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Connecting with the community

Reaching a national schools audience

In 2013–14, 83,642 students visited the Museum from all states and territories.

Nineteen different facilitated programs, each aligned to the Australian Curriculum, were available for school groups visiting the Museum during this period. 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 the country.

Museum staff presented at national teacher conferences in Sydney, Melbourne, Darwin, Canberra and regional New South Wales. 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. Work began on the development of a range of accredited professional development programs that will be available to primary and secondary teachers around Australia via video conference and webinars. Staff also worked with teachers from other countries, hosting, for example, a delegation of principals and teachers from Taiwan.

Major curriculum resource developments

The Museum continued to engage in a range of publishing partnerships resulting in high-quality publications relating to Australian history for 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 Australian Curriculum: History to investigate pastoralism through collection items relating to Springfield station, New South Wales.

The Museum also produced a unit of work for the nationally distributed e-magazine Studies of Society and Environment. This investigated the theme of 20th-century and contemporary Indigenous rights and freedoms, relevant to Year 10 Australian Curriculum: History, by asking students to explore paintings and other sources of evidence from the Museum’s temporary exhibition, Old Masters: Australia’s Great Bark Artists.


“These paintings are spectacular. They are very detailed. Imagine sitting around all day painting with a tiny brush.”

Olivia, aged 8


Digital learning

This year the Museum strengthened its suite of digital learning programs and resources, and accommodated them within a new area of the Museum’s website, ‘Engage & learn’. The pre-existing Education blog, which is an important feature of ‘Engage & learn’, now has 567 subscribers.

A significant new program began in September 2013 as a result of a partnership with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s digital platform, ABC Open. Entitled ‘Object Stories’, this program invites Museum staff and people in regional and remote Australia to tell a short story – as a narrated set of still images – about an object of significance to them or their community, and to share it on the ABC Open website. A Museum staff member comments on many of the stories and selects some to feature on the Museum’s website. By the end of June 2014, 467 stories had been contributed, and 42 had been chosen for the Museum’s website. Object Stories has made an important contribution to the Museum’s goal of encouraging user-generated content. It involves the Museum and the public on an equal footing, the form of the stories is very simple to produce and the results are compelling.

The Museum Game – the iPad game where teams of visitors compete to make the most interesting connections between objects on display – quickly became one of the Museum’s most popular programs for visiting school groups in 2013–14. More recently it has begun to attract wider interest. Young adults have enjoyed a Museum Game mini-tournament during two Night at the Museum events, and groups of teachers have played the game as part of a professional development program. The next audiences for the game will be families on festival days and school holidays and corporate groups keen to improve their lateral thinking and creativity.

Robots in the Museum

The Mobile Robot Telepresence Education Program began its first full year of operation on 1 July 2013, following two years of prototyping and testing. Two robots, developed by the CSIRO, now regularly roam the Museum’s galleries providing remote live and immersive access for a range of different audiences. Since the project was launched, the robots have delivered 170 tours to almost 2000 people.

The robot program won the Innovation category of the prestigious 2013 Australia and New Zealand Internet Awards in September 2013 and received second prize in the 2013 AARNet Annual Awards for Excellence for innovative use of the AARNet broadband network July 2013.

A robot event coinciding with the 2013 Melbourne Cup linked curators from the Museum, Melbourne Museum and Te Papa in Wellington, with students and the general public at schools and libraries across Australia and New Zealand. This event brought Phar Lap’s body parts back together digitally, and generated wide-ranging discussion and interaction with Museum staff.

Recent international connections include demonstration tours for staff at Georgia Institute of Technology, United States; London’s Natural History Museum; the Danish Ministry of Culture; and the Association of American Museum’s national conference in Seattle.

An increasing number of tours are also being delivered to a range of disability and seniors audiences in Australia and overseas, including California, United States; Manchester, United Kingdom; and Vilnius, Lithuania.

