Skip to content
  • Open today 9am–5pm
  • Free general admission

The Encounters project and its products

Lead public discussion about ideas that matter, to promote an awareness and understanding of Australian history through:

  • exhibitions and related public programs
  • conferences and symposia.


  • Deliver New Encounters: Communities, Collections, Museums international conference to engage Indigenous stakeholders and Museum audience in a discussion about Australian culture and history.


  • The Museum delivered the international conference, New Encounters: Communities, Collections, Museums, in March 2016, in conjunction with the Museum’s exhibition Encounters: Revealing Stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Objects from the British Museum.


Encounters was a six-year-long collaborative project between the National Museum of Australia, the British Museum, the Australian National University (ANU) and 27 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia. The major outputs of the project were two groundbreaking exhibitions in 2015–16: Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation, at the British Museum, London; and Encounters: Revealing Stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Objects from the British Museum, at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra (see also below Take the lead: International partnerships, Cherish our stories: Bringing our stories to life ). Throughout the exhibition period in Canberra, the Museum also conducted an ambitious program of public events.

Companion exhibition

Unsettled: Stories Within was a companion exhibition to Encounters. In Unsettled, five leading Indigenous Australian artists responded to the British Museum’s Indigenous collection through a series of contemporary artworks and performances.

Exhibition launch

More than 100 Indigenous community visitors attended the launch of Encounters and Unsettled, by the Governor-General of Australia, His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd), on 2 December 2015. Louise Brown welcomed guests to country, and speakers included the Minister for the Arts, Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield; the Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory, Mr Andrew Barr MLA; Chair of the Museum Council, Mr David Jones; Chair of the Museum’s Indigenous Reference Group, Mr Peter Yu; and Chief Executive Officer of Marninwarntikura Fitzroy Women’s Resource Centre, Ms June Oscar AO. Over a two-day period, a program was offered that provided tours of Encounters and Unsettled, visits to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) to view collections from Indigenous communities and tours of the First Australians gallery and Open Collections.

During the period the exhibitions were on display, there were additional visits from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals and community groups, and requests for guided tours with Indigenous staff were received from government and non-government bodies. Staff from the Museum’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Program (ATSIP) also worked with other community groups unable to attend the launch, to arrange for them to visit and view the exhibition at a later date.

A woman sits between sculptural artworks of stacked white logs.
Guest curator Kelli Cole in the Unsettled: Stories within exhibition, November 2015

New Encounters: international conference

The international conference, New Encounters: Communities, Collections and Museums, explored how Indigenous communities and museums around the world are rethinking their relationships with colonial collections, and questioning and confronting the legacies of our shared history in creative and unexpected ways. The conference brought together First Nations representatives, museum practitioners and academics from Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Finland and the United Kingdom to discuss a range of critical issues, including how museums and communities are re-engaging with Indigenous collections, the rights and responsibilities involved in the custodianship of these collections, repatriation of cultural heritage, and what future models of engagement might look like — locally, regionally and globally. Conference partners included ANU and AIATSIS.

Encounters artists-in-residence program

Eight prominent Indigenous artists from around the country demonstrated traditional and contemporary art techniques during a four-day in-house residency. The event included artist demonstrations, workshops and ‘meet the artist’ talks.

Investigating Encounters: panel discussion

On 1 December 2015, the Museum hosted a discussion with panellists Muran woman Carol Christophersen; Magan man Ned David; Meriam, Wuthathi and Bindal Juru woman Nancia Guivarra; and Yawuru man and chair of the Museum’s Indigenous Reference Group Peter Yu. The participants discussed how objects for the Encounters exhibition were originally collected, the exhibition’s interpretation of Indigenous culture, the repatriation of Indigenous objects and stories from Australia’s complex history. The panel was hosted by Paul Barclay, presenter of ABC Radio National’s Big Ideas, and was broadcast on that station. The event was booked out.

Continuing Culture: Australia Day festival

The Museum’s 2016 Australia Day festival celebrated the enduring traditions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture against the backdrop of the Encounters exhibition. Visitors met new generations of Indigenous artists and practitioners, many of whom were featured in the exhibition. The festival attracted more than 2800 visitors and included talks by curators and artists, craft activities and demonstrations, games, films and live entertainment.

By the Water concert

Now in its sixth year, By the Water featured ARIA award-winner Dan Sultan and Thelma Plum performing on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin at the Museum on 6 February 2016. It was a wonderful night of music, sunset and stars, and complemented the focus on contemporary Indigenous culture of the Encounters exhibition. More than 1200 people attended the performance, which had sold out in advance.

