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13 November 2009

The National Museum of Australia will explore the legacy of the biggest

The National Museum of Australia will explore the legacy of the biggest scientific expedition in Australian history at Barks, Birds & Billabongs a week long symposium on the American-Australian scientific expedition to Arnhem Land in 1948.

The expedition team of 17 researchers and support staff undertook a seven-month odyssey in 1948 to amass a vast collection of anthropological and scientific material. Along the way they were stranded in the bush, travelled in leaky boats, swam across crocodile infested rivers, had to be rescued by the RAAF and managed time for a bloodless leadership coup complete with spies and sabotage.

Barks, Birds & Billabongs will be launched by the Governor-General, Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce, AC. The symposium and events run over five days, from November 16 at the National Museum of Australia.

Craddock Morton, Director of the National Museum of Australia said; 'The 1948 American Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land deserves to be celebrated and re-evaluated as a significant moment in Australia's history. The expedition helped lay a foundation for Australia's post Second World War relationship with the United States, gathered and documented a huge collection and recognised Aboriginal art in its own right.'

The symposium has been a collaboration between the National Museum of Australia led by Margo Neale, senior research fellow and leading academics Sally K May, convenor of the Graduate Program in Liberal Arts at the Australian National University and Martin Thomas, research fellow from the University of Sydney.

'Only the achievements and expertise of the expeditioners were celebrated at the time, but now the Museum can set the historic record straight and acknowledge that nothing would have been achieved without the efforts, skills and knowledge of the Arnhem Landers in 1948,' Margo Neale said.

The symposium will include speakers from the Smithsonian Institution and the National Geographic Society which were partners in the 1948 Expedition. Speakers will include Kim Beazley, Australian Ambassador designate to the United States, Professor Mick Dodson, 2009 Australian of the Year and actor Jack Thompson.

For more information about Barks, Birds & Billabongs and to view the symposium program visit:

For interviews, images and more information please contact Caroline Vero on 02 6208 5338, 0438 620 710 or

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