Museum outreach

Exhibitions and programs at the Museum often contain a strong 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 2013–14, 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:

  • consultations with 16 communities across all states and territories, with several visits to each community, as part of the Encounters project
  • filming with significant community members in each community 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 April 2014
  • visiting the Torres Strait Islands to consult with community regarding the content for the Lag, Meta, Aus: Home in the Torres Strait exhibition
  • hosting Joseph Elu, head of the Torres Strait Regional Authority, who opened the newly redeveloped Torres Strait Islander gallery
  • engaging Larrakia TV to film the community consultations interviews on Tiwi Island
  • visiting Mangala station near Ingham in north Queensland to document the development of an Aboriginal pastoral and tourism enterprise for the ‘Rights’ module in the First Australians gallery
  • research and consultation with diverse equestrian communities, including visits to key national competitions, community events and organisations and liaison with collection donors as part of the Horses in Australia project
  • research and consultation with Australian cycling groups, liaison with collection donors and partnerships with relevant university researchers as part of the Cycling in Australia project
  • establishing a partnership with Macquarie Bank to develop an exhibition on Governor Macquarie, drawing on the Museum’s collection, for the bank’s new flagship premises at 50 Martin Place, Sydney
  • through the Food Stories online project, partnership building with the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation and consultation and research visits with four primary schools participating in the foundation program.

International outreach

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 and identifying contemporary objects that reflect on the continuous culture of communities represented in the British Museum collections.

Several community members engaged with the project have visited the British Museum over the year, and have been able to view objects from their regions and communities, and talk with curators and collection managers. Indigenous Australian artists connected with the project have visited and built connections with staff at the British Museum, which will result in artworks being generated over the coming years. The project will result in an exhibition that is scheduled to open at the British Museum in April 2015 and at the National Museum of Australia in November 2015.

In 2013–14 the Museum entered into an agreement with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to develop a small exhibition based on the Canning Stock Route collection in a form that can be printed by Australian embassies and missions for local display. Following his appointment as Museum Director, Dr Mathew Trinca travelled overseas to further develop influential relationships between the National Museum of Australia and world-renowned institutions and bring greater visibility to the Museum on the world stage:

  • The Director and Council member Peter Yu travelled to the United Kingdom to meet with British Museum Director, Neil MacGregor, and senior staff to discuss the Encounters project.
  • The Director and Mr Yu met with the Australian Ambassador to Denmark, His Excellency Damien Miller, to discuss opportunities to take an Indigenous exhibition to Denmark and Norway.
  • The Director travelled to China to continue the relationship established in a Memorandum of Understanding between the National Museum of Australia and the National Museum of China.
  • The Director also met with the Director of the National Museum of Singapore to develop a partnership for staff exchanges and research programs.

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 2013–14 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 Ministry for the Arts to facilitate the return of remains and secret/sacred objects to their communities of origin through community consultation. The engagement and development of the Indigenous Repatriation Officer was undertaken through this program.

In 2013–14 Repatriation staff travelled twice to western New South Wales to consult with communities regarding ancestral remains held by the Museum. Throughout the year, the Indigenous Repatriation Officer maintained ongoing contact with communities in anticipation of repatriation-related requests.

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 2013–14 the Museum:

  • hosted an intern, Alana Garwood-Houng from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) as part of her masters studies in liberal arts, museums and collections. Ms Garwood-Houng is part of the AIATSIS Step-Up program and while working in the team she assisted with research for the Encounters project
  • hosted three members from the Gab Titui Cultural Centre, who gained experience in Museum conservation procedures and exhibition design
  • advised the Department of Veterans’ Affairs on content for the proposed Australian National Memorial in New Zealand
  • provided advice to the historical aviation community as part of ongoing assistance to Air Services Australia’s project to document aviation heritage collections, and through membership of the Aviation Historical Association of Australia
  • hosted an artist-in-residence through the Australian National University Vice-Chancellor’s College Visiting Artists Fellowship program
  • provided tours of the Museum’s Landmarks gallery to Charles Sturt University Interpretation students; students from the Lynchburg College, Virginia, United States; and undergraduate and postgraduate students from the Australian National University.

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, providing the first point of contact for issues that affect First Australians, as well as being a resource for the Museum. Associate membership, known as the MINmin lites, is open to all who have an interest in Indigenous matters.

