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Connecting with the community

Reaching a national schools audience

In 2012–13, 87,263 students visited the Museum from all states and territories, the third highest total since opening in 2001.

Over 20 different on-site programs were available for school groups visiting the Museum, offering students the opportunity to engage with digital technologies and primary sources to develop curriculum-relevant understandings about citizenship and Australian history.

Of particular note is the rollout of the prototype iPad digital learning experience, The Museum Game. The game uses iPads, the Museum’s wireless network and Museum objects to create student-centred, game-based learning experiences for groups visiting the Museum. The program can now be booked by schools, and a growing number of school groups are enjoying this as part of their Museum experience.

The Museum continued to deliver a range of outreach programs for students around Australia. Remote, digital visits to the Museum grew through the Museum Robot Project (see below). The Museum also continued to make a significant contribution to the provision of curriculum-relevant digital resources through partnerships and independent projects.

Museum staff contributed to classroom pedagogy and museum education by speaking at conferences and providing on-site professional development programs and events for teachers. Staff spoke at national teaching conferences in Perth and Canberra and at museum conferences in Adelaide and Canberra. Staff represented the Museum internationally, giving a keynote address at the International Council of Museums Committee for Education and Cultural Action (ICOM-CECA) Asia Pacific Museum Education conference at the Museum of Japanese History in Sakura, Japan. The Museum has also built a strong community of practice with local and regional educators though professional development sessions as well as on-site exhibition previews and lectures.

Australian Curriculum initiatives

During 2012–13 the Museum continued to provide resources and programs that are relevant to the Australian Curriculum. In particular, a successful project partnership was established with Education Services Australia, producing four new digital resources for the national history curriculum for the early years of primary schooling (Foundation to Year 4). These resources significantly enhance the Museum’s curriculum offerings in this critical area of Australian schooling.

The Museum also continued to sponsor the History Teachers’ Association of Australia National History Challenge. The Museum-sponsored category of this program offers primary and secondary students the opportunity to present their understandings of Australian history through a museum display relating to their chosen topic. In 2012 the winner of this category and the overall winner of the competition was a Year 6 student from Tasmania, Chloe Meffre. Her entry explored the theme ‘People and consequences’ through a display on prominent Tasmanian, Lady Jane Franklin.

Major curriculum resource developments

The Museum continues with a number of publishing partnerships resulting in high-quality publications related to Australian history for young people. Notably, a new case study investigating the 1813 crossing of the Blue Mountains has been produced for the Australian History Mysteries website. This resource builds on the wealth of curriculum-relevant case studies already available through subscription to the website.

During 2012–13 the Museum partnered with the Canberra Times to produce a Newspapers In Education supplement. This 16-page lift-out explores the themes of the exhibition Glorious Days: Australia 1913 through an array of stories and primary sources and uses digital platforms to enhance students’ understanding of history. The supplement works as a stand-alone, paper-based classroom resource, but is also overlaid with substantial digital content through a digital enhancement process called augmented reality. This involves holding a smart device over images in the printed supplement enabling students to explore additional still and moving images, audio and text. The supplement has been distributed to over 150 schools in the ACT region.

The Museum produced a further unit of work for the nationally distributed e-magazine Studies of Society and Environment. This unit explored Glorious Days and further increased access to museum collections and exhibitions for students unable to physically visit the Museum. The unit of work will also be available on the Museum’s website.

The fourth in the series of Pearson Australia’s Australian Curriculum: History textbook series (Year 10) was also published during the reporting period. As with the previous volumes, the Year 10 textbook includes material written by Museum education staff in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history.

Kspace redevelopment

During 2012–13 work began on scoping and defining a new interactive experience for children and families to replace the current Kspace gallery at the Museum. This first phase of the project included preliminary research undertaken into relevant programs, experiences and technologies, and a series of roundtables and workshops with staff and audiences.

Concepts were shortlisted, tested and reviewed through audience focus groups and roundtable sessions with staff to determine which concept was the best fit for the audience and a suitable expression of the goals of the Museum. This review process identified a strong preference for a concept that places visitors inside a virtual interactive historical scene and challenges them to discover where they are by solving a series of puzzles.

A Request for Tender process has been undertaken for the complete design, production, build and installation of the new experience using this concept as its basis. The concept will be further developed and refined with the contracted supplier during the next phase of the project, which is expected to begin in late 2013.

Angela Casey presents to a student from regional Australia at the launch of the Museum Robot.
Angela Casey presents to a student from regional Australia at the launch of the Museum Robot.

Museum Robot Project

Throughout 2012–13 the Museum participated in the Mobile Telepresence for Museums Initiative, funded by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, with technology developed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to take advantage of the internet bandwidth provided by the emerging National Broadband Network.

The result is the successful installation of the Museum Robot, which enables students from around Australia – particularly in rural and regional areas – to participate in live, immersive and interactive guided tours of the Museum from computers in their school or local library. Currently operating in the Museum’s Landmarks: People and Places across Australia gallery, the semi-autonomous mobile robot accompanies a Museum educator through the gallery and streams panoramic video from an omni-directional camera via the Museum’s newly expanded wi-fi network. It includes interactive features including audience polling and the ability to access additional digital information about exhibits and objects.

