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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 presents stories, objects and images that explore the culture and experiences of Australia’s first peoples from time immemorial, through colonisation to contemporary Australian life.

In 2010–11, module redevelopments and changeovers of objects occurred throughout the gallery. Research continued for the redevelopment of several exhibits planned to open in 2011–12.

Old New Land: Australia’s People and Environment

Old New Land 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

Eternity 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 the story of Louis St John Johnson, an Aboriginal man who was separated from his birth mother in 1973, and who died tragically in 1992, was installed.

Australian Journeys

Australian Journeys explores the passages of people to, from and across Australia. The gallery, which opened early in 2009, 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. It was the first permanent gallery to be renewed since the Museum opened in 2001.

The gallery includes significant purchases made by the Museum, such as a 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.

In 2010–11, module redevelopments and changeovers of objects occurred throughout the gallery. A new module featuring Tania Verstak, Miss Australia 1961, was added to the gallery. Verstak’s dress worn in the ‘national costume’ category of the International Beauty Congress at Long Beach, California, is the centrepiece of the display.

Photograph taken from above, looking down at an oversized puppet consisting of a female face, constructed of painted papier-mache. The woman wears a white collared-shirt and black taselled scarf. A man on the third rung of a large ladder reaches up to adjust the puppet's collar. Five other people stand in the gallery space.
Museum staff prepare a giant puppet of Marion Mahony Griffin for a display about the Sydney suburb of Castlecrag, featured in the new Landmarks gallery

Gallery objects de-installed and installed

Gallery Objects de-installed Objects installed
First Australians 33 72
Old New Land 6 3
Eternity 8 4
Landmarks 0 1460
Australian Journeys 74 27
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