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Connecting with the community

Reaching a national schools audience

In 2014–15, 85,473 students visited the Museum from all states and territories. A small percentage of this figure is made up of international student visitors.

School groups visiting the Museum during this period could access 16 facilitated programs aligned to the Australian Curriculum. Students participated in authentic learning activities using source material, objects and digital technologies to develop understandings of Australian history, environment and citizenship.

The Museum continued to deliver a range of outreach programs for students around Australia. Videoconferencing and the Museum Robot project, along with the development of a range of curriculum-relevant digital resources, allowed the Museum to reach students across Australia.

Museum staff presented at national teacher and educator conferences in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane. In addition, the Museum continued to build a strong community of practice with local and regional educators through professional development sessions, as well as on-site exhibition previews and lectures.

Major curriculum resource developments

The Museum continued to engage in a range of publishing partnerships resulting in high-quality Australian history publications targeted at young people. Of particular note was the production of a new case study for the Australian History Mysteries website, which enables Year 9 students studying the Australian Curriculum: History to investigate the gold rush through a digital, collaborative game-play experience.

The Museum also produced a unit of work for the nationally distributed e-magazine, Studies of Society and Environment. This unit investigated life on the home front in Australia during the First World War and connected to the Year 9 Australian Curriculum: History. This unit of work illuminated the Museum’s temporary exhibition The Home Front: Australia during the First World War.

For the past 12 months the Museum has partnered with Random House Australia to produce a general history of Australia for children aged between 10 and 16. The Museum’s main contribution to this important reference book was to supply a wide range of images from its collections to illustrate the text. The book will be published in February 2016.

Digital learning

This year the Museum continued to strengthen its suite of digital learning programs and resources and included them in the ‘Engage and Learn’ section of the Museum’s website. A key feature of the site, the Engage and Learn blog, has 783 subscribers, an increase of more than 38 per cent from the previous reporting period.

The partnership program with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s digital platform, ABC Open, entitled ‘Object Stories’, which invited Museum staff and people in regional and remote Australia to tell a short story narrated in a set of still images about an object of significance to them or their community, concluded successfully in the reporting period. The general public contributed 616 stories to the project by the end of September 2014, all of which can be viewed on the ABC Open website and some of which have also been featured on the Museum’s website. Object Stories made an important contribution to the Museum’s goal of encouraging user-generated content.

The Museum Game – a game for iPads in which teams of visitors compete to make the most interesting connections between objects on display – continued to be one of the Museum’s most popular programs for visiting school groups in 2014–15. It also continued to feature as an attraction at the Night at the Museum events.

In 2014–15 the Museum’s digital learning suite of programming was also expanded through the Defining Moments in Australian History project. Media personality Mikey Robins was the presenter of a series of engaging videos featuring Museum curators and other staff discussing objects that illustrate particular key moments in Australian history. Robins and a Museum film crew also talked to the public on the streets of Melbourne and Sydney to explore what is uppermost in people’s minds when they consider defining moments in Australian history. These interviews can be viewed as a series of entertaining and engaging vox pops on the Museum’s website and social media pages.

Robots in the Museum

The Mobile Robot Tele presence Education Program has completed its second full year of operation at the Museum, following two years of prototype development by the CSIRO. The two robots can operate in all of the Museum’s galleries, and regularly roam the Museum’s exhibitions providing live and immersive remote access for a range of different audiences. Since the project was launched, the robots have delivered almost 250 tours of different exhibitions to 3500 people, 1900 this year alone.

Virtual tour experiences are being regularly delivered through the robots for students from kindergarten to Year 10. A range of adult and special access audiences, including home-schooled students, holiday-program participants, the general public, seniors and disability groups, also experienced robot tours at their local libraries. Pre-service teachers have accessed special robot tours and programs about how to access and use the resources of the Museum in their teaching careers.

A partnership between the Museum and AARNet Pty Ltd has led to promotion of the Robot project to teachers and students in AARNet’s broadband-enabled school network. A further partnership with the Murray–Darling Basin Authority has led to the development and delivery of a special tour experience using the resources of the Museum’s Old New Land gallery to examine the history of water use in Australia and explore ways of creating resilience in regional communities.

The Robot project has excited interest among the robotics and telepresence communities and demonstration sessions are frequently requested for national and international conferences, exhibitions and cultural institutions.

The Robot project is now being reviewed to determine ways to expand its services to schools with limited broadband capacity, and how to embed these mobile telepresence tours into the ongoing operation of the Museum’s digital outreach programs.