Putuparri and the Rainmakers: outdoor film screening

Screened on 11 February 2016, the film tells the story of Tom ‘Putuparri’ Lawford, a man caught between two worlds: his past and present in modern society and his future as a leader of his people. The screening included a talk with the film’s director, Nicole Ma, and a special appearance by Putuparri.

New Encounters: public discussion

In conjunction with the conference, a panel of international speakers from First Nations communities and museums around the world was hosted in the Museum’s Main Hall by renowned ABC presenter Geraldine Doogue. Speakers at this sold-out event included Richard West, founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, Washington DC; David Garneau, a Canadian artist and curator; Paul Tapsell, Chair of Maori Studies at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand; Richard Luarkie, former governor of the Pueblo Laguna nation, USA; and Dr Dawn Casey, a former director of the National Museum of Australia.

International partnerships

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

  • formal agreements with international museums or organisations to enter into partnerships
  • development of an international digital travelling exhibition program.


  • Maintain three memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with international organisations.
  • Deliver digital travelling exhibition program in partnership with Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to promote Australian history and culture internationally.
  • Open first of three major exhibitions with the British Museum.


  • The Museum entered into two new international MoUs during 2015–16, with the National Heritage Board of Singapore and the Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery. The Museum continued to deliver outcomes and share benefits and exchanges with international organisations under the terms of three ongoing partnerships with the National Museum of China, the Muséum d’histoire naturelle du Havre, France, and the British Museum.
  • The Museum continued its partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in touring the digital exhibition Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route. The Museum also launched a second digital display, Old Masters: Australia’s Great Bark Artists drawing on its significant collection of world-class Indigenous bark paintings.
  • The Museum opened the first of three major exhibitions with the British Museum. Encounters: Revealing Stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Objects from the British Museum opened in November 2015.


Singapore National Heritage Board

Signed in July 2015, the Museum’s MoU with Singapore National Heritage Board provides an example of the Museum’s commitment to capacity-building and knowledge-sharing with major cultural institutions in the Asia–Pacific region. The MoU outlines a collaboration with the National Museum of Singapore (NMS) across a broad range of museum expertise and practice, 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.

The first stage of the MoU comprised staff exchanges in the area of public programs. A Museum public programs officer travelled to Singapore in August 2015 and spent a month working with the NMS on various programs for such events as the Singapore 50th jubilee weekend and the Singapore night festival. In January 2016 an NMS staff member travelled to Canberra to work on the Australia Day festival, school holiday programming, the By the Water concert and numerous programs associated with the Encounters exhibition.

In the second stage of the MoU the Museum was successful in securing funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Australia–ASEAN Council to support the Capturing Asia: Willie Phua, News Cameramanexhibit, developed in partnership with the NMS. During his 30-year career with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), which began in the 1960s, Phua developed strong friendships with Australian journalists, and his efforts to bring the stories of Asia to Australian audiences were rewarded with an Honorary Medal of the Order of Australia award in 1996.

Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery

In partnership with the Australian War Memorial and the National Gallery of Australia, the Museum entered into an MoU with the Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery (NMAG) to support the design, development and delivery of an exhibition, and to assist with the development of a masterplan for NMAG. The resulting exhibition, Built on Culture, celebrates the breadth of cultural diversity that shapes the vibrant democracy of present-day Papua New Guinea, and included masterpieces from the NMAG collection, supported with works from the Official Papuan collection which is housed at the National Museum of Australia. This partnership was part of a package of support announced by the Australian Government, through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as Australia’s contribution to mark Papua New Guinea’s 40th anniversary of independence in September 2015.

National Museum of China

The Museum also continued to develop its strong collaboration with the National Museum of China (NMC) through staff exchanges in 2015. One of the Museum’s senior staff members travelled to China in September 2015 to learn about the NMC’s collections and its exhibition and professional practice, and to visit other museums in Beijing. In exchange, the Museum hosted an NMC staff member in November who gained experience by helping with the Museum’s preparation for the Encounters exhibition, and by visiting other national cultural institutions in Canberra.

Muséum d’histoire naturelle du Havre

Under the terms of the MoU with the Muséum d’histoire naturelle du Havre, the Museum has worked with five Australian institutions and the Muséum d’histoire naturelle du Havre to develop a touring exhibition highlighting the voyages of French explorer Nicolas Baudin in 1800–04. This partnership project was awarded a grant of $186,000 under the National Collecting Institutions Touring and Outreach (NCITO) Program.

