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Developing the collection

Developing the collection

The National Historical Collection was originally made up of objects transferred to the Museum by the Australian Government following the Museum's establishment in 1980. Until then, most of these objects had been held by the former Australian Institute of Anatomy, the former Institute of Aboriginal Studies and the University of Sydney, as well as some government departments and agencies. Since 1980, the Museum has acquired objects through donations and purchase. The Museum's Collections Development Plan guides its acquisition practice, as measured by the PBS performance indicators. Development of the Museum's collections was identified as a business priority for 2009–10.

"The Museum spent a total of $1.869 million on acquisitions for the National Historical Collection."
A colour photograph of an ornate clock. The clock has a dark coloured body with decorative features. Small figures can be seen at either side of the clockface. The clockface itself is surrounded by elaborate gold inlay. The base of the clock body has a decorative motif on the side closest to the camera. The entire clock sits on a neutral grey background, suggesting that it has been photographed in a studio setting.
Devereux Bowly clock brought to Australia by John Blaxland in 1807

This year was extremely productive for the collections development program, which is implemented by curatorial teams and supported by the work of the Registration and Conservation sections. The Museum spent a total of $1.869 million on acquisitions for the National Historical Collection, including $1.863 million from a special acquisitions fund provided by the Australian Government, and secured many compelling artefacts for the collection. Some of the important objects acquired through the course of the year were:

  • a silver salver presented in 1862 to William Landsborough by Sir Henry Barkly, Governor of Victoria
  • a sterling silver cup presented to James Simpson in 1834 in recognition of his service as the police magistrate of the District of Campbell Town, Van Diemen's Land
  • an Aboriginal breastplate given to Aboriginal head stockman Gallawang, of the Kurtijar people, in 1893 for superior service at Delta Downs station, Queensland
  • Ngurrara Canvas I, painted by Mangkaja artists at Fitzroy Crossing in 1997 for the Ngurrara Native Title claim hearing by the National Native Title Tribunal
  • a 1948 Daimler landaulette used in Queen Elizabeth II's royal tour of Australia in 1954
  • a drawing in brown ink entitled Transportation to Botany Bay, about 1790, attributed to Edward Francis Burney
  • a collection of 98 board games made in Australia and which have an Australian theme
  • five paintings by Gordon Syron from the Black Fellas Dreaming Gallery collection
  • an Aboriginal basket collected at Oenpelli in June 1928 by Frank Feast as a member of the Mackay Exploring Expedition to Arnhem Land
  • an inkstand made by the boys of the Nautical School Ship Sobraon and presented by their Captain, Frederick Neitenstein, to Sir Henry Parkes.

The Museum's Council formally approves the inclusion of objects into the National Historical Collection. This year, Council approved 108 significant collections during the year, details of which are set out in Appendix 3.

Curatorial teams working on two new galleries, Australian Journeys and Landmarks: People and Places across Australia ( as part of the ongoing implementation of the Review of Exhibitions and Public Programs (2003), see Museum development and Permanent galleries ) focused on collecting material relating to the histories of Australian places connected with pastoralism, agriculture, mining, transport, communications, exploration and settlement.

Other targeted collecting projects included gathering material related to political cartooning, the history of Aboriginal missions and reserves, the history of the Indigenous civil rights movement, the experience of children in institutional care in Australia, the history of religious practice and objects relating to the experience of Irish people in Australia. Some of these objects will be displayed in the permanent galleries or in forthcoming temporary exhibitions in the near future.

In 2009–10 the Museum committed to the Indigenous Australian Art Charter of Principles for Publicly Funded Collecting Institutions. The charter aims to promote and reinforce best practice approaches to the acquisition, display and deaccessioning of Indigenous works of art. The charter complements the Indigenous Australian Art Commercial Code of Conduct and ensures that participating institutions work at the highest level of ethical principles when dealing with the Indigenous art market. The Museum published the charter on its website in February 2010 and is reviewing existing policy and practices to ensure they accord with the provisions of the charter. The charter will be fully applied and operational in 2010–11.

Cost of acquisitions, 2001–10

Financial year Cost of acquisitions
2001–02 $190,000
2002–03 $381,000
2003–04 $566,000
2004–05 $1,930,000
2005–06 $2,002,000
2006–07 $2,292,000
2007–08 $2,762,000
2008–09 $3,851,000
2009–10 $1,869,000

Collections donated under the Cultural Gifts Program

Every year the Museum facilitates the acquisition of donations under the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program. This program encourages donations of culturally significant items from private collections to public museums, art galleries and libraries and archives. Donors 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 over a period of five income years.

Over the year, six collections were donated through the program. These were:

  • a collection of 294 items, including toys, business archives, and manufacturing hardware dating back to the 1930s, documenting the history of Australian toy manufacturing company Lindsay's of Leichhardt
  • 21 violins and associated educational material representative of Australian violin craftsmanship from the late 1800s through to the late 1900s
  • 43 artworks, referring to aspects of the Awelye ceremony and featuring women's body paint designs, created during the 1990s by artists including Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Gloria Petyarre and Angelina Pwerle, at the Ngkawenyerre camp in the Utopia homeland
  • a large woven basket made in 2006 by Wipana Jimmy, Anne Dixon and Timpula Mervin from the homeland community of Watarru, north-western South Australia
  • the complete body of documentation recording the design achievements of Balarinji Design Studio over a 25-year period from 1983 to 2008 by leading Australian designers, John and Ros Moriarty
  • a large and significant archive of books, posters, plans and papers relating to Australian history, heritage and museums.