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Learn more about our recipients of the Director's Award for Excellence, recognising the quality of professional practice and achievement over the course of a career.

Director’s Award for Excellence 2019

Dr Sophie Jensen

Dr Sophie Jensen has made a major contribution to the life of the National Museum of Australia and to the National Historical Collection more broadly, since she first joined the Museum in 1995.

One of the early successes in Sophie’s career was as a crucial part of the team which developed and delivered the Eternity gallery. This gallery was one of the Museum’s initial permanent exhibitions and brought a revolutionary interpretative approach to the emotional and experiential representation of Australian history. Sophie was then able to use this approach to other permanent galleries which she managed for a number of years.

Sophie has been responsible for curating of a number of exhibitions which have established the Museum’s reputation and set the benchmark for much of the work which followed. These have included Rare Trades, which was the first in-house major exhibition developed by the National Museum; In Search of the Birdsville Track: An Artist in the Outback; Miss Australia: A Nation’s Quest, which toured domestically; and Hickory Dickory Dock; our initial Play School exhibition and Happy Birthday Play School: Celebrating 50 Years; one of our domestic touring triumphs.

Sophie is particularly skilled in working with external interests, a prime example of which was her work with the Chamberlain family. She has also led public events focused on this remarkable collection which speaks directly to the contemporary history of our nation.

Most recently, Sophie has been pivotal in negotiations for the successful acquisition of the Trevor Kennedy collection, an unrivalled collection of rare and remarkable Australiana.

Sophie has ably represented the Museum and is always willing to share her knowledge and expertise with colleagues and the public. Her passion and enthusiasm are inspirational.

The Director’s Award for Excellence recognises the quality of professional practice and achievement of a Museum staff member. This award celebrates Sophie’s outstanding contribution as a curator at the National Museum of Australia and her commitment to the wider community in all her work.

Director’s Award for Excellence 2018

George Serras

George Serras has made an exceptional contribution to the service and professional practice of the National Museum of Australia over the course of two decades.

George was already an experienced photographer when he joined the staff of the Museum in 1999 during the institution's formative years. He subsequently progressed to the role of Senior Photographer and has led the photographic unit of the organisation from that time.

George has contributed extensively to the success of the Museum's program and operations through his creativity, high performance and technical expertise. His work is integral to exhibitions and displays and is pivotal in the ongoing work to digitise and increase public access to the National Historical Collection. He has also contributed to the culture of the organisation through his role as Workplace Support Officer, his active involvement in the development of the Museum's Reconciliation Action Plan, and his volunteering for a range of related charitable causes.

While George's skills have benefited individuals and communities in Australia, he has also given of his own time to contribute internationally to the Museum sector and associated interests. His international standing is demonstrated in his invitation in 2010 to establish a digitisation program for the Luang Prabang National Museum in Laos, where he volunteered for two months.

In his work George has also chronicled the history of the Museum itself — its exhibitions, events, VIP visits and celebrations, and the experiences of the Museum 'family'. George's passion for his work and positive attitude are great assets, and his insistence on the highest standards in his work are inspirational to his peers and colleagues.

The Director's Award for Excellence recognises the quality of professional practice and achievement over the course of a career. George's work has been fundamental in bringing to life the Museum's collection and enabling access for the public, nationally and internationally. This award celebrates the exemplary contribution of George Serras to the life of the National Museum of Australia.

Director’s Award for Excellence 2017

Stephanie Bull

Stephanie Bull has excelled in leadership roles at the National Museum of Australia for more than a decade. Since she joined the Museum in 2004, Stephanie has made an exceptional contribution to the success of the Museum — first as Head of Exhibitions, then as Head of Directorate and, more recently, as Chief Operating Officer.

As Head of Exhibitions, Stephanie oversaw redevelopment of galleries and creation of temporary and touring exhibitions. Later, she played a key role in the tour to China of the Papunya Paintings: Out of the Australian Desert exhibition, negotiating agreements with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the National Art Museum of China — relationships which endure today. Her work in the Directorate and in Governance saw her discharge responsibilities for cross-Museum planning and executive support, and Council and government liaison, to a very high standard.

Known for her close support of staff members, Stephanie has excellent judgement and strategic vision. She has been instrumental in developing the Museum’s shared services agenda, which has advanced cross-agency collaboration and ensured the Museum’s corporate functions are maintained to a high level. Her efforts in rationalising office accommodation and overseeing redevelopments of the Atrium and the Forecourt have strengthened the Museum’s future sustainability and enhanced its visitor experience.

Stephanie Bull is highly regarded by the Museum’s Council, her executive colleagues and staff across the organisation. Her commitment to the Museum and its mission is unstinting, and she has a great enthusiasm for assisting and developing the capabilities of all staff, wherever they work. For all this and more, Stephanie Bull is a very worthy winner of the 2018 Director’s Award for Excellence.

