Learn more about recipients of the Director's Award for Excellence, recognising the quality of professional practice and achievement over the course of a career. An additional Director's Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Life and Community of the Museum was introduced in 2021.
Director’s Award for Excellence 2022
Vicki Northey PSM
This year’s award celebrates Vicki Northey’s outstanding contribution to the National Museum and to the wider cultural sector.
In a career spanning more than 36 years, Vicki has served in a variety of roles at the Powerhouse Museum/Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, the Australian War Memorial, the Australian National Maritime Museum, Parliament House, the Western Australian Museum and the National Museum of Australia.
Vicki started her career in 1986 as part of the team that brought to life the new Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. Opening in 1988, the Powerhouse was the most important cultural development at the time and inspired a raft of new developments at museums and galleries across Australia. Vicki went on to leadership roles in many of those developments, drawing upon the experience and expertise she gained through the Powerhouse project.
At the Australian War Memorial, Vicki led the first and second major gallery redevelopment projects that saw the creation of new galleries and the building of the award-winning Anzac Hall – work that was later recognised by the award of a Public Service Medal for ‘outstanding service in the successful delivery of major development projects’. She went on to contribute to key projects at the Australian National Maritime Museum and at the Western Australian Museum, with the opening of the new Western Australian Museum Boola Bardip in 2020. At the National Museum of Australia, where she has worked since 2017, Vicki is known for her loyalty, professionalism, strength of character and resilience.
In recent years, as head of the Exhibitions team, she has navigated challenging financial and environmental issues with ease, calm and good humour. Vicki has led the temporary exhibition program in a golden period that has seen the successful delivery of several blockbusters including A History of the World in 100 Objects; Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters; Rome: City and Empire; Endeavour Voyage: The Untold Stories of Cook and the First Australians; and Ancient Greeks: Athletes, Warriors and Heroes.
Vicki Northey is highly regarded by her colleagues and peers for her diverse experience and deep expertise, and she has made a strong contribution to the broader museum community over many years. She has been the President of Museums Australia NSW and is currently an Ordinary Member of the ACT Branch of the Australian Museums and Galleries Association.
The National Museum of Australia commends Vicki Northey for her outstanding contribution to this Museum and the wider museum world over many years.
Director’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Life and Community of the Museum 2022
Over her long career at the National Museum of Australia, spanning more than two decades, Tina Brandt has been an outstanding, effective and highly dependable leader. The Museum commends Tina for her contribution to the life and community of the organisation over many years.
In recent times, in the face of major crises including the bushfires of 2019–20 and the coronavirus pandemic, Tina has led by example, strongly backing and managing her team while displaying a strong aptitude for complex problem-solving to support the Museum’s continued service to the Australian public. She has maintained a calm and even-handed approach to the many challenges we have faced and has always displayed extraordinary commitment and composure.
Tina has demonstrated an exceptional propensity to take on new responsibilities, and recruit and develop staff expertise. She has supported other high-quality managers and managed projects jointly with other teams to deliver outstanding results, such as the integration of the Defining Moments Digital Classroom into the Education and Digital business units. With her ‘can-do’ attitude, she has successfully implemented projects acclaimed by visitors.
Tina’s leadership of the hosts and other Museum staff, particularly in encouraging the daily Acknowledgement of Country and the ‘Acknowledge This’ training, has had a significant impact on the Museum’s broader culture and integrity. In recent months, Tina has provided excellent stewardship of the Commercial and Tourism business unit, in addition to managing the Museum’s largest staffing cohort safely through Covid-19 lockdowns and subsequent re-opening.
Contributing so positively to the life of the Museum through her seasoned operational and entrepreneurial leadership, Tina has demonstrated her deep and ongoing commitment to the Museum. As one of its longest-serving staff members, Tina Brandt is a very worthy recipient of the Director’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Life and Community of the Museum.
Director’s Award for Excellence 2021
Tracy Sutherland has displayed excellent judgement in her management of media affairs, public relations and marketing at the National Museum of Australia. More recently, when the Museum confronted the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, she excelled in providing coordination and leadership in refocusing the Museum’s online delivery of programs and content.