Online outreach and social media

The Museum’s website: nma.gov.au

In 2013–14 the Museum’s website continued to support the Museum’s exhibitions and programs, and a number of new online features and collection highlights were introduced. The Museum was awarded three Museums Australia Multimedia and Publication Design Awards (MAPDA):

  • winner, Program Website Level 2, for the Old Masters: Australia’s Great Bark Artists exhibition website
  • winner, Multimedia Level 2, for the Convict Love Tokens interactive
  • Judges Special Award – Multimedia, for the Convict Love Tokens interactive

The Convict Love Tokens interactive was also a finalist in the 20th annual Interactive Media Industry Association Awards.

Exhibition websites were developed for Old Masters: Australia’s Great Bark Artists; On Country: Connect, Work, Celebrate; and Lag, Meta, Aus: Home in the Torres Strait. A project website was developed for the Encounters project.

Two new program sites were developed: for the Museum’s People and the Environment unit and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander program. These feature news, project information, collection highlights and exhibition features. The People and the Environment site encompasses a number of online features including ‘Horses in Australia’, ‘Cycling in Australia’, ‘Food stories’, ‘Rabbits in Australia’ and ‘Australian bush horses and riders’. The People and the Environment blog provides a forum for community leaders and the public to engage in discussions around the Australian environment. It received 14,000 views in 2013–14, with the most popular topics being ‘The darkside: Endurance cycling in Australia’ and ‘Australia’s favourite birds’. The First Australians site will include an online version of the Goree newsletter.

In 2013–14, 26 new audio programs with transcripts were published, including a number of talks from the Old Masters lecture series and the Critical Undercurrents One River symposium on the management of water resources in the Murray–Darling Basin.

Twenty-two new collection highlights were developed and published as well as an extensive online feature on the Faithfull Family collection. Some of the featured objects and collections were:

  • the Balarinji art and design collection
  • the Tasmanian bark canoe
  • bicycles and related objects, such as the Ken Ross cycling collection, Ernie Old’s Malvern Star bicycle, a Cadel Evans collection highlight, Harry Clarke’s penny-farthing bicycle, Hubert Opperman’s beret and Peter Heal’s recumbent bicycle
  • horse-related objects, including the 1867 Melbourne Cup, the James Ferrier ploughing medal and the Ranken family’s landau coach
  • objects related to popular culture, such as posters from the ‘Life. Be in it.’ campaign, and the ABC Play School collection.

Social media

The Museum’s Facebook and Twitter followers increased by about 20 per cent in 2013–14. Popular Facebook posts included behind-the-scenes information, the launch of Old Masters: Australia’s Great Bark Artists and the appointment of the Museum’s new Director.

Tweets with strong engagement included facts from, and pointers to, blog posts or website content, information on events, object stories and images from within or around the Museum. Twenty-nine new videos were shared on YouTube. The three most viewed were ‘See the National Museum of Australia’, Old Masters: Australia’s Great Bark Artists and ‘Make your own board game: fun at home activity’, which has received more than 18,000 views.

Australia Day Your Way

The inaugural Australia Day partnership between the National 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.

The partnership attracted more than 70,000 tweets in the course of the day and stimulated widespread coverage on social media. More than 30,000 images were sent in by Australians around the country and overseas, and the Museum curated ‘live’ on Australia Day a selection of these images for a digital exhibition, Australia Day Your Way, shown online, on the large screen in the Main Hall, and in the Visions Theatre.

The Museum will incorporate the images into a ‘time capsule’ archive, and has already commenced discussions with the National Australia Day Council and Twitter for a similar project next year.

Some of the thousands of images tweeted by Australians and curated by the Museum, 26 January 2014.
Some of the thousands of images tweeted by Australians and curated by the Museum, 26 January 2014.

Museum Friends

Membership of the Museum Friends program has grown steadily during 2013–14, exceeding 1900 members in June. Members continue to enjoy the well-established monthly programs and a number of special events providing access to Museum staff, behind-the-scenes experiences and unique Museum activities. Highlights included:

  • free curator talks based on the Old Masters: Australia’s Great Bark Artists exhibition
  • an exclusive ‘Meet the Director’ evening, hosted by Alex Sloan of ABC Canberra
  • the popular monthly ‘Landmark women’ speaker series
  • rare books tours of the National Museum of Australia Library.

Museum Friends members have also contributed 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 2013–14, contributing to the design of member events and advising on program strategy.