The Museum’s Council formally approves the inclusion of objects into the National Historical Collection. This year the Council approved 75 collections.

Cultural Gifts Program

Every year the Museum facilitates the acquisition of donations through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program. During 2016–17, one collection was donated to the Museum through the program: the MulkunWirrpanda collection, donated by Wayne and Vicki McGeoch.

Accessioning the collection

Accessioning is the process that formally registers an object into the Museum’s permanent collection. During the year, the Museum accessioned 1414 objects. In all, 22.39 per cent of new acquisitions were accessioned within the same year, and the Museum has reduced its backlog of objects awaiting accessioning to 11,614, ahead of target.

Online collections information

The Museum achieved its target by having 49 per cent of the Museum’s collection available online via a collections search function with reliable and discoverable information.

During 2016–17, Collections was the fifth most visited area of Museum’s website with 323,866 page views. The Museum also initiated the Collections Online project, which is designed to encourage deeper engagement with the Museum’s digital collection and increased support for the front-end web program Collection Explorer, through development of an Application Programming Interface (API), opening up more digital objects for re-use via Creative Commons licencing.

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