The Museum’s Registration team provided considerable advice and support to each of the partner institutions to facilitate the international loans and freight and courier requirements. The Museum also took the lead role in ensuring that consultation and publication requirements were met under the Department of Communications and the Arts’ Protection of Cultural Objects on Loan Scheme.

The Art of Science: Baudin’s Voyagers 1800–1804 exhibition opened at its first Australian venue in June 2016, with five other Australian venues to follow.

The British Museum

The major products of the Encounters project, which was a significant collaboration between the Australian National University, the British Museum and the National Museum of Australia, were delivered in 2015–16. The exhibition Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation was on show at the British Museum from 23 April to 2 August 2015. Encounters: Revealing Stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Objects from the British Museum opened at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra on 27 November 2015 (with the formal launch on 2 December). Both exhibitions featured rare, early Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander objects from the British Museum. In order to clearly locate these items within living cultural traditions, in Encounters they were displayed with new objects created by the Indigenous communities represented in the exhibition.

The Encounters project has resulted in the establishment of an ongoing partnership between the two institutions, with two further exhibitions from the British Museum planned to travel to Canberra: A History of the World in 100 Objects from the British Museum opening in September 2016 and an exhibition related to ancient Rome projected to open in 2018.

Encounters closed on 28 March 2016, with 98,392 visitors seeing the exhibition over the course of its four-month run. By all measures, this has been a very successful project: not only has it drawn upon the research and programming strengths of the Museum, but in its extensive consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities it has also served as a model of community engagement and respect for Australia’s first peoples and their cultures that will guide the Museum’s practice for years to come.

The Encounters exhibition won two Museums and Galleries National Awards (MAGNA); it was the winner for Best Major Temporary Exhibition and the co-winner for Best Museum Project Overall. In addition, the Museum won the ICOM Australia Award for its multifaceted international program. This award recognised the joint Encounters and Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation exhibitions with the British Museum, the partnership with The Prince’s Charities Australia and the Museum’s vigorous program of displays, exhibitions and exchanges with more than 13 countries in 2015–16.

Travelling graphic-panel displays

In partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Museum routinely tours two graphic-panel displays that are tailored for each venue and made available for local display via Australian diplomatic posts throughout the world. The first display, Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route, is based on the successful exhibition of the same name. The Museum also launched a second digital display, Old Masters: Australia’s Great Bark Artists, drawing on its significant collection of world-class Indigenous bark paintings. More than 260,000 people viewed the two displays internationally in 2015–16.

In association with the Yiwarra Kuju banner display at the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, two Museum staff travelled to Vietnam in June 2016, with the support of the Australian Embassy in Hanoi, to deliver a series of workshops in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. More than 40 participants, representing cultural institutions from across Vietnam, learnt about the Museum’s exhibition development and promotional practices, thereby forming a solid basis for future knowledge sharing and collaboration.

Living digitally

Prepare the Museum for a world that is ‘living digitally’ through a Digital Program that:

  • creates live online engagement across Australia and Asia through the Museum Robot program, videoconferencing, live streaming and new technologies, as they become available
  • implements digital applications for onsite visitors
  • develops web content for visitors
  • engages with online communities of interest across a broad range of social media platforms
  • develops a Digital Engagement Strategy/Framework.


  • Launch three Museum-developed mobile applications for visitors.
  • Achieve 10,000 participants annually.
  • Achieve 3.9 million annual page views on the Museum’s website.


The Museum launched three mobile apps for visitors in 2015–16:

  • a Mandarin-language version of the Museum’s self-guided tour, The Loop
  • Articulate, an iPad-delivered application that gauged visitor responses to the Encounters exhibition
  • the new Kspace augmented reality (AR) trail app.

The Museum actively encouraged online engagement by live-streaming content on Periscope, Facebook Live and YouTube Live, achieving more than 32,000 views through these channels alone.

The Museum’s website received more than 4 million page views during the year, with particular interest in the Encounters content including the classroom resources and landing page.


The Museum sees technology as supplementing the physical experience of visiting the Museum and as a way to engage offsite audiences, including remote and international audiences. Increasingly, there is a convergence between the physical and digital experiences as the Museum develops more interactive content and explores augmented reality (AR) to provide new interpretations of its collections.

Over the course of 2015–16 the Museum has continued to invest in its digital program through innovation and use of emerging technologies — from creating digital exhibitions and content to exploring new modes of engagement through social media platforms. Some of the key achievements and highlights for the year include the following.

