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Permanent galleries

First Australians: Gallery of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples

The First Australians gallery represents the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia as required by Section 5 of the National Museum of Australia Act 1980, and incorporates historical collections and exhibitions.

To improve audience understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, the gallery presents stories, objects and images that explore the culture and experiences of Australia’s first peoples from time immemorial, through colonisation to contemporary Australian life.

In September 2011, the Museum launched its refurbished Torres Strait Islander gallery, featuring the exhibition, Bipotaim: Stories from the Torres Strait. This exhibition features striking photographs, stories and objects about the lives, culture and identity of Torres Strait Islanders. The exhibition was developed by the Gab Titui Cultural Centre in the Torres Strait Islands in partnership with the Museum.

In 2011–12, module redevelopments and changeovers of objects occurred throughout the First Australians gallery. Research continued for the redevelopment of several exhibits planned to open in 2012–13.

Old New Land: Australia’s People and Environment

Old New Land presents an environmental history of Australia. It examines the history of Australian attitudes to the environment, looking at the relationship of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to the land and the adaptation of settlers from Britain and Europe to the continent’s diverse environments. The gallery also explores the personal and emotional attachments of people to the great range of Australian landscapes and places.

Eternity: Stories from the Emotional Heart of Australia

Eternity examines the lives of 50 Australians, famous and not famous, living and dead. The gallery uses these life stories to highlight larger moments, movements, events and themes in Australian history. The gallery’s display is based on emotions such as joy, hope, passion and fear, and experiences such as loneliness, mystery, thrill, devotion, separation and chance. This year the story of Louis St John Johnson, an Aboriginal man who was separated from his birth mother in 1973, and who died tragically in 1992, was installed.

Australian Journeys: Connections with the World

Australian Journeys explores the passages of people to, from and across Australia. The gallery traces the ways in which migrants and travellers have made homes in Australia and overseas, and have built and maintained connections between here and abroad. It was the first permanent gallery to be renewed since the Museum opened in 2001.

The gallery includes significant purchases made by the Museum, such as a table made of beefwood collected near Port Jackson for First Fleet Surgeon-General John White in the early 1790s, and a rich collection associated with Captain James Cook, including Cook’s plane table surveying frame, a striking marble bust and a copy of Banks’ Florilegium.

Landmarks: People and Places across Australia

The Landmarks gallery explores a broad history of Australia through stories of places and their peoples. The gallery considers 10 themes in Australian life, exploring how each has unfolded in particular places across the country. It looks at how people have engaged with landscapes, flora, fauna and technologies to develop distinctive Australian communities. Landmarks offers an imaginative tour of the country – the opportunity to ‘visit’ different places, to explore how they have emerged, and to ask how, together, they create a history of Australia.

The gallery features more than 1500 objects, including a Simplex windmill from Kenya station in Queensland, an iron-ore mining bucket from Mount Tom Price in Western Australia, the Holden Prototype No. 1 and Phar Lap’s heart. Other highlights include the stream anchor from HMS Investigator, the Batman Land Deed, a set of early fishhooks made by the Eora people of the Sydney region, and a rare Wedgwood medallion, made from clay sent by Governor Arthur Phillip at Sydney Cove to Sir Joseph Banks in England.