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Carol Cooper


Name: Carol Cooper

Title: Senior Curatorial Fellow, Research Centre


  • Bachelor of Arts majoring in archaeology and anthropology (Hons, First Class) Australian National University

Contact details

Carol Cooper
Research Centre
National Museum of Australia
GPO Box 1901
Canberra ACT 2601

Phone: +61 2 6208 5359

Quick links

Carol Cooper's staff presentations and papers

Carol Cooper


Carol Cooper joined the National Museum of Australia as Head Registrar in 1998, riding the crest of the relocation and installation wave for the development of the new Museum at Acton. Previously her career ranged within Canberra cultural institutions from working as a curator, to audiovisual archivist and executive level manager.

As Head Registrar, Carol focused on the physical control, storage, documentation and movement of the National Historical Collection, the Museum archives and the photographic section. In 2009, she joined the Centre for Historical Research, and in July 2010 became Head Curator of the Collections Development Unit. This position involved policy development, supervising collection consultancies, and overseeing the Legacy Collections Project and the redevelopment of the Museum Hall. In 2013, following the Museum's restructure, Carol became a Senior Curatorial Fellow in the Research Centre.

Professional commitments

Carol is a foundation member of the Friends of the National Museum of Australia, member of Museums Australia and associate member and past president (2000–2004) of the Australasian Registrars Committee. Carol was a member of the Australian Aboriginal Affairs Council Task Force on the Return of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Remains and Cultural Property (1990–1993) and the Australian Capital Territory Heritage Council (1990–1991).

Carol attended the Joint Middle Management Development Program in 1998, and the Museum Leadership Program, presented by Museums Australia and the Gordon Darling Foundation in 2003 (with refreshers in 2007 and 2012). In 2013 Carol completed the National Museum's leadership course run by the Centre for Public Management, Canberra.

Current projects

The Bothwell Museum – revisited and rejuvenated

This project began in 2012 as a response to the reduced capacity of the Museum to collect and document new material into the National Historical collection (NHC). It is one of a suite of intended projects to investigate private collections that have entered the NHC. The Bothwell Museum was established by Marjorie Brennan in the Tasmanian town of Bothwell in 1978 and was run as a tourist venture until its sale at auction in 1985. At that time, it consisted of nearly 50,000 objects, mostly related to everyday life in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Tasmania. The National Museum purchased just 500 objects, and the research aims were to contextualise and explore the whole of the former Bothwell Museum collection and trace the life of its objects after dispersal.

Two independent historians, Denis Shepherd (Canberra) and Julie Gough (Hobart), were engaged to assist, and by July 2013 they had completed discrete projects. Denis examined the items relating to manufacturing in Tasmania, and Julie traced the history of one of the few individuals to emerge from the collection, the itinerant peg-lady 'Mrs One-eye Brown'.

The entire project, which will run until the end of June 2014, focuses on the relationship between a material culture collection, the intangible heritage involved in the formation and dispersal of a collection, and the memories of its legacies and historical relationships. It relates to the  Museum's recent Research Framework and Strategies: specifically to Priority 5 'World War 1: Australian Experience at Home' in its examination of the state memory of Mrs Brown who survived the poverty of post-war Tasmania by taking to the roads with products to sell; and Priority 7 'Beyond Agriculture: Australian Food Flows' with its topical focus on manufacturing in Tasmania and an interest in the 'Made in Australia' concept.

Designs in wood: reconnecting to country

Jonathan Jones (Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi artist and curator) and Carol Cooper will combine their interests and expertise to work through the Museum's south-eastern Aboriginal collection of men's weapons, mainly shields and clubs, to further identify and link objects to specific areas, tribal groups and, in some cases, individual artists or carvers. Their project will result in enriched documentation for the National Museum's collections as well as a publication that maps two-dimensional and three-dimensional forms and linear designs across south-east Aboriginal Australia.

This project will allow Jonathan and Carol to draw together hundreds of undocumented museum objects now largely divorced from their source cultures, and reconnect them. They intend that their research will bring meaning to the many undocumented wooden weapons from south-eastern Australia that inhabit museum displays and storerooms throughout the world.

The research will involve:

  • two-dimensional and three-dimensional design analysis
  • identification of raw materials, including wood and pigment types
  • historical provenance research.