The robot can accommodate multiple connections from outside the Museum (currently up to 16 simultaneous connections) with the result that multiple students and locations can share the robot and tour the Landmarks gallery at the same time, while also having a unique visual experience. Participants can interact with the Museum educator and watch and hear each other interact, just as if they were together in the gallery.

The Museum Robot was launched in March 2013 by Senator the Hon Stephen Conroy, the then Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. Additional funding from the Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy portfolio was recently provided to enable the Museum Robot Project to operate until 30 June 2015. The Museum is currently designing stimulating, curriculum-relevant learning experiences to take advantage of the opportunities presented by a virtual visit to the galleries.

Curatorial and collections outreach

Exhibitions and programs at the Museum often contain a strong focus on place and community. Curators, the Research Centre and other collections management staff travel extensively to visit historic sites, research objects, consult with communities and engage with donors and lenders of collection material.

Staff work hard to develop long-term relationships with stakeholders, and often maintain contact over a number of years.

Museum staff also connect with community through attendance at special events, giving talks and presentations, and participating in open days and public programs. They often consult and provide advice to colleagues in regional and remote museums.

Over the course of 2012–13, curatorial and collections staff conducted formal and informal outreach and engagement activities, and were also part of larger teams conducting research in close collaboration with a range of communities across Australia.

National outreach and engagement in the reporting year included:

  • involvement in One River, a Centenary of Canberra project that engages scientists, traditional owners, artists and communities with the Murray–Darling Basin
  • comprehensive staff involvement in the Museums Australia conference in May 2013, with Museum staff acting as presenters, panel members, chairs, facilitators and volunteers
  • establishing strong links to local and interstate historic car clubs through the Royal Daimler Project
  • in their roles as adjunct professors at the Australian National University, Dr Michael Pickering, Dr Mike Smith and Margo Neale continued outreach to the tertiary education sector.

Museum staff are involved in a range of Australia Research Council (ARC) partnership projects which involve cooperation and collaboration with education- and community-based organisations in Australia and overseas. These ARC projects include:

  • Alive with the Dreaming! Songlines of the Western Desert – Margo Neale, Dr Mike Smith, Dr Libby Robin, the Australian National University, the University of New England, and major Aboriginal partner organisations
  • Modern Human Origins and Early Behavioural Complexity in Australia and Southeast Asia – Dr Mike Smith with the University of Queensland and the University of Wollongong.

International outreach

The Papua New Guinea Project, which began in May 2011, focuses on the Hugh Stevenson collection, an important contemporary Papua New Guinea collection housed at the University of Papua New Guinea. In the 2012–13 year the Museum:

  • provided an internship for staff from the University of Papua New Guinea and the National Museum and Art Gallery of Papua New Guinea to learn practical collection management skills
  • provided a five-day training workshop on collections care for library staff from the University of Papua New Guinea and colleagues from the National Museum and Art Gallery of Papua New Guinea, National Library of Papua New Guinea and Goroka University. This was part of a larger, three-year project providing support and training for Papua New Guinea library and museum staff on managing mixed collections including contemporary art material
  • provided archival materials to rehouse the Hugh Stevenson collection and commenced the rehousing of the collection.

The Encounters project is a collaboration with the British Museum, the Australian National University and Indigenous communities across Australia. It is an important project that is reconnecting Indigenous communities with the most significant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander objects from the British Museum. The project enables curators from Australia and the United Kingdom to share information about this material with local Indigenous communities and builds capacity within these communities to engage with the British Museum. Community consultations have taken place across Australia and will continue for the life of the project. The project will result in an exhibition that is scheduled to open at the British Museum in early to mid-2015 and at the National Museum of Australia later that year.

Repatriation of remains and secret/sacred objects

The Museum advises on and assists federal, state and territory cultural heritage institutions, Indigenous communities and representatives with the repatriation of Indigenous ancestral remains and secret/sacred objects. It also provides information to the media and public about repatriation. The management of ancestral remains and secret/sacred objects is strictly controlled to ensure that material is cared for in a culturally sensitive and appropriate manner, as well as in accordance with museum best practice.

The Museum does not actively seek to acquire ancestral remains or secret/sacred objects but it does have the capacity to accept remains from members of the public. As the prescribed authority under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984, the Museum can be the repository for unprovenanced remains that are referred to the relevant Australian Government minister. To date, no remains have been deposited with the Museum under this Act.

The Museum also holds ancestral remains and secret/sacred objects that were predominantly transferred from the Australian Institute of Anatomy collections in 1985. These have been de-accessioned and do not form part of the National Historical Collection.

During 2012–13 the Museum continued to consult with communities regarding the repatriation of ancestral remains and to house remains when requested by communities to do so. The Museum also provided contacts and introductions to a number of individuals to facilitate the return of secret/sacred items to Indigenous communities.

The Museum has received funding from the Office for the Arts to facilitate the return of remains and secret/ sacred objects to their communities of origin through community consultation.

