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Bringing our stories to life

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

  • deliver temporary and travelling exhibition program.


Annual visitation to temporary exhibitions over 110,000.

Annual visitation to travelling exhibitions over 148,000.


The Museum displayed seven temporary exhibitions at Acton during 2015–16, with total visitation of 189,802.

The Museum toured seven travelling exhibitions nationally, with total visitation of 207,149.

The Museum also partnered with the British Museum for the Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisationexhibition, commenced a tour to Japan in June 2016, and exhibited its two travelling graphic-panel displays in 13 countries, with an estimated 294,388 people viewing the exhibitions during the year.


Temporary exhibitions

The following exhibitions were on display in the Museum’s temporary galleries during 2015–16:

The Home Front: Australia during the First World War

This exhibition explored the pride, sorrow, passion, wonder and joy experienced by Australians far from the battlefields of the First World War. Through personal stories, it looked at life on the Australian home front, and explored people’s choices, opportunities and challenges in a time of heightened emotions. During 2015–16 The Home Front attracted 25,614 domestic and international visitors; overall visitation between 3 April 2015 and 11 October 2015 was 48,805.

Kaninjaku: Stories from the Canning Stock Route

This exhibition opened in the First Australians Focus Gallery on 5 August 2015. It draws on the Museum’s impressive collection of contemporary Western Desert artworks to tell the story of the Canning Stock Route’s impact on Aboriginal people, and the importance of the country surrounding it. Visitation numbers for this exhibition are included in the permanent gallery visitation figures for the First Australians gallery.

Encounters: Revealing Stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Objects from the British Museum

This exhibition was on display between 27 November 2015 and 28 March 2016, and attracted 98,392 domestic and international visitors (see Take the lead: The Encounters project and its products)

Unsettled: Stories within

This exhibition was on display between 27 November 2015 and 28 March 2016, attracting 29,697 domestic and international visitors (see Take the lead: The Encounters project and its products)

Australian of the Year Awards 2016

This exhibition, developed by the Museum in collaboration with the National Australia Day Council, was on display at the Museum from 16 December 2015 until 11 February 2016. The exhibition paid tribute to the eight extraordinary Australians chosen as the 2016 Australian of the Year finalists, including national winner David Morrison AO. The exhibition featured personal objects chosen by the finalists for their significance and their ability to communicate something special about their lives and experiences. Due to its location in the Main Hall, separate visitor statistics were not recorded for this exhibition.

ACO Virtual

ACO Virtual is a world-first interactive installation that lets audiences step inside a performance of the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO), be immersed in a 360-degree cinema experience, and even take control and play with the musicians. ACO Virtual used state-of-the-art technology and featured projections of 13 of the ACO’s acclaimed musicians. The exhibition opened on 9 May and will close on 17 July 2016. During 2015–16 the exhibition attracted 10,861 domestic and international visitors.

Happy Birthday Play School: Celebrating 50 Years

Fifteen years ago, the Museum acquired a collection of objects from the ABC that featured on its iconic Play School television program from 1966 to 1999. The collection toured from 2003 to 2007, and proved popular with many regional museums. For the 50th anniversary of Play School in 2016, the Museum collaborated with the ABC to develop a highly interactive exhibition for children under the age of five. Happy Birthday Play School: Celebrating 50 Years opened at the Museum in Canberra on 7 May 2016 and will close on 24 July 2016, with national tours to follow. During 2015–16 the exhibition attracted 25,238 visitors.

National travelling exhibitions

The Museum toured the following travelling exhibitions nationally during 2015–16:

Warakurna: All the Stories Got into Our Minds and Eyes

This exhibition of contemporary paintings and sculptures documents a new art movement emerging from the Western Desert community of Warakurna. These paintings combine familiar Western Desert symbols and dots with a new more figurative style, to re-create scenes of everyday life and tell both historical and contemporary stories. The exhibition was on display at the Albany, Perth and Kalgoorlie sites of the Western Australian Museum, Perth, between 7 November 2015 and 10 January 2016. It attracted a total of 42,574 visitors.

