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Temporary exhibitions

Developing and presenting exhibitions is one of the Museum's key functions, as specified in the National Museum of Australia Act 1980. This year, the temporary and travelling exhibitions program continued to grow, and included content that supports the Museum's core themes of land, nation and people.

In 2007–08 the Museum delivered two temporary exhibitions, hosted two buy-in exhibitions and developed one exhibition in partnership with the Australian Research Council. Nine travelling exhibitions were toured throughout Australia, and the Museum also developed a significant international exhibition on Emily Kame Kngwarreye that travelled to major galleries in Osaka and Tokyo. Work continued on two major international exhibitions from the Auckland Museum and War Memorial, New Zealand, and the American Museum of Natural History, New York, for display in the Museum's temporary gallery over the next three years.

Temporary Gallery

Papunya Painting: Out of the Desert
(28 November 2007 – 3 February 2008)

During 10 weeks, 49,593 people, including Indigenous people, scholars, families and children, saw the stunning array of works displayed in the Papunya Painting: Out of the Desert exhibition. The exhibition explored the early history of the Western Desert art movement from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, before it was commercially viable or had received the international recognition it enjoys today. The exhibition featured a unique selection of rarely seen early canvases, boards and artefacts made by more than 30 acclaimed Western Desert artists.

The centrepiece of the exhibition was the giant Yumari canvas by Uta Uta Tjangala, painted in 1981 and widely regarded as a masterpiece. The exhibition also included works by renowned painters Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Turkey Tolson Tjupurrula and Anatjari Tjakamarra.

Museum staff worked with Western Desert art expert Vivien Johnson in putting the exhibition together. The Museum was very grateful for the assistance and cooperation of Papunya Tula Arts Pty Ltd and the newly established Papunya-based Papunya Tjupi Arts Centre.

A number of popular public programs were presented in conjunction with the exhibition, including 'Mutukari', a public conversation facilitated by curator Peter Thorley and featuring Vivien Johnson, John Kean and Jeremy Long. The Museum also published a substantial exhibition catalogue that included essays by international experts on the history of the Papunya movement ( see National Museum of Australia Press ).

A highlight of the exhibition was the Tjitjti (children's) gathering place, a space where many children took the opportunity to create their own compositions inspired by the various motifs displayed in the gallery. The exhibition also showed previously unreleased footage by Ian Dunlop of life at the community of Yayi Yayi, where many of the painters were living in 1974.

The opening of the exhibition drew a large crowd, who were privileged to have present three of the surviving painters featured in the exhibition: Long Jack Phillipus Tjakamarra (the only original member of Papunya Tula still painting), Charlie Tjapangarti and Pansy Napangarti. Bobby West Tjupurrula, the Chairman of Papunya Tula, spoke eloquently of his pleasure at seeing his father's works exhibited at the Museum for the first time.

The Papunya Painting website gave viewers access to the works in the exhibition online and behind-the-scenes accounts of the preservation and preparation of the paintings in the show. A special end-of-school-year program, incorporating art, history, culture and creative writing activities, and using a cross-curricular approach, was fully subscribed.

Papunya Painting will be on display at the Australian Museum, Sydney, from July to November 2008.

Stretched for the first time
Out of the desert and into the lab

Close-up of two hands extending into the image from the left side. The thumbs are pointing upwards holding onto the side of the canvas of a painting. A small part of the surface is visible and contains white and red dots on a black background.
Photo: Andrew Sheargold.

Unrolling the Museum's Papunya canvases, stored and untouched since their acquisition in the 1980s, was the first major step in creating the Papunya Painting: Out of the Desert exhibition.

Once work started, conservators faced many challenges. Some of the canvases were torn and needed initial repair; some were 'out of square' because of the way they had been painted; others had been rolled for so long that ripples or uneven areas had developed. But because most had never been exhibited before, they were in a relatively stable condition.

The paint layers in the canvases varied in quality, especially in works dating from the early days of the Western Desert art movement, when artists were still developing a feel for the materials. As happens with works produced in Indigenous communities, where artists paint their work on the ground, the paint layers also featured various inclusions: hairs, grit, small pebbles and even the occasional paw print. However, these are part of the painting and considered integral to the work. During conservation they are noted, but always left in place.

Conservator Mark Henderson was pleased that, apart from four canvases too big to fit in the Museum's storage area, the canvases will now stay stretched, stable and accessible for researchers or visitors.

The Papunya canvases have now taken their rightful place among the Museum's great treasures.

League of Legends: 100 Years of Rugby League in Australia
(8 March – 11 May 2008)

This exhibition was developed in conjunction with the Centenary of Rugby League Committee to celebrate the 100th anniversary of rugby league in Australia, and continues the Museum's commitment to collecting and interpreting Australia's sporting history.

