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Margo Neale


Name: Margo Neale

Title: Senior Research Fellow, Senior Curator and Principal Indigenous Advisor to the Director


  • Graduate Diploma Art History and Curatorship (ANU, 1995).
  • Business Management Entrepreneurship Certificate (MBA affiliated award), ACT Enterprise Workshop, 1991.
  • B.Ed, University of Canberra, 1981 (converted from BA Major English Literature, University of Queensland and majors in painting and photography from the Canberra School of Art).
  • Trained Art and Craft Teacher’s Certificate (TACTC), Melbourne Teachers’ College, 1968.
  • Trained Primary Teacher’s Certificate (TPTC), Burwood Teacher’s: College, 1966.


  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, history, culture and contact history
  • Australian history
  • Curatorship - the representation of Indigenous culture in public institutions and the development of new consultative and collaborative models between Indigenous communities and institutions
  • Asia-Pacific contemporary art and culture

Contact details

Margo Neale
Senior Research Fellow
Research Centre
National Museum of Australia
GPO Box 1901 

Phone: +61 2 6208 5370
Mobile: +61 (0)409 983 354
Fax: +61 2 6208 5148

Quick link

Margo Neale - staff presentations and papers

Margo Neale
Margo Neale

Margo Neale is a Senior Research Fellow, Senior Curator and Principal Indigenous Advisor to the Director at the National Museum of Australia.

Margo is also an Adjunct Professor in the history program at the Australian National University's Australian Centre for Indigenous History. In this role Margo sits on post-graduate supervisory panels, gives seminars and participates in workshops, and engages in documentaries and study tours for international visiting academics.

Margo is regularly called upon by the electronic and print media as an expert commentator on Indigenous art, culture and history, particularly in relation to her experience as a curator of major exhibitions across museums and galleries.

A full list of Margo's work on exhibitions, publications and articles is coming soon.

Current activities

Alive with the Dreaming! Songlines of the Western Desert

This Australian Research Council project (LP 110200742) is a cross-cultural collaborative and inter-disciplinary research project that engages with the elders and artists of the Western Desert in order to share an understanding of the significance, in terms of scale, spiritual and environmental aspects, of the iconic songlines that map the Australian continent. Margo heads up the visual component and will incorporate the ecological, archaeological and performative elements into the final exhibition. As the National Museum of Australia is a major partner she is also part of the four person Canberra-based steering committee for the project. Mike Smith and Libby Robin from the Museum's Centre for Historical Research are also involved. The project will run over the next four to five years and will include performances, books and films as well as a major exhibition at the National Museum of Australia.

Project website - Songlines of the Western Desert

Opera under the stars

This is a performative component of the Seven Sisters songline sub-project to be staged in 2013 at the National Museum of Australia. Margo’s role is to liaise between the NMA, the community performers, Project Director Diana James and the Canberra Centenary Festival team under Festival Director Robyn Archer.

The Wisdom and Courage of Indigenous Activism

Margo is involved in a forum in association with the Canberra centenary (C100), 2013 in conjunction with the C100 festival team.

Nginataka songline exhibition

Co-curatorship of the Nginataka songline exhibition at the South Australian Museum in collaboration with the Aboriginal traditional knowledge holders and trainee curators.

Old masters: bark painters of Arnhem Land (working title) proposed exhibition

Margo is part of a NMA curatorial team researching an exhibition with the working title ' Old masters: bark painters of Arnhem Land'.


Margo is currently writing a book on curatorship.


Margo, of Aboriginal and Irish descent, worked in schools, universities, art galleries and in private enterprise before joining the National Museum in 2001 where she was the inaugural Director of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Program in the opening years. In 2006 she took up her current position.

After teaching and working for the homelands movement in Arnhem Land in the 1970s and teaching art and Australian history on Christmas Island in the 1980s, she worked at the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Queensland Art Gallery where she was inaugural curator of the Indigenous art department. She has been a practising artist, run a small publishing business and was the owner/manager of Artlinks Canberra, an art teaching and cultural events enterprise based on ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’.

Margo has been a visiting scholar at the University of Queensland, the Australian National University's Centre for Cross-Cultural Research and the Humanities Research Centre and  has published on a wide range of topics including social history, art in the Asia-Pacific region and Indigenous art, history and culture.

Margo has worked on seven Australian Research Council grants since 2001 in partnership with the Australian National University and Monash University. These include 'Art and human rights in the Asia-Pacific: The limits of tolerance'; 'Unsettling history: Australian Indigenous modes of historical practice'; and 'The other within', which examined Indigenous and multicultural displays in contemporary museums across Asia and the Pacific.

Her major exhibitions include the national and international touring exhibition for Emily Kame Kngwarreye in Australia 1998 and in Japan 2008, and the national touring retrospective Urban Dingo: the art of Lin Onus for the 2000 Sydney Olympics at the Museum of Contemporary Art. In 2009 she initiated and organised the international academic symposium Barks, Birds & Billabongs: exploring the legacy of the 1948 scientific expedition to Arnhem Land and in 2010 curated Rituals of Life at the Vatican Ethnological Museum to coincide with the canonisation of Mary Mackillop.

She has been appointed by successive governments to various panels including: Prime Minister Howard’s History Summit 2006; Prime Minister Rudd’s 2020 Summit of Ideas (creative stream) 2008; and the judging panel for the Prime Minister’s Australian History Prize in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Book covers of Margo Neale's publications

Publication highlights

Best books

M Neale and M Thomas (eds), Exploring the Legacy of the 1948 Arnhem Land Expedition, ANU E Press, 2011.