Since 2013, Tracy’s oversight of the Museum’s communications has been a fundamental to the success of major exhibitions and related programs, such as Encounters, Defining Moments and Endeavour Voyage. Her calm and considered approach to challenges the Museum faced during these and other key programs has helped to communicate the scope of the organisation’s ambitions while ensuring it dealt effectively with reputational risks. Much of this work has been relatively unnoticed precisely because she has dealt with and managed threats in a nuanced and sensitive fashion.
Tracy is highly-regarded by her peers in the Corporate Management Group and is a collaborative colleague who seeks to promote effective cross-institutional projects. A measure of her standing across the Museum is the fact that her views and advice are often sought by others. She is also an engaged and thoughtful contributor to wider Museum discussions who is strongly engaged in strategic planning efforts. While her work has been largely focused on messaging and public communications, she has also initiated relationships and projects with key external interests.
There is no doubt Tracy has worked tirelessly in support of staff and colleagues at the Museum for many years. She is a highly effective manager who displays genuine leadership while maintaining a great sense of collaboration and cooperative effort with her colleagues. For her exceptional contribution to the Museum and its standing, Tracy Sutherland is a very worthy winner of the Director’s Award for Excellence in 2021.
Director’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Life and Community of the Museum 2021
Matthew Grady is central to the life of the Museum and how we provide our services to the public. He works across all business units and is always there to help anyone to do their work well.
Matt joined the Museum in 2006, following a career in the private building maintenance sector, where he worked across a number of key departments including DFAT, Attorney-General's, Treasury, the Canberra Theatre and ACT Legislative Assembly.
As soon as Matt joined the Museum, he started to make a difference for us all. He worked on coordinating building contractors and services, made improvements to our facilities – particularly at Mitchell – and he ensured our grounds were well maintained. But Matt went beyond doing his job and over the last 14 years and has been central to the work of all business units. He has helped many exhibitions teams to prepare temporary, travelling and gallery redevelopment projects. He has worked closely with events, front of house, education and public programming. He has worked on key redevelopment projects such as the shop redesign and the Atrium redevelopment. Matt was critical when the Museum exited its lease of the Annexe and returned the space to original conditions to hand over to the NCA. Whenever there has been an out of hours emergency, Matt is there regardless of the time, working to sort out whatever the Museum needs to get back up and operating.
In 2020, during the year of bushfires and Covid-19, Matt played a central role and was conscientious and hardworking. He remained onsite throughout the pandemic helping to ready the Museum with new Covid-safe operating measures. He also used the opportunity of the Museum’s temporary closure to undertake a range of periodic maintenance works that would have been challenging at other times due to the Museum being open 364 days a year, and in doing so helped save the Museum financial expense.
Matt Grady is a special person for all of us and is at the centre of the Museum. He is committed, every day, to the Museum’s work and often goes above and beyond to deliver results.
Matt’s relationships are a hallmark of his special nature. They extend far and wide. He is a steadfast friend to many and is an exceptional professional colleague. He mentors and coaches other staff to achieve their best.
He is a tremendous asset to the Museum, whose value is fully appreciated in the nomination for this new Director’s Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Life and Community of the Museum.
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.
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.
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.
Ian Campbell has made a profound contribution to the success of the National Museum of Australia since joining the organisation in July 2000. His professional practice and leadership in a variety of roles and duties in the Museum’s Finance team has been of an exceptionally high standard.
As a longstanding manager in the Finance team, Ian was highly regarded for his openness and willingness to work collaboratively across the organisation. In particular, his extensive knowledge of the Museum and its financial operations was a constant source of comfort to colleagues. During long periods acting as Chief Financial Officer, Ian maintained exemplary professional focus on dealing calmly and conscientiously with the business of the day.
Taking chief responsibility for the Museum’s finances in recent years, Ian has shown great character in meeting budgetary challenges in a positive frame. In that time, the Museum has consistently recorded exemplary results at the end of financial years and maintained its staff and program capability despite fiscal constraints. Ian has also worked actively with the Executive and Council of the National Museum of Australia in ways that have instilled great confidence and respect.
Ian Campbell has excelled in his tactical and strategic management of the Finance team over many years. The part he has played in the life of the organisation – as a valued, trusted peer and a senior manager with critical responsibilities – has been distinguished by unstinting commitment. For all these reason, Ian Campbell is a very worthy winner of the 2017 Director’s Award for Excellence.
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.
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.
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.