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Although it is one of Australia’s newest cultural institutions, the National Museum of Australia was almost 100 years in the making. Over the course of the 20th century, proposals for a national museum were intermittent, interrupted by wars and financial crises and stifled by government inaction.

A national inquiry in 1975 (the ‘Pigott Report’) finally resulted in the creation of the Museum in 1980 with the passing of the National Museum of Australia Act. Collecting officially began with significant collections inherited from Australian Government collections, including the Australian Institute of Anatomy. A location was identified at Yarramundi Reach, Canberra.

In December 1996 the building of the Museum was announced as the key Centenary of Federation project, and Acton Peninsula was chosen as the site, with funding confirmed in 1997. The National Museum of Australia opened on 11 March 2001. It is home to the National Historical Collection and is one of the nation’s major cultural institutions.

The Museum’s exhibitions, collections, programs and research focus on three interrelated themes, specified in the National Museum of Australia Act 1980.

They are:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture
  • Australia’s history and society since 1788
  • the interaction of people with the environment.

These areas define the Museum’s intellectual and conceptual framework, which is articulated to the public through the themes of land, nation and people.

Further reading

Transcript of the address by Prime Minister John Howard at the opening of the National Museum, 11 March 2001
via PANDORA, Australia’s Web Archive.

National Museum of Australia Review of Exhibitions and Public Programs
Report to the Council of the National Museum of Australia, July 2003.

The National Museum of Australia: Have we got the Museum we deserve?
Speech by Craddock Morton, Director, National Museum of Australia, 12 August 2008, in the reCollections journal.

Master Plan overview
The Museum’s Master Plan to 2030 delivers a vision for the 21st century and beyond, 2018.

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