Australian of the Year Awards 2015

Following its display period at the National Museum of Australia, this exhibition opened at the Australian Museum in Sydney between 4 August 2015 and 29 November 2015. The exhibition featured stories and objects from the eight state and territory finalists for the 2015 Australian of the Year, including national winner Rosie Batty. The exhibition attracted 95,027 visitors.

Freewheeling: Cycling in Australia

This exhibition explores the history of cycling in Australia, featuring bicycles from the Museum’s collections and the stories of riders who have experienced the joy, excitement, freedom and even the glory of moving at speed under their own power. Visitors are asked to share their first bike story and reflect on how this simple, affordable machine has shaped our lives, and explore the possibilities it offers for the future. During 2015–16 the exhibition has been on display in four locations: Museum of Tropical Queensland, Townsville; Gold Museum, Ballarat; Museum of the Riverina, Wagga Wagga; and the LibraryMuseum, Albury; and has been visited 50,709 times.

Warlpiri Drawings: Remembering the Future

This exhibition tells the story of an intriguing collection of Indigenous artworks created by Warlpiri people in Australia’s Northern Territory in the 1950s and beyond. The display features important early works from AIATSIS, in celebration of the institute’s 50th anniversary. This exhibition was produced by the Museum in collaboration with the Australian National University and Warlpiri communities.

Warlpiri Drawings was on display at the Charles Darwin University (Casuarina Campus) Art Gallery, Darwin, between 5 August 2015 and 23 October 2015, and attracted 1184 visitors.

National travelling exhibitions: non-traditional venues

The Museum has also 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 Lachlan Macquarie is a collaboration between the Museum and Macquarie Group Limited. It highlights Macquarie’s lasting contribution to social reform, exploration and urban development in Australia and New South Wales. The exhibition features historical artefacts from the early days of the colony, including key documents issued by Lachlan Macquarie, a ‘holey dollar’, love tokens inscribed by convicts and breastplates presented to Aboriginal people. It also includes specially produced digital features exploring early currency, land grants and Macquarie’s legacy. Since opening in 2014, the exhibition has remained on display in an exhibition space on the ground floor of the Macquarie Group’s Sydney headquarters in Martin Place. It has been visited 48,247 times, including 11,194 visits during 2015–16.

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. Due to its location, separate visitor statistics were not recorded for this exhibition.

Chris the Sheep

Between 16 February and 17 April 2016 the 41.1-kilogram fleece of Chris the Sheep, a merino found roaming Mulligans Flat, on the outskirts of Canberra, in August 2015 was on display at RSPCA ACT’s Weston shelter. During this time it had 6461 visits. The fleece is now on permanent display in the Museum.

International travelling exhibitions

The Museum toured the following travelling exhibitions internationally during 2015–16:

Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation

Developed in partnership with the British Museum, Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation was the first major exhibition in the United Kingdom to present a history of Indigenous Australia through objects from the British Museum and the National Museum of Australia’s collections, celebrating the cultural strength and resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Opened in April 2015, the exhibition had 59,287 visits, of which 25,183 were during 2015–16.

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, it brings the artistic, cultural and natural worlds of the Aboriginal people of Australia’s remote deserts to an international audience. The exhibition contains 33 paintings, a small selection of objects, some audiovisual content and images of the Western Desert landscape. One Roadopened at the National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, Japan, on 9 June 2016 and will close on 19 July 2016. Up to 30 June 2016 it received 7656 visitors. The exhibition will continue to tour Japan throughout 2016–17.

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 2015–16 the Canning Stock Route graphic-panel display attracted 105,489 visitors in 13 countries: Belgium, Brazil, Chile, China, Egypt, Ghana, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, Serbia, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

The Old Masters graphic-panel display was launched in December 2015, and is estimated to have been seen by 156,060 people while on display in Brazil during May 2016.

Storing the collection

Ensure our collections are safe and accessible, physically and digitally:

  • implement Strategic Property Plan to enhance collection storage and ensure efficient usage of technical areas.


80 per cent of the National Historical Collection stored in accordance with appropriate museum standards.


The Museum continued to place the highest priority on maintaining a safe, secure and accessible collection, with 80 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 200,000 objects. Storage of the collection is a continuing challenge for the Museum. At any time, around 3 per cent of collection objects are either on display or on loan. The remainder is stored at repositories in Mitchell, a suburb on the outskirts of Canberra.

