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Determination and vision

I first worked with Mike Smith in the year or so preceding the National Museum’s opening in 2001. Mike was chiefly responsible for the Tangled Destinies gallery, which was to explore the relationship between people and the environment. This was essentially his conception: a remarkable retelling of Australia’s environmental history, focusing on how the land was perceived, experienced and exploited.

The deadlines were immutable; the tasks daunting; the atmosphere frenetic. Mike applied himself with the singular determination and academic rigour characteristic of his career. As the pressure increased, he remained unflappable. With the help of a small but capable team, he developed the story-line, imagined the design, and wrote much of the text. He led by example – and to the Museum as a whole, he brought substance and depth.

Mike was also one of the originators and founding editors of the Museum’s journal reCollections. The journal was conceived as a means of encouraging research within the Museum and, beyond NMA, promoting research and publication in issues relating to museums and collections in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region. Mike vigorously advocated studies in material culture, and saw reCollections as contributing to this aim. He continues to serve as an editor of the journal, which is now in its seventh year.

Both the Gallery and the journal have changed: but they remain tributes to Mike Smith’s determination and vision.

Stephen Foster

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