Museum outreach

Exhibitions and programs at the Museum often focus on place and community. Curators, Research Centre fellows 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 communities 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 2014–15, 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. Activities included:

  • completion of consultations with 27 communities across all states and territories, and filming with significant community members as part of the Encounters project
  • presenting the National Museum of Australia History through Art Award at the Gab Titui Art Awards, Thursday Island, Torres Strait, in June 2015
  • developing a major international conference in association with the Encounters project, to be held in Canberra in 2016 on the theme of cultural stewardship and museums
  • collaborating with diverse equestrian communities to develop content for the Horses in Australia project and the Spirited: Australia’s Horse Story exhibition
  • research and consultation with numerous collection donors and lenders as part of the Horses in Australia project, including hosting them during visits to the Spirited exhibition
  • research and consultation with Australian cycling groups, donors and researchers as part of the Cycling in Australia project
  • development of a virtual outreach program focused on the Museum’s cycling collection to accompany the Freewheeling: Cycling in Australia touring exhibition
  • establishing a partnership with Macquarie Bank to develop the exhibition Governor Lachlan Macquarie
  • participation in the Food Stories project research visits, development of virtual outreach programs and contributions to the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation classroom resources.

International outreach

The Museum continues to expand its international outreach, building strong relationships with world-renowned institutions and increasing the Museum’s international profile, bringing greater visibility to the Museum internationally.

The Encounters project is a collaboration with the British Museum, the Australian National University and Indigenous communities across Australia. The project’s importance lies in its focus on reconnecting Indigenous communities with the most significant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander objects from the British Museum and identifying contemporary objects that reflect on the continuous culture of communities represented in the British Museum collections. Several community members have visited the British Museum throughout the year to view objects from their regions and communities, and talk with curators and collection managers. In April 2015, the Museum Director, Dr Mathew Trinca, and Council member, Peter Yu, travelled to the United Kingdom with a delegation from the Indigenous Reference Group to attend the opening of the British Museum’s exhibition Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation. The group met with British Museum Director, Neil MacGregor, to discuss ongoing collaborations and the Encounters: Revealing Stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Objects from the British Museum exhibition, which opens at the National Museum in November 2015.

The Museum launched a panel display of Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route in conjunction with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. This display draws on the original collection held by the Museum, a rich collection of canvases and photographs from the Indigenous communities along the Canning Stock Route. The Museum worked with Australian diplomatic missions overseas to display panels of the artworks that were developed for exhibition in non-climate controlled environments. The displays have been exhibited in venues in China, Turkey, Chile, India, the Philippines, Japan, Mexico, Thailand, Russia, Tonga and Indonesia. The display assists Australia’s diplomatic missions to exhibit an aspect of Australian culture and history and build diplomatic links between countries. The Museum will be launching a second panel display in 2015–16.

Following the Director’s travel to Japan in March 2015 to visit cultural institutions, the Museum is developing a prospectus for a revised version of Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route to tour to Japan. The revised exhibition will focus on the paintings acquired in 2008 that are held in the National Historical Collection.

The Museum signed a memorandum of understanding with the Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery and other partner institutions, including the Australian War Memorial and the National Gallery of Australia.

The Museum also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle du Havre, France, and five key Australian cultural institutions: the Australian National Maritime Museum, South Australian Maritime Museum, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, and the Western Australian Museum. The memorandum supports the exhibition of the du Havre museum’s collection of water colours and objects associated with Nicolas Baudin’s expedition to Australia in the early 1800s. This significant collection provides a visual and rare record of the landscapes, flora, fauna and peoples of Australia at that time.

The Museum established a partnership with the Commonwealth-funded Asia Education Foundation (AEF) to enable both organisations to utilise the Museum’s Mobile Robot Telepresence Education Program to facilitate greater understanding of Australian culture and history through links between the National Museum of Australia, Australian schools and schools in several Asian countries. The AEF runs the Australia–Asia Bridge School Partnerships project, which promotes relationships between Australian schools and schools in Korea, Thailand, China, Japan, India and Indonesia. The partnership with the AEF will enable students to remotely tour the Museum’s galleries via broadband links.

The Museum provided industry support through committee representation on the Australian Tourism Export Council and the Tourism Industry Advisory Council (ACT) committees. These events and partnerships provide the Museum with access to international distribution networks and the opportunity to raise the profile of the Museum and build relationships with suppliers, agents and wholesalers working in international tourism markets.

Poster advertising the Museum’s travelling exhibition, Freewheeling: Cycling in Australia, featuring a photograph by Patricia Woods
Poster advertising the Museum’s travelling exhibition, Freewheeling: Cycling in Australia, featuring a photograph by Patricia Woods

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.

Ancestral remains and secret/sacred objects that were transferred predominantly from the Australian Institute of Anatomy collections in 1985 are also held in the Museum’s collection. These have been de-accessioned and do not form part of the National Historical Collection.

The Museum continues to hold remains at the request of seven communities in the Northern Territory, South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

Funding from the Ministry for the Arts facilitates the return of remains and secret/sacred objects to their communities of origin through community consultation. The position of the Indigenous Repatriation Officer, Lee Burgess’s, is also funded by the Ministry for the Arts, through its Indigenous Repatriation Program.