Director’s Award for Excellence 2016

Dr Ian Coates

Dr Ian Coates has made a profound contribution to the life of the National Museum of Australia since he joined in 1999 to work on the initial development of the Tangled Destinies gallery. As a curator and researcher, Ian was responsible for helping to develop the organising principle for the gallery, as a ‘landscape of ideas’ about our relationship to the Australian continent — a theme that permeates the Museum’s work today.

Ian’s intellectual and conceptual strength has been critical to the success of a series of major exhibition programs over many years. He has played a key role in some of the Museum’s most notable achievements, such as Cook’s Pacific Encounters, Papunya: Out of the Desert, and Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route.

As head of the Collections Development Team, he has also made a series of notable acquisitions for the Museum and has responsibility for coordinating the collections work of the Curatorial and Research section.

From 2007, Ian has been responsible for fostering and developing the substantial relationship between the National Museum of Australia and the British Museum, which culminated in the twin exhibition programs Enduring Civilisations: Indigenous Australia and Encounters: Revealing stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander objects from the British Museum. His initial work researching the Indigenous Australian collections at the British Museum inspired this relationship, and led to the establishment of enduring contacts between communities of origin in this country and the British Museum. Moreover, his research uncovered artefacts previously unknown to Australians, such as the illustrations of Torres Strait Islander life made by the artist Tom Roberts in the 19th century.

Ian has made a substantial contribution to research about museums and collections, not least in his role in the two Australian Research Council funded research programs between the National Museum, the British Museum and the Australian National University. More broadly, he has been a key voice in developing the thinking culture of the Museum, and he brings a great sense of clarity and thought to his advocacy. Ian has also been a great encourager and mentor to staff and colleagues, and his calm, unflappable approach is greatly valued by all.

The Director’s Award for Excellence recognises the quality of professional practice and achievement of a Museum staff member. Dr Ian Coates’s work has been an important element in the Museum’s successes since opening its doors, and he continues to search for ways to bring the stories of this country alive, to engage, inform and entertain audiences. This award celebrates his exemplary contribution to the life of the National Museum of Australia.

Director’s Award for Excellence 2015

Rebecca Coronel

Rebecca Coronel’s career at the National Museum of Australia dates from 2000: a time when the institution was in an early period of development and growth. Working initially in front-of-house areas, Rebecca’s career progressed into leadership positions at the Museum, principally in exhibition coordination and planning. She has also supported the broader museum industry through her work with the peak body, Museums Australia.

Rebecca’s commitment as Manager of Exhibitions and Gallery Development at the Museum has been exemplary. She has led the increasing professionalisation of exhibition project management with clear and lasting results. Her conceptual grasp of core ideas, together with her practical approach to project management and delivery, has enhanced the Museum’s reputation for high-quality exhibitions and related programs finished to an exceptional standard. In addition, her strong personal commitment to travelling exhibitions has ensured the Museum has reached audiences throughout the country and overseas.

Rebecca has also taken a lead role in developing the Museum’s work culture, and she is highly regarded by her peers. Her calm and unflustered approach to problem-solving is welcomed by colleagues who rely on her capacity to deal with challenges and issues as they arise. As a result, her counsel and advice is sought by staff throughout the organisation, and she has supported and developed her team members, with benefits both to them and the Museum.

The Director’s Award for Excellence recognises the quality of practice, achievement and organisational contribution of a Museum staff member. Rebecca Coronel’s work has been a key part of the Museum’s success over the past decade and she continues to search for ways to improve the organisation’s approach to making high-quality experiences for the public. This award celebrates her exemplary contribution to the life of the National Museum.

Director’s Award for Excellence 2014

Professor Mike Smith, AM, FAHA, FSA

Mike Smith’s distinguished career in desert archaeology spans more than four decades, almost half of which has been spent in senior roles at the National Museum of Australia. His recent book, The Archaeology of Australian Deserts, published by Cambridge University Press in 2013, has been hailed as ‘a landmark work in Australian History’. It synthesises much of what he has learnt over the course of his career about the ‘deep history’ of these remarkable landscapes.

Mike’s research work has been important in Australia and abroad, placing the desert archaeology of this continent in a comparative international context. His establishment of an international southern deserts conference in 2003 has left an enduring scholarly legacy, with meetings of that group now held regularly around the world. In recognition of his ‘significant service to archaeological scholarship, particularly of Australia’s desert regions’, Mike was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 2013.

Mike has made exceptional contributions to the Museum in many areas, including in research, exhibitions and collections, educational material, public programs, archival and publishing initiatives, and online content. In particular, he inspired and led development of the Museum’s research endeavour, culminating in the establishment of its Research Centre and scholarly journal, reCollections, in 2006–07. The annual Director’s Award for Excellence recognises the quality of practice, achievement and organisational contribution of a Museum staff member. In this inaugural year, the award celebrates the excellence of Mike Smith’s scholarly record, his professional leadership, and the pivotal part he has played in the success of the National Museum of Australia.

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