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From the Museum

From the Museum

The National Museum of Australia is justifiably proud of its collections: not for their sheer mass alone, but rather for the quality of the objects, the power of their inherent meanings and their supporting histories.

Warlayirti artist Elizabeth Nyumi painting at Kilykily (Well 36).
Warlayirti artist Elizabeth Nyumi painting at Kilykily (Well 36).
Photo: Tim Acker, 2007.

Many collections evolve slowly; some collections are special right from the start. The Canning Stock Route collection, which the Museum acquired in March 2008, is one such collection. It arose out of the Canning Stock Route Project initiated by FORM, an independent arts organisation based in Perth, Western Australia, in 2006. This project involved several years of intensive research by the FORM team in equal collaboration with Aboriginal artists and their respective art centres and organisations.

The Canning Stock Route is a place where Indigenous and non-Indigenous histories intersect. First surveyed by Alfred Canning in 1906, it is the longest historic stock route in the world, running almost 2000 kilometres across Western Australia, from Halls Creek to Wiluna. The development of this ultimately unsuccessful venture dramatically affected the lives of the Aboriginal people who lived in the region traversed by the stock route. For many years, however, the story of the stock route was told as a white man's story. Yet, viewing the works in this collection makes us recognise that this story goes back much further and is held firmly in the hearts and minds of the Aboriginal people who lived there. The Canning Stock Route Project has recovered the Indigenous history of this region.

During a six-week trip along the Canning Stock Route in 2007 and subsequent community workshops and bush trips, 80 artists created a collection of paintings, contemporary cultural objects and documentary material, from which the 127 works in the final collection were curated. This unique collection has emerged through a strategic research process founded on ethical consultation; as a result, the various works and objects are accompanied by rich documentation — papers, interviews, photographs and film. Particularly significant is the emphasis that has been given to Aboriginal voices — the words of the artists themselves — in documenting the collection and in developing the philosophies that will guide its future management.

Acquisition of the collection also represents another significant first for the National Museum of Australia. While many museums develop exhibitions under sponsorship from external agencies, the day–to-day relationship between sponsor and museum is usually somewhat independent. The relationship between FORM and the National Museum of Australia is different; it represents a close collaboration, one in which the research done by the FORM team has come together with the resources of the Museum.

I commend my predecessor, Craddock Morton, whose decisions to acquire the collection and establish a partnership with FORM to develop an exhibition were ambitious and far-sighted. The Canning Stock Route collection, has already become a great resource and will continue to be one for the future.

Andrew Sayers
Director, National Museum of Australia