During 2014–15 the Museum continued to consult with communities regarding the repatriation of ancestral remains and to house remains when requested by communities to do so. In March and April Museum repatriation staff undertook two consultation trips to Victoria to meet with representatives of Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation. This led to the return of their ancestral remains in June 2015.

The remains of one individual were transferred to the Australian Museum in April at the request of the Menindee New South Wales community. The Australian Museum is planning a consolidated return of remains from the Menindee area, which will include the remains transferred from the National Museum.

In June 2015, David Kaus visited the Strehlow Research Centre (SRC) in Alice Springs to discuss the return of secret/sacred objects. A senior Alice Springs custodian identified one object in the Museum’s collection and requested that it be transferred to SRC to be with other objects the Museum returned at his request a few years ago. This object will be returned in August 2015.

Over the course of 2014–15 the Museum’s repatriation staff have worked closely with the New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) to repatriate remains from New South Wales. Consultations with a number of communities in New South Wales are at an advanced stage and are expected to lead to returns in the next 12 months. Since the beginning of 2015, the Museum, along with the Australian Museum and the Macleay Museum, has attended OEH’s Repatriation Steering Committee meetings, where repatriation matters involving New South Wales are discussed.

Sharing our resources and expertise

Staff from the Museum maintain active memberships of relevant professional bodies in areas as diverse as editing, aviation history and conservation. Staff also provide advice and information on many of their specialist research areas, and host staff from other institutions, as well as interns and students seeking work experience. In 2014–15 the Museum:

  • contributed curatorial expertise to the advisory committees/boards of the Museum of the Riverina, Wagga Wagga, and ACT Historic Places
  • presented public talks and tours to the ACT Torana Club, the Young Aboriginal Leaders program and Canberra University of the Third Age, Charles Sturt University and Australian National University student groups and Women in Racing ACT
  • consulted with cultural heritage groups and staff associated with the Kingston and Arthur’s Vale Heritage Area on Norfolk Island
  • hosted artist-in-residence Vic McEwan, inaugural recipient of the Arts New South Wales Regional Fellowship.

MINmin

The Museum Indigenous Network (MINmin) was established on 9 August 2013, after the former Indigenous support group, Visitor Services and Volunteers Indigenous Network (VSVIN), voted to open membership to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees across the Museum. The purpose of MINmin, as expressed in its mandate, is to support Indigenous employees in their role at the Museum, socially and in the workplace. MINmin recognises the unique challenges that face Indigenous Australian museum professionals and works towards creating positive and collaborative futures for Indigenous employees in the cultural sector. Associate membership, known as MINmin lites, is open to all who have an interest in Indigenous matters in the Museum. The primary activities of MINmin during 2014–15 included:

  • successfully attaining a commendation for achievements in Indigenous employment in the APS Diversity Awards
  • welcoming new graduates to Indigenous Business Australia at their induction program
  • organising an evening event in March 2015 for Indigenous community members who were engaged in the Encounters project
  • hosting a traditional dinner for members of the Indigenous Reference Group at its October 2014 and March 2015 meetings
  • contributing to discussions on the redevelopment of the Gallery of First Australians Welcome Space
  • contributing to the annual NAIDOC festivities by acknowledging country, facilitating a collaborative art workshop and tours of the First Australians gallery and newly launched Lag|Meta|Aus: Home in the Torres Strait exhibition in the Torres Strait Islander gallery.

Indigenous cultural rights and engagement policy

In March 2015 the Museum’s Council approved the Indigenous Cultural Rights and Engagement Policy and Principles. This represents a groundbreaking new policy for the Museum and builds upon and complements existing policies and practices. Indigenous cultural and intellectual property refers to Indigenous people’s rights to their heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expression.

Through the Indigenous Cultural Rights and Engagement Policy and Principles, the Museum formally recognises Indigenous cultural and intellectual property (ICIP) rights and commits to a set of principles to guide its engagement with Indigenous peoples and their cultural heritage.

The aims of the principles are:

  • to recognise and respect Indigenous peoples’ rights to access, maintain and control the use of their cultural heritage
  • to outline how the Museum engages with Indigenous peoples, their cultural heritage and its associated rights, including through appropriate interpretation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage within the Museum
  • to give public acknowledgement to the value of ICIP and to reinforce the Museum’s support for the recognition of ICIP rights
  • to establish a transparent feedback and complaints process regarding the Museum’s engagement with Indigenous peoples and its dealings with ICIP.

The Museum engaged Terri Janke and Company as consultants for this project. Terri Janke is a renowned expert on ICIP issues and has been recognised for her work in protecting Indigenous cultural heritage. Her ‘10 principles’ framework for protecting ICIP has been applied in a range of protocols and guidelines that she has developed for leading arts and research bodies across government, academic and private sectors.