The exhibition featured objects from the Museum's collection, including the Royal Agricultural Society Shield (recalling the great Dally Messenger). Other key objects included radio commentator Frank Hyde's binoculars and the folding card table from which he called rugby league games for three decades.

League of Legends was opened by Colin Love AM, Australian Rugby League Chairman and Chairman of the Centenary of Rugby League Committee. The opening was attended by many high-profile players, including Ron Coote, Steve Mortimer OAM and John Raper.

The media coverage received for League of Legends was extensive. Of particular note was the media focus on the unusual inter-generational nature of visitors, with grandfathers, fathers and sons sharing their experiences while viewing the exhibition. The Museum produced 10 'media moments', specifically targeting regional radio. These audio files featured Senior Curator Guy Hansen discussing historical and contemporary aspects of the game, for example, the role of fans, and could also be downloaded from the Museum's website for immediate broadcast. The website included an extended range of photographs not on display in the exhibition or featured in the accompanying catalogue, and a section in which fans could record their experiences of rugby league, using the 'Share Your Story' feature.

This image of one wall of the exhibition features two parallel rows of framed black and white photographs that stretch across the image horizontally from edge to edge. On the right side of the image Reg Gasnier has his back to the camera and is facing the photographs. A TV camera man faces him with a camera on his shoulder. Next to him another man holds a portable light pointing towards Reg.
Reg Gasnier, former St George champion, is interviewed by Fox Sports at the opening of the League of Legends exhibition.

The Museum's partnership with the National Rugby League and associated organisations significantly enhanced the promotion and marketing of the exhibition. League of Legends featured extensively in the promotion of the centenary year, which attracted large numbers of rugby league fans who may not have previously visited the Museum. The exhibition hosted 39,755 visitors during its display at the Museum.

Programs held in conjunction with League of Legends included a 'Clash of the codes: Rugby Union vs Rugby League' debate (2 March), a Canberra Raiders Fan Day (8 March) attended by an estimated 2500 people, and a panel discussion exploring the history of rugby league (11 May). Online teaching and learning activities supported the exhibition and can be used by schools as the exhibition travels to a number of states and territories over the next 12 months.

Interest has been high from venues in the eastern states wishing to display the exhibition, and arrangements have been confirmed with the Queensland Museum, (Brisbane), the Powerhouse Museum (Sydney), the Museum of Tropical Queensland (Townsville), and the National Sport Museum (Melbourne). A small banner display has also had a strong response, with bookings taken for 2008–09 from 10 venues including rugby league clubs, libraries and museums such as the Gold Coast Seagulls Rugby League Club, the Southern Cross University Library and the Armidale Folk Museum.

An exhibition catalogue combined essays by sports historians and commentators with detailed information about objects featured in the exhibition, and proved popular with visitors to the exhibition.

The Goodwill trophy
A labour of love

Medium distance shot of a conservator working on a silver trophy. The conservator, wearing a white lab coat, is on the left side of the image facing the camera but with his face turned towards the object. The object, on the right is a large silver globe with Australia in relief and clearly visible. A golden figurine perches on the top of the globe and various figures of animals are at the base of the trophy.

Conservator Peter Bucke knew from the start that substantial research and hard work would be required to reveal the glory beneath the grime of the Courtney Goodwill trophy, a cornerstone object in the Museum's League of Legends: 100 Years of Rugby League in Australia exhibition.

The first stage of the conservation involved careful documentation, with each part of the trophy listed and numbered and the proposed treatment described.

Peter started work on the base, because the centre-post holding the globe could only be accessed from underneath. Before the globe itself could be reached, he filled 18 small plastic boxes with parts: nails, screws and pieces that had fallen off over the years and been inexpertly glued back.

All the metal parts were carefully washed and old polish residue and dirt removed.

An electro-chemical method was used to remove the deep tarnishing. The next step was to clean the wood — all seven blocks of it. This was an exceptionally detailed process, because much of the wood is carved and decorated with marquetry.

There were some interesting discoveries along the way. The kangaroo, for example, has some opal stones set into it, which meant more painstaking hand-cleaning.

In reassembling the trophy, Peter ensured it was stable enough for display in the exhibition and also to travel to other exhibition venues in the eastern states.

As a rugby league supporter himself, and well aware that sport is an important part of Australian culture, Peter grew particularly attached to the Goodwill trophy over the weeks of careful work.

Gallery of First Australians Focus Gallery

70% Urban
(29 March 2007 – 10 March 2008)

This exhibition drew on the Museum's collections of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander material to explore the growth of dynamic urban Indigenous cultures across Australia. It featured a diverse range of objects and artworks that showed how Indigenous people are drawing on new materials and ideas to assert their identity through the telling of stories about cultural survival.

