This year the Museum delivered a rich and varied exhibition program, at the Museum itself and to venues throughout Australia.
Permanent exhibition galleries
As at 30 June, 2047 objects were on display in the Museum's permanent exhibition galleries and a further 1914 in the Open Collections area of the First Australians gallery. Objects are changed over as exhibitions are refreshed with other items from the collections, and objects on loan are replaced as loan agreements expire. As well as meeting conservation and loan requirements, object changeovers ensure the public has access to a greater number of items from the collection.
This year has seen an increase of more than 200 per cent in the number of objects changed over in the permanent exhibition areas compared to last year. Redevelopments in Open Collections, replacement of two major exhibitions in the focus galleries, and the need, after three years, to change over the more fragile and vulnerable collection objects, has contributed to this marked increase. The numbers of objects deinstalled and installed in the various galleries are given below:
Nation: Symbols of Australia
The Nation gallery explores Australian history and culture through the lens of national symbols, both official and popular.
Over the past year, Nation has undergone significant object changeovers, which have enhanced the gallery's content. A highlight was the display of a Coogee Dolphins jersey in the Moments exhibit. This important object, signed by Rugby League stars and relatives of the victims of the Bali bombings, enabled visitors to reflect on the October 2002 tragedy.
Recognising that the Museum has a national brief and that reaching audiences across Australia is a strategic priority, the exhibit Looking around aims to represent various community groups throughout Australia through a collection of their own photographs. Looking around focused on four new communities in 2003-2004 - two in Tasmania and one each in Canberra and Alice Springs. The Tasmanian community contrasted the professional photographs taken by members of the Devonport Camera Club with intimate childhood images taken by students from the Penguin Primary School. The Canberran community photographs focused on the process of recovery and rebuilding after the Canberra bushfires in January 2003. The Alice Springs community focused on the uniquely Australian adventures of the Royal Flying Doctor Service staff, profiling the medical service they provide and the town in which they live.
In April 2004 the Nation gallery launched a new story called Anzac pilgrims. The exhibit explores how the 'Anzac legend' has become such an important part of the Australian psyche and why thousands of Australians (the majority under 25 years of age) make the pilgrimage to the Gallipoli battlefields each year. Using personal mementos, photographs, diaries, maps, travel guides, and T-shirts the exhibit paints a very intimate portrait of an important cultural event. An online version of the exhibit invites visitors to share their Anzac pilgrimage story and provides an opportunity to read journal entries and view more than 60 photographs provided by contributors to the exhibit.
Horizons: The Peopling of Australia since 1788
The Horizons gallery explores the reasons people came to Australia, from the convict period through to the present day.
Over the past year, this gallery was updated and refreshed as new collections became available. A highlight was the presentation of a new convict story centred on Thomas Greer, who was transported to New South Wales in 1832 for forgery. His story is one of disappointment and hardship and personifies the extreme conditions of many of the early European settlers. Greer's story is told through the display of his headstone, on loan from the Berry and District Historical Society.
Another interesting addition to the Horizons gallery is the story of post-war immigrant Rose Pappas. Pappas came to Australia from the small Greek island of Castellorizo in 1949. Among her few possessions was a traditional Castellorizian costume. The costume is believed to be the most complete authentic Castellorizian costume in existence and is a visually exciting addition to the exhibit.
Eternity: Stories from the Emotional Heart of Australia
The Eternity gallery examines the lives of 50 Australians, famous and not famous, living and dead. The exhibition uses these stories as windows onto larger moments, movements, events and themes in Australian history. The themes of the exhibition are based around emotions such as joy, hope, passion, mystery, thrill, loneliness, fear, devotion, separation and chance.
Since opening in 2001 this gallery has maintained a dynamic program of object changeovers, ensuring that visitors are presented with a variety of new stories in each theme. This year new stories in the gallery included:
- Prime Minister Ben Chifley, in the theme of Hope, featuring one of his pipes from the National Historical Collection
- Australian aviatrix Nancy Bird Walton, in the theme of Thrill
- Simon Quayle, a Bali bombing survivor, in the theme of Fear.
The story of AE Smith, one of the best violin-makers of the 20th century, was another important addition to the gallery. A string quartet, comprising a viola, cello and two violins made between 1946 and 1954, is part of the National Historical Collection. These instruments need to be played occasionally as part of their ongoing preservation. This year they were played during the Museum's birthday concert. A recording of the concert is featured in Eternity.
The gallery's 'Your Story' video booths, in which visitors can contribute a story of their own lives to the exhibition, continued to capture moving stories from visitors throughout the year. The war in Iraq was a particular focus for visitors who recorded their thoughts on Australia's role in this conflict, and their hopes for the future.
Tangled Destinies: Land and People in Australia
The Tangled Destinies gallery presents an environmental history of Australia, using a cross-disciplinary approach to explore how Australians have come to know and live in this land. Reflecting the remarkable diversity of Australian society and landscapes, the gallery reveals a 'history of ideas' about the relationships between people and places. It entwines the stories of Indigenous and non-Indigenous attitudes to environments, the adaptation of Europeans and the plants and animals they brought with them, personal and emotional attachments of people to the diversity of Australian landscapes and places, and the way that our understanding of the deep time history of the land has changed over time.
The gallery contains 259 objects and 14 multimedia installations and during the year, 23 objects were replaced. Some of the new objects included:
- a pituri bag on loan from the Anthropology Museum at the University of Queensland
- a rabbit skin rug made in the 1940s and a platypus skin cape
- a burnt fire engine wheel and crew member uniform from the Canberra 2003 firestorms.
New loan agreements enabled curators to refresh exhibits relating to urban environments, extinction and the thylacine, fire in the city, biological invasion and understanding the deep time history of the landscape.
The exhibit examining the extinction of the thylacine in Tasmania has been further developed to explore the existence of thylacine on mainland Australia with the display of a rare mummified thylacine head found on the Nullarbor Plain in Western Australia, on loan from the Western Australian Museum.
First Australians: Gallery of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples
The First Australians gallery explores the history of Australia and its colonisation through the experiences, stories and images of Indigenous Australians.
Of the 2687 objects displayed in the First Australians gallery, 105 were changed over during the year with a further 210 changeovers being planned for the coming year. Several areas of the gallery were almost completely refreshed, enabling visitors to view more of the collection. These include the popular object-rich Ernabella and fibre containers exhibits, the Wik mosaic, the display of children's drawings on the Macassans, and the baskets exhibit in the upper gallery. In order to regularly introduce new communities and address the northern bias of the collection, the Museum has developed two new exhibitions scheduled for delivery in August 2005.
Also in development at the end of 2003-2004 were:
- a new exhibit on the Ngunnawal community of the Canberra region
- a collection-based exhibition in the focus gallery, entitled Urban Focus
- a large collecting project focusing on the Wik people.
The First Australians focus gallery displayed two significant touring exhibitions during the year. The first, Native Title Business: Contemporary Indigenous Art, was presented by the Gurang Land Council. This was accompanied by a forum, The Power of Cultural Evidence, featuring speakers and performers from diverse fields across museums, the arts, humanities, anthropology and law. The second exhibition, Refined White, was organised by the Australian Sugar Industry Museum. It revealed untold stories about the contribution of South Sea Islanders to the development of the Australian sugar industry, their treatment, and its effect on the White Australia Policy.