The Indigenous Cultural Rights and Engagement Policy and Principles is publicly available on the Museum’s website (nma.gov.au), and a training package is being developed to raise awareness and engage staff in understanding and applying the principles where relevant to their work.

Online outreach and social media

The Museum’s website: nma.gov.au

In 2014–15, the Museum’s website continued to support the Museum’s exhibitions, programs and publications, and introduced a number of new online initiatives to encourage user contributions and engagement.

Exhibition websites were developed for Warlpiri Drawings: Remembering the Future, Spirited: Australia’s Horse Story, Freewheeling: Cycling in Australia, Australian of the Year Awards 2015 and The Home Front: Australia during the First World War. The Encounters: Revealing Stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Objects from the British Museum exhibition site was enhanced to include a number of the objects and films, and an interactive map showing the community locations.

An extensive new site was launched in August 2014 for the Defining Moments in Australian History project. This includes the initial list of 100 moments, an invitation for users to contribute their own defining moment and 40 featured moments (to increase to over 100 featured moments throughout the life of the project). A total of 94 contributions to Defining Moments were made via the website.

Singer Ricki-Lee Coulter taking a ‘selfie’ at the launch of the Australia Day Your Way campaign
Singer Ricki-Lee Coulter taking a ‘selfie’ at the launch of the Australia Day Your Way campaign

The Remembering 1914–18: Objects, Stories and Emotions interactive website launched in April 2015. It invites people to contribute a photograph and story of an object from the First World War period. As of 30 June 2015, there were 53 objects from the Museum’s collection and another 10 objects from the public. This total is expected to increase over the course of the project, which will run until November 2018.

The Horses in Australia project invited people to share their horse story, contribute a photograph and story about Pony Club and share a photograph of their first pony.

New online publications in 2014–15 included two editions of reCollections, 18 articles in the Goree newsletter, 13 audio programs with transcripts and 20 collection highlights. The featured objects and collections included:

  • the Norm Wilson Papua New Guinea collection
  • James Taylor’s light horse uniform
  • the Charles Ulm collection
  • Jack Howe’s shears
  • a nineteenth-century toy theatre
  • an autograph quilt made as a local church fundraiser, about 1894
  • Amelia Campbell’s coffee urn
  • new horse-related objects, including the David Davis Phar Lap photograph album, a Newcastle bakery cart and the Emilie Roach equestrian collection.

Social media

The Museum has seen a significant increase in social media followers and engagement over 2014–15. In August 2014 the Museum implemented a social media strategy to expand the Museum’s social media communications. This strategy included the introduction of a full-time social media coordinator in September 2014.

In 2014–15 the Museum’s Facebook followers increased by 259 per cent (from 6,900 to 18,000). This increase is the result of a combination of organic growth and paid advertising.

The Museum participated in a Twitter advertising campaign from January to March 2015, promoting the Museum to audiences across the platform. This, combined with organic growth resulted in an increase of Twitter followers by 326 per cent (from 6,300 to 20,600).

Social media channels have promoted the breadth of the Museum’s activities including curatorial, conservation, education, exhibitions and public programs.

Popular posts on social media have included:

  • behind-the-scenes content involving exhibitions and conservation work
  • the launch of the British Museum and National Museum Encounters project partnership
  • the Defining Moments in Australian History project.

Australia Day Your Way

The Australia Day partnership between the Museum, Twitter and the National Australia Day Council involved a call for Australians to tweet images of how they spent Australia Day to the hashtag #AustraliaDay.

In 2015, the partnership attracted more than 140,000 tweets during the live curation on 26–27 January. As a consequence, 1643 images were displayed online, on the large screen in the Main Hall and in the Visions theatre as part of the digital exhibition Australia Day Your Way.

The Museum will incorporate these images into a ‘time capsule’ archive. Discussions are underway with the National Australia Day Council and Twitter to run a similar project next year.

Museum Friends

The Museum Friends is a dynamic affiliate program offering an active engagement with the Museum. With in excess of 2000 members, the Museum Friends enjoy unique monthly programs and a number of special events that provide insights into the Museum’s operations with access to Museum staff and behind-the-scenes experiences. Highlights in 2014–15 included:

  • free curator talks based on Spirited: Australia’s Horse Story
  • an exclusive ‘Director’s preview’ evening, hosted by Dr Mathew Trinca
  • the popular monthly ‘Landmark women’ speaker series
  • rare books tours of the Museum’s Library.

Museum Friends members contribute significantly to the life of the Museum through volunteer activities, most notably through their work on the historic vessel PS Enterprise. The Museum Friends Advisory Committee met four times during 2014–15, contributing to the growth of member events and advising on program strategy.