Digital Engagement Strategy/Framework

The Museum commenced development of its first Digital Strategy, intended to encourage innovation and external support for digital initiatives that will be launched in 2016, and offered ‘Living digitally’ training to staff. The strategy will be finalised in early 2016–17.

New apps for onsite and remote use

The Museum launched three new mobile apps in 2015–16:

  • On 12 October 2015 the Museum launched a new Mandarin-language audio tour app for the Museum’s permanent galleries. This was a new version of the Museum’s self-guided tour The Loop, a free app that visitors can download. By creating a Mandarin version, the Museum is preparing for increased international visitation and making content more accessible to Chinese–Australian visitors.
  • Visitors to the Museum’s Encounters exhibition used the Articulate app to record their written, drawn, spoken or photographic impressions. Articulate is an iPad-delivered application customised from the Museum of Contemporary Art’s MCA Articulate. Responses were displayed on the iPad within the exhibition and on a custom-built website. Articulate proved popular throughout the exhibition, with a total of 6293 responses recorded, reflecting how the exhibition had helped visitors learn more about Indigenous histories and cultures.
  • The new Kspace augmented reality (AR) trail app, launched on 14 December 2015, encourages visitors to explore the Museum by finding characters from the onsite Kspace interactive game. Visitors can use the Kspace app to follow a trail around the Museum’s galleries; eight Kspace interactive markers, placed near exhibits relevant to Kspace’s various historical periods, serve to activate characters from the Kspace game. The app can be used offsite by printing the markers for use at school or home, thereby tapping into a new and larger audience beyond the physical museum.

Online participation and engagement

The Museum experimented with live-streaming content on Periscope and Facebook Live, with Periscope being used to take our audience on a virtual curator-led tour through the Encounters exhibition in December 2015, and to broadcast key talks at the New Encounters conference in February 2016, with peak viewers hitting 468. Facebook Live was used at the Happy Birthday Play School media launch, which has attracted 32,000 views. The Museum continues to experiment with livestreaming tools, including YouTube Live.

Mobile Robot Telepresence Education Program (the Robot program)

During 2015–16, 2268 people participated in the Museum Robot program, which takes advantage of the NBN and other networks to bring school students and other groups into the Museum through virtual tours and programs. The figure is lower than projected, as many schools experienced problems with bandwidth and firewall security. The Museum has developed a strategy to address this issue by reaching larger groups of international students through a partnership with the Asia Education Foundation. The strategy has been implemented and is expected to result in increased numbers during 2016–17. The Robot program will conclude in 2017.

Museum website

During 2015–16 the website received total visits of 1,789,525, a 5 per cent increase on the previous year. Page views remained steady at 4,057,678, with a slight (0.5 per cent) decrease on 2014–15.

The Exhibitions section continued to be the most visited area of the Museum’s website, with overall page views increasing by 11 per cent to 632,720. The Encounters exhibition received the highest traffic with over 150,000 page views, which included over 30,000 page views to the Encounters classroom resource. As of 30 June 2016, the Happy Birthday Play School exhibition website had received 35,341 page views, a solid performance for a smaller, short-run exhibition. The second most visited area of the website was Collections, followed by the Schools area. Other significant new content added to the website in 2015–16 included the Kspace education resource and new content for Defining Moments in Australian History.

Fostering sustainable relationships

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


  • Consult with four Indigenous communities and establish pilot program.


  • As one of the legacies of the Encounters project, the Museum partnered with The Prince’s Charities Australia to establish the Encounters Indigenous Cultural Workers Scholarships program for cultural workers from regional and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The Museum consulted with 27 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities during development of the program.


The Encounters Indigenous Cultural Workers Scholarships program was announced during a visit to the Museum by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales on 11 November 2015. The 2016 round of scholarships, which commences in September 2016, will be the pilot project for what it is hoped will be an ongoing program.

The program is part of the Museum’s commitment to building reciprocal and sustainable relationships. It has been developed to offer community cultural workers the opportunity to acquire museum- and collection-related skills and experience in order to promote cultural continuity in their communities. The program was developed specifically in response to requests made during the community consultations undertaken in connection with the Encounters project.

Participants in the intensive three-month program will receive a stipend, and all accommodation and travel costs will be covered. This will provide them with the opportunity to participate in programs both at the
Museum and at The Prince’s School of Traditional Arts in London. While in the United Kingdom, participants will be able to inspect, and work with, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collections at the British Museum, the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge.

Return to Top