This project strongly relates to the Museum's new research framework. The project is embedded in material culture research. At the centre of the project are wooden weapons created by Aboriginal people from south-eastern Australia in the nineteenth century.

Outputs for this project might include:

  • a publication which 'maps' nineteenth century weapons to their 'country'/community of origin and allows stylistic provenancing
  • collection research essays on particular collections which are discovered/'rediscovered' as part of the research
  • possible exhibition/travelling exhibition potential to send to regional Indigenous centres throughout south-east Australia
  • tied to current PhD thesis of both researchers.

Horses in Australia exhibition research

Carol's research for this exhibition centres around two interrelated themes: the concept of 'Australian horses, riding and the bush', and how this both describes and influences the distinctive horse and rider history of Australia; and 'horse passion', a phenomenon that drives the continuing relationship between people and horses in Australia in the 21st century.

This research will be original and material culture focussed and relate to all of the core foundation themes. Specifically however, it will relate to two research priorities: firstly, No 8 'Making things move: Energy and power in Australia', with the key research question of How has the dominance in Australia of a form of energy and its associated technologies shaped social relations and cultural practices at particular times and places?; and secondly, No 9 'Sharing Places: Interspecies relationships', with the key research question of How Australian places and lives have been shaped, understood and experienced through particular human-non-human relationships and interactions.

Outputs for this research may include an article in the Museums Australia journal or reCollections; the possible acquisition of particular horse-related historical objects into the National Historical Collection; and assistance when required for related exhibition modules.

More on the Horses in Australia project


2014: Horses in Australia, temporary and travelling exhibition; role: senior curatorial research fellow

2012: Travelling in Australia/Big Objects, Hall redevelopment exhibition project; role: head curator

2011: Yvonne Kennedy 9/11: the Museum as a custodian of memory; role: curator, new acquisition case

2010: Melbourne module in Landmarks exhibition; role: curator for Tommy McRae Buckley drawings and silver communion plate for 1803 Port Phillip settlement; Wathaurong objects, John Helder Wedge collection, Saffron Walden Museum

2010: Irish in Australia; role: curator for module on Wathaurong objects from Von Stieglitz Collection, National Museum of Ireland

2002-2003: Stories from Australia, Guangzhou Museum of Art, Guangzhou, China, and Tandanya, Adelaide; role: senior curator for exhibition; and catalogue author (with Amanda Reynolds)

2001-2002: AC Haddon Collection module in Torres Strait Island opening exhibition, National Museum of Australia, Canberra, and at Cairns Regional Gallery; role: curator and courier

2001: William Buckley 'Chance' module in Eternity exhibition; role: curator

2001-2002: Gold and Civilisation, National Museum of Australia, Canberra, and National Museum of Victoria, Melbourne; role: Museum curatorial adviser to AEA

1997: Portraits of Oceania, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; role: member of curatorial team with Judy Annear; and catalogue essay

1995: 'It's about Friendship' Rom: a ceremony from Arnhem Land, National Library of Australia in association with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra; role: member of curatorial team with Roslyn Poignant

1994-1995: Aboriginal Artists of the Nineteenth Century, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, and National Gallery Victoria, Melbourne; role: member of curatorial team with Andrew Sayers and Joy Murphy; chapter in the exhibition book by Andrew Sayers; participation in curator talks and public programs.

1981-1982: Aboriginal Australia, major travelling exhibition by Australian Galleries Directors Council shown at National Gallery Victoria, Melbourne, Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, and Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane; role: member of curatorial team with John Mulvaney, Nicolas Peterson and Howard Morphy; object selection and catalogue essay for Art of Temperate south-east Australia; all catalogue text labels and Museum object labels.

Online features

Australian bush horses and riders, Horses in Australia online feature on the National Museum website, 2014

John Moriarty collection, collection highlight on the National Museum, 2014

Balarinji art and design collection, collection highlight on the National Museum website, 2013

Yvonne E Kennedy collection, collection highlight on the National Museum website, 2011

'Where does the Melbourne Cup belong in Australian culture and why has it endured?', with Louise Douglas, National Museum of Australia, audio on demand program, 13 August 2010

'Springfield transformed: family collection into national treasure', National Museum of Australia, Audio on demand program, Collections 2006 series, audio on demand program, 21 March 2006

Oscar’s sketchbook, edited version of essay by Carol Cooper for Captivating and Curious exhibition, 14 December 2005