M Neale (ed.), Utopia: the genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Yomiuri Shimbin, Tokyo 2008 and an Australian edition, NMA Press, 2008

Peter Veth, Margo Neale and Peter Sutton, Strangers on the Shore: Early Coastal Contacts with Australia, NMA Press, March 2008

M Neale and A Jackson-Nakano, Introduction to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, Barrie Publishing, Melbourne, 2003.

S Kleinert and M Neale (eds), The Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture, Oxford University Press, Australia and New Zealand, 2001

M Neale (ed.), Urban Dingo: the Art of Lin Onus 1948-1996, Craftsman House, Sydney, 2000.

M Neale (ed.), Emily Kame Kngwarreye - Alhalkere - Paintings from Utopia, Queensland Art Gallery and Macmillan Publishers Australia, Melbourne, 1998.

Exhibition catalogues by Margo Neale

Best chapters or articles

'God lives in the Dreaming: Aboriginal treasures in the Vatican', Artink Indigenous Contemporary Art of Australia and Asia-Pacific, Vol 31, No 2 mega issue, 2011.

'Marks of Meaning: The genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye', in M. Neale (ed.), Utopia: The Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Yomiuri Shimbun, Tokyo, 2008.

'Out of Country: Too many cooks spoilt the broth' in Strangers on the Shore: The Early Coastal Contacts, NMA Press, Canberra, 2006.

'Out of the dark: telling our own stories in the First Australians gallery at the National Museum of Australia', Representation in Museum Exhibitions - Ethnicity, War and Education, Rekihaku National Museum of Japanese History, Tokyo, Japan, 2005.

'The politics of visibility: how Indigenous Australian art found its way into art galleries', in C Turner (ed.), Art and Social Change: Contemporary Art in Asia and the Pacific, Pandanus Press, Canberra, 2005, pp. 483-497.

M Neale, 'The presentation and interpretation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art: the Yiribana Gallery in focus', in M Grossman (ed.), Blacklines: Contemporary Critical Writing by Indigenous Australians, Melbourne University Publishing, 2003, pp. 104-108.

A Edmundson and M Neale, 'Learning to be Proppa: Aboriginal Artists' Collective, proppaNOW,' in C Turner and D Williams (eds), Thresholds of Tolerance, Australian National University, Canberra, 2007, pp. 29-38.

M Neale and T Morrell, 'Who's laughing: humour in Indigenous Australian photography', Photofile, August 2004, no. 72, pp. 54-57.

M Neale and M Mel, 'Touch a native', in C Turner and N Sever (eds), Witnessing to Silence, Art and Human Rights, Australian National University, Canberra, 2003, pp. 72-77


Margo is author, co-author or editor of 11 books, curator of 10 major exhibitions including two international ones, and co-curator of four exhibitions. Margo’s curatorial work in a cross-cultural interaction was the subject of a two-part documentary commissioned by the ABC and a feature film entitled The Making of an exhibition: Emily in Japan, produced by Ronin Films, also shown on the ABC and sold internationally. She won the Manning Clark award in 2008 on behalf of the National Museum of Australia for her work on the same exhibition and a Power Institute and Museum of Australia award for the Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture, which she co-edited with Sylvia Kleinert.

Margo Neale posing in front of the title wall of the Emily exhibition in Tokyo
Margo Neale's exhibition on Emily Kame Kngwarreye in Tokyo, May 2008

Professional commitments

Margo is an adjunct Professor at the Australian Centre for Indigenous History, a member of their advisory committee, a member of the Indigenous advisory group for the Canberra Centenary festival, an expert Examiner under the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986, on the judging panel of various prizes, launches numerous exhibitions across Australia and mentors a number of young indigenous trainees and early career people working in the arts and academia. 

Related links

Interview on Phillip Adams Late Night Live, 9 November 2011, talking about the reception to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art

audio_w15 Book launch of Exploring the Legacy of the 1948 Arnhem Land Expedition, 17 June 2011, audio and transcript

Interview on 666 ABC Radio, Canberra Conversations, 8 July 2011

audio_w15 Aboriginal treasures at the Vatican, audio and transcript of talk given on 1 December 2010

Interview on ABC Radio National, Encounter program, 21 November 2010 - Rituals of Life: Aboriginal spirituality at the Vatican Museums exhibition

'Barks, Birds and Billabongs: Exploring the legacy of the 1948 American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land', convenor of international symposium, 16-20 November 2009

audio_w15 'Bastard barks': a gift from the 1948 Arnhem Land expedition, 17 November 2009, audio of presentation at symposium

audio_w15 Emily: the impossible modernist, audio and transcript of talk with John McDonald and Virginia Trioli, 28 September 2008

'Why do those fellas paint like me ...?' Emily Kame Kngwarreye symposium, convenor, 22-23 August 2008

audio_w15 Conversation with Janet Holmes a Court, audio and transcript of talk, 23 August 2008

audio_w15 Collecting Papunya art, audio and transcript of talk with Christopher Hodges and Vivien Johnson, 3 February 2008

audio_w15 History meets poetry, audio and transcript of talk with Professor Peter Read and Sam Wagan Watson, 4 November 2007

Margo explaining the Big Yam painting to former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd
Margo explains the concept of a yam ancestor to Prime Minister Rudd in Tokyo at the Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye exhibition, June 2008.
Indigenous performers outside the Vatican at the Rituals of Life exhibition opening
Performance at the opening of the exhibition Margo curated at the Vatican entitled Rituals of Life: Spirituality and culture of Aboriginal Australians in the Vatican Collection, 2010.
Margo consulting with community in Utopia, Northern Territory
Margo consulting with community in Utopia, Northern Territory
Margo and community member on top of a 4WD in Alhalkere country
Visiting Emily Kame Kngwarreye's country of Alhalkere, Northern Territory, 2007