'67 Referendum: Spin, Myths and Meanings
(29 March 2007 – 10 March 2008)

This display commemorated the 40th anniversary of the referendum that saw 90 per cent of Australians vote to remove references in the Australian Constitution that discriminated against Aboriginal people. It provided information on the facts and myths about the referendum, and recalled some of the activities involved in achieving these changes.

Ngurrara: The Great Sandy Desert Canvas
(5 April – 22 June 2008)

Developed by the South Australian Museum, this exhibition featured one of the largest and most spectacular Aboriginal Western Desert paintings. The Ngurrara canvas was painted by the senior traditional owners of the Great Sandy Desert of northern Western Australia, as an expression of their links to their Country, for presentation to the National Native Title Tribunal in 1997.

Nation Focus Gallery

Great Railway Journeys of Australia
(19 April – 26 August 2007)

Developed by the Workshops Rail Museum, Ipswich, Queensland, this exhibition explored the development of Australia's rail network, drawing on the Workshops Rail Museum's collection of objects, photographs and posters, and loans from other institutions and private lenders. It featured some of the most famous railway journeys in Australia, including the Indian Pacific, the old and new Ghan and the Queenslander. Key objects included a 1920s dining car and a model of the Southern Aurora club car.

Migration Memories
(4 September – 28 November 2007)

This exhibition explored the stories of 14 people from a diverse range of cultural backgrounds, who live in two distinctly different parts of the country: the opal-mining town of Lightning Ridge in New South Wales, and the Murray River town of Robinvale in Victoria.

Community members worked with curator Mary Hutchison (from The Australian National University) to select objects and stories relating to their migration experience. These collaborations resulted in two exhibitions — at the Lightning Ridge Historical Society in August 2006 and at Robinvale Leisure Centre in June 2007 where it was called Migration Memories: Researching Migration in Regional Australia.

Behind the Lines: The Year's Best Cartoons 2007
(13 December 2007 – 24 February 2008)

This year's Behind the Lines exhibition marked the 10th year the Museum has presented exhibitions exploring Australia's political history through the eyes of cartoonists. The Museum produced a catalogue to support the exhibition, which once again proved extremely popular with exhibition visitors.

The cartoons in this year's exhibition represented the best of the Museum's acquisitions from artists around Australia, including Alan Moir, Bill Leak, Cathy Wilcox, Geoff Pryor, John Spooner, Mark Knight and Warren Brown. The dominant issue for many cartoonists over the year was leadership — both the emergence of Kevin Rudd as a possible leader and the endgame of the relationship between John Howard and Peter Costello. Cartoons focusing on the 24 November 2007 federal election were also a feature.

'Drawing the lines', a political cartooning competition for upper primary and secondary students, attracted highly creative entries with a strong focus on current political issues. Prizes were awarded to the student cartoonists by editorial cartoonist for the Sun-Herald, David Pope, at a ceremony held at the Museum in December 2007. First prize in the primary school category was won by Harry Dalton, Campbell Primary School, Australian Capital Territory, and first prize in the secondary category was won by Ann Plummer, Dickson College, Australian Capital Territory.

As it has an established following among visitors, marketing for Behind the Lines 2007 focused on generating interest and awareness beyond those already interested in political satire.

Hidden in Plain View: The Forgotten Flora
(13 March – 9 June 2008)

From the National Herbarium of Victoria at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, this exhibition highlighted the incredible diversity of form and colour of fungi, lichens, mosses and liverworts, and some of the extraordinary people who work with them. Displaying botanical illustrations and specimens, historical and contemporary writing, as well as artefacts, this exhibition revealed the fascinating world of forgotten flora.

Small displays in the Museum Hall

The Museum featured nine small displays in the Hall this year. Six of these small displays featured objects from the National Historical Collection, two were undertaken in partnership with external organisations, and one was provided by an external organisation.

Schedule of Hall displays

Title Dates Type
Spanish Expeditions in the South Pacific 4 August – 6 September 2007 Buy-in from the Embassy of Spain
9/11 Flag 7–30 September 2007 National Historical Collection
Cobb & Co Coach 15 September – 14 October 2007 National Historical Collection
Montreal Expo '67 13 September – 28 October 2007 National Historical Collection
Australian Quarantine and Inspection
Service: 100 Years of Quarantine
December 2007 – January 2008 Partnership with AQIS
Day of Mourning 14 January – 15 February 2008 National Historical Collection
Citroën car display 4 January – 3 February 2008 National Historical Collection
Children's Medical Research Institute (CMRI) 13 March – 4 May 2008 Partnership with CMRI
Bendigo Pottery 19 March – 22 July 2008 National Historical Collection