Management of the collection rests with the Museum’s Collections Management team, consisting of the Conservation and Registration sections. Both sections work closely to ensure the collection is safely and securely stored and accessible for study, exhibitions and research. The Collections Management team also works with the Facilities and Security team, which is responsible for building maintenance, security, and environmental and risk management.

During 2015–16 the Museum has 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 concerning the Museum’s storage and collection management needs over the next 10 years.

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.

Group of four images showing  people looking at Indigenous artworks and a fifth image of people taking part in a group art project.
Snapshots of the Museum’s international travelling graphic panel displays: (clockwise from top left) the Australian Ambassador’s residence, Brasilia, Brazil; Haneda Airport, Japan; children responding to the artworks at the National Museum of Prehistory, Taiwan; Belgrade City Assembly, Serbia; Thavibu Gallery, Bangkok, Thailand.

Nurturing research

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

  • a Research Centre that supports organisational outcomes, including exhibitions, conferences, programs and publishing.


A four-year research program established and implemented.

Two online editions of reCollections published.

Two partnerships in place that support core themes of the Research Centre.


A three-year program, the Research Centre Plan 2016–18, was developed during 2015–16.

The Museum’s online journal reCollections was published twice during 2015–16.

The Museum maintained six Australian Research Council (ARC) grants with partner organisations, as well as continuing to foster formal and informal research partnerships across Australia and internationally.


The Museum has legislative responsibility to undertake and support research. Under the terms of the Museum Act, the Museum is bound to ‘conduct, arrange for or assist in research into matters pertaining to Australian history’. Research and scholarship are central to the National Museum of Australia’s collection, exhibitions, publications and other activities. This research includes Australian history, care of its collection and museological areas, including audience evaluation and outreach. In particular, the Museum supports its exhibition programs with expert talks, discussion panels and conferences, details of which are published on the Museum’s website.

The Research Centre Plan 2016–18

A review of the Research Centre and its functions in 2014–2015 led to the appointment of Head of Research Centre in late 2015 and formed the basis of the Research Centre Plan 2016–18. It is the ambition of the Research Centre 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

Two editions of the Museum’s scholarly e-journal, reCollections, were published in 2015–16, and the journal continued to promote museological work by Museum staff and external researchers, disseminate information and analysis, and stimulate awareness and discussion of issues relating to museums and collections. A review of the journal was carried out in early 2016, with its findings expected to be made available in 2016–17.

Research partnerships

Working with academic, scholarly and community partners to research areas of common interest is a fruitful way for museums to enrich and extend capacity and incorporate new ideas into exhibitions, displays and public programs. The Museum has successfully supported its mission by establishing a number of partnerships through the Australian Research Council (ARC) grant scheme. In 2015–16 Museum staff were involved in the following ARC projects:

  • ‘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 Jukkurpa, Archaeological and Heritage Management Solutions (AHMS), Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities), 2011–15
  • ‘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
  • ‘The relational museum and its objects’ (Australian National University, British Museum, Museum of the Riverina), 2015–19
  • ‘DomeLab’ (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 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

Research Library

The Museum’s extensive Research Library is a key component of the Research Centre, and underpins research across the institution. Established in 1984, it now holds more than 45,000 books, journals and other items that are central to the key themes of the Museum: Australian history and society since 1788, people’s interaction with the environment, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and history. In addition to these main themes, the Research Library collects material covering museum studies and conservation, as well as items relating to the corporate memory of the Museum. The Research Library provides a reference collection for Museum staff and the public (by appointment), and a special collections reading room is available for quiet research. In 2015–16 the holdings grew by 1090 items, and 3127 items were accessioned or updated. A significant archive of material related to Professor Colin Pearson and the conservation of the cannon, ballast and other relics from Lieutenant James Cook’s Endeavour was donated to the Research Library this year.

Developing the collection

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
  • increase percentage of items accessioned in same year of acquisition
  • reduce accessioning backlog
  • create online collection information and access to enhance public engagement
  • enhance Collection Explorer to improve discoverability.