Sharing our resources and expertise

Indigenous development

The Museum’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Program is committed to the delivery of projects relevant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and histories and which are based on thorough consultation. Many outreach projects incorporate elements of community advice and training.

Curators were involved in a series of continuing community consultations with 12 Indigenous communities from all over Australia as part of the Encounters project: Albany, Perth, Kimberley (Western Australia); Tiwi (Northern Territory); Torres Strait Islands, Cairns, Cardwell (Queensland); Richmond River, Sydney (New South Wales); Warrnambool (Victoria); Tasmania; and Killapaninna (South Australia). Consultations included filming of community members reflecting on the exhibition and the role of collections in connecting with their heritage.

Museum curators also worked closely with the Warakurna community and Warakurna Artists art centre in putting together the temporary exhibition Warakurna: All the Stories Got into our Minds and Eyes. The Raukkan community (South Australia) were consulted during the development of a new story for the ‘Missions’ module in the First Australians: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples gallery. Curators liaised with the Redfern Aboriginal community in Sydney and the Kinchela Aboriginal Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation for the refurbishment of the ‘Losing our children’ module in the First Australians gallery, which opened in May 2013. In March and June 2013, representatives of the Willandra Lakes Three Traditional Tribal Groups visited the Museum to talk with curators about the future On Country: Connect, Work, Celebrate exhibition.

During the reporting year the Museum formalised its continued support of the Gab Titui Art Awards as part of the memorandum of understanding with the Gab Titui Cultural Centre, which is based on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait. This ‘History through art’ award encourages artists to articulate the past and support cultural traditions and continuity.

One issue of Goree: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander News was published and delivered to more than 10,000 communities, schools, organisations and individuals across Australia. Goree is also available online.

Online outreach – the Museum’s website: nma.gov.au

The Museum continued to engage with online audiences via social media. Its Flickr collection increased to 7400 items, with the addition of images of the Museum’s school holiday Discovery Space programs. The Museum’s Facebook page was used to promote the availability of content such as the ‘Door to Store: Caring for your Collection’ series of videos. These posts were regularly shared by other museums and galleries.

Exhibition websites were developed for Glorious Days: Australia 1913, Warakurna: All the Stories Got into our Minds and Eyes, Museum Workshop: The Art, Science and Craft of the Conservator, and for the new displays of large objects in the Main Hall. A virtual exhibition was completed for Inside: Life in Children’s Homes and Institutions, and digital and photo media students from the Australian National University developed the Digital Landmarks website with works based on their creative responses to the Landmarks: People and Places across Australia gallery.

Five collection highlights featuring the Fred Hollows collection, a gate from the Kinchela Aboriginal Boys Home, the Sugu Mawa (octopus mask) artwork by Alick Tipoti, the Daisy Bates collection and the Murray–Darling Basin Authority collection were developed. A website displaying the Museum’s collection of agricultural show medals, certificates and awards, Urban Farming and the Agricultural Show, was developed in collaboration with Canberra University.

An online interactive, Convict Love Tokens, enabling international audiences to browse, examine and comment on 314 love tokens in the Museum’s collection, was also developed to enhance the online experience of the Journeys: Australia’s Connections with the World gallery.

The Museum continued to offer audio programs and video content online. Thirty new audio programs with transcripts were published, including ‘The Compleat Archaeologist’ forum, celebrating Dr Mike Smith’s 30 years of work in desert archaeology, and the ‘Door to Store: Caring for your Collection’ series, a look behind the scenes at the work of museum conservators.

More than 70 new videos were shared on YouTube or on the Museum’s website, including ‘Not so silent films of 1913’, highlights from the 1913 Country Fair, ‘Warakurna works explained’, and ‘Giant of the outback’, a feature on the Museum’s Simplex windmill from Kenya station in central Queensland.

Three online educational video series were also produced:

  • ‘The lost art of stratigraphy’ for university students – Dr Mike Smith’s seven-part lecture series
  • a series of six videos for early learners, What is This?, exploring different historical objects
  • ‘Feeding the family’ for primary school students and teachers.

The Friends of the National Museum of Australia Association

The Friends of the National Museum of Australia, in cooperation with the Museum, delivered a vibrant and varied calendar of events for members.

Highlights included:

  • a sell-out lecture by Hugh Mackay, ‘Why we love our gardens’, held in collaboration with Open Gardens Australia
  • monthly sell-out talks by prominent and passionate Australian women in the Landmark Women lecture series
  • exclusive Friends-only hosted tours and talks, revealing the behind-the-scenes work of Museum curators, conservators and researchers
  • a day trip to the Shoalhaven Arts Centre for the Margaret Dredge retrospective.

In March 2013, the Friends of the National Museum of Australia Association voted to transfer membership program and service responsibility to the Museum. This transfer was completed on 1 July 2013. Together, the Museum and Friends administrations have decided to bring this important supporter group in-house, allowing it to be run directly by the Museum with the capacity to draw on our wide range of resources. The Friends committee has been reconstituted as the Membership Program Advisory Committee to assist with strategic planning and direction, and maintain the strong input of members.