650 new acquisitions.

750 objects accessioned.

75 per cent of new acquisitions accessioned in reporting period.

12,900 objects awaiting accessioning.

44 per cent of the Museum’s collections available online via a collections search function with reliable, discoverable information that promotes public participation.


In 2015–16, the Museum exceeded most of the targets set around collection activities, with:

  • 686 new acquisitions
  • 1349 objects accessioned
  • 52.92 per cent of new acquisitions accessioned in the reporting period
  • 12,184 objects awaiting accessioning
  • 44.75 per cent of the Museum’s collection available online via a collections search function with reliable and discoverable information.


The Museum’s core collection is known as the National Historical Collection. It was initially formed from objects and collections transferred to the Museum by the Australian Government following the Museum’s establishment in 1980. The Museum continues to builds its historical collections through the strategic acquisition of historical material through donation and purchase.

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:

Panga collection

The collection comprises an album containing 135 drawings by Panga, a young Paakantyi artist living on Momba Station in north-western New South Wales in the 1870s and 80s. The album also contains
photographs, letters and other items.

RSPCA ACT collection

The collection consists of a fleece shorn from ‘Chris the Sheep’, a medium-wool merino rescued from paddocks near Mulligans Flat in the Australian Capital Territory. The sheep was carrying more than five years’ growth of wool. When it was shorn, the resulting fleece weighed in at 41.1 kilograms, a new Guinness World Record.

Royce Hart collection

The collection documents Royce Hart’s stellar Australian Rules football career at Richmond Football Club from 1966 to 1977, which coincides with the club’s most successful era. The collection includes team jumpers, blazers, trophies, medals, photographs, magazines, posters and documents.

Phillip Parker King and Allan Cunningham collection

This collection comprises seven objects related to the explorer Phillip Parker King, who undertook four voyages surveying parts of the Australian coast between 1817 and 1822, and his botanist Allan Cunningham. Attributed to King are his naval dress regalia (a pair of epaulettes, sword, leather belt and cockade hat) and a theodolite. The objects attributed to Cunningham are a pocket microscope and larger microscope complete with slides, nameplate and fittings.

Council approvals

The Museum’s Council formally approves the inclusion of objects into the National Historical Collection. This year the Council approved 99 collections, details of which are set out in Appendix 3: National Historical Collection – material approved by Council, 1 July 2015 – 30 June 2016.

The Cultural Gifts Program

Every year the Museum facilitates the acquisition of donations through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program. This program encourages donations of culturally significant items from private collections to public museums, art galleries, libraries and archives. Donors of cultural gifts are eligible for the following tax incentives: deductions for the market value of gifts, exemption from capital gains tax and the option to apportion their deduction to a number of people and over a period of five income years.

Over the year, one collection was donated to the Museum through the program: the Rover Thomas collection no. 3, 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 1349 objects.

This year the Museum set the ambitious target of accessioning 75 per cent of new acquisitions within the same reporting period. This target represented a dramatic increase on previous years’ targets of around 3 per cent, and the Museum’s Registration team has achieved a strong result this year with more than 52 per cent of new acquisitions during 2015–16 being accessioned within the same year.

Online collections information

The Museum achieved its target of having 44 per cent of the Museum’s collection available online via a collections search function with reliable and discoverable information. The Collection Explorer site is part of the Museum’s commitment to increasing access to its collections. Collection Explorer provides digital access to a subset of the collection – including objects that are on display and many more in storage. As the collection grows, new collection records and images are being added continuously and the information on existing records is being enhanced.

The Museum’s website also provides collection interactives, which enable visitors to delve deeper into the collection by exploring the stories behind some of the Museum’s most treasured objects. These image-rich interactives include full reproductions of important documents and artworks, transcriptions, maps and more.

During 2015–16 Collections was the second most visited area of the Museum’s website, after Exhibitions. The Collections area of the website received 340,734 page views primarily to collection highlights and collection interactives. Collection Explorer received 168,339 page views and 71,815 visits. Visits increased by 37 per cent from last financial year, with overall page views decreasing by 6 per cent, suggesting that more visitors were coming to the site, but they were spending slightly less time exploring.

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