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15 September 2022

Great Southern Land gallery at the National Museum of Australia

Our relationship and connection to the unique Australian continent over millennia is at the heart of the new Great Southern Land environmental gallery, launched today at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

The world-class $25 million Great Southern Land gallery is the National Museum’s most significant redevelopment since the institution opened its doors to the public in 2001 and sets a new standard for museum experiences in Australia.

Designed by the acclaimed US-based Local Projects, renowned for their groundbreaking work on the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York, the Great Southern Land gallery features more than 2,000 objects and rich multi-sensory experiences.

The gallery explores First Nations connection to the continent over more than 65,000 years, and the relationship to the land of everyone who followed.

National Museum Director, Dr Mathew Trinca, said the new gallery celebrates Australia’s unique landscapes and biodiversity, and explores how the land can help guide us through the environmental challenges of the future.

‘This gallery explores our fundamental relationship to the land and our unique continent. It speaks to the stories that showcase our love of the land, our custodianship of the land and our responsibilities to it, which date back millennia,’ Dr Trinca said.

‘The gallery explores the elemental forces that have shaped the continent and, by extension, shaped us. The Great Southern Land gallery positively explores how listening to this ancient continent will help us address global environmental challenges, now and into the future.’

Many of the featured objects have never been on display before. These include a Cobargo pay phone which was badly melted when bushfires swept through the southern New South Wales area on 31 December 2019; an Antarctic ice-core drill; the canoe in which renowned Australian environmental philosopher Val Plumwood was attacked by a saltwater crocodile; and a life-sized sculpture of an enormous cathedral termite mound from northern Australia.

Assistant Director of Discovery and Collections, Katherine McMahon, said the newly constructed 2,000 square metre Great Southern Land gallery development was part of the Museum’s transformative Master Plan, announced at the end of 2018.

‘Our goal was to upgrade the Museum’s display space and extend the range of public experiences. By working with the building’s original architects, ARM, the project has enhanced the iconic building by creating more public space and increased the Museum’s exhibition footprint,' Ms McMahon said.

‘The redesign emphasises the Museum’s dramatic lakeside position. It includes a new function area and a stunning new external staircase.’

National Museum Council member and Indigenous Reference Group Chair, Fiona Jose, said that the new gallery celebrates the stories of Australia’s deep history and First Peoples.

‘Stories of how First Nations peoples have belonged to and cared for Country over countless generations are woven throughout the gallery. This new gallery shows how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge of this ancient continent is a heritage all Australians can draw on, and key to meeting our shared responsibility to heal and nourish the land,’ Ms Jose said.

Lead curator of Great Southern Land, Dr Martha Sear said the new gallery tells story of love and hope.

‘The gallery takes visitors on a 65,000-year journey across the Australian continent – from red deserts to rainforest and beaches to the bush – revealing how our deep connections to the land can guide us towards a hopeful future,’ Dr Sear said.

Principal and founder of gallery designers Local Projects, Jake Barton, said he was excited by the challenge inherent in the project.

‘We set ourselves the challenge to make a new type of experience that will explore a subject as epic and vast as an entire Australian continent and people’s history in a way that’s personal, engaging, emotional and surprising,’ Mr Barton said.

‘I’m deeply excited by how we’ve been able to deliver on that challenge again and again throughout the experience, from an infinite forest of bunya trees that fold in visitors’ reflections, to the model orcas floating in mid-air accompanied by beautiful footage.

‘Australians have a thirst for the deep wisdom of First Nations culture – its understanding of interconnectedness and interdependency – at a time when that’s more important than ever. In these galleries, visitors encounter, and can draw inspiration from, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art, creation myths and the deep-time power of that ancient culture.’

Architects Ashton Raggatt McDougall, who designed the original building which opened in March 2001 after winning an international design competition in 1997, were consulted during the construction of the new Great Southern Land gallery.

Architect Howard Raggatt said, ‘The new exhibition design now realises the original intent for the Museum, with the layout leaving room for the form of the building to be seen and experienced. An exciting new staircase on the lakeside now gives spectacular views over Canberra. The redevelopment fulfils a key step in the overall vision for the Master Plan.’

Two short films – created by filmmakers Alison Page and Nik Lachajczak of ZAKPAGE – bookend the gallery journey. Ochre and Sky is an immersive media experience which, during a time of global environmental challenge, reveals how listening to the land offers hope for the future. The Eucalyptus projection takes visitors on a journey to meet the many diverse members of the eucalyptus family, from snow gums in the mountains, to mallee in the dry country, to mountain ash in the wet forests.


The Great Southern Land gallery travels across the continent and explores its stories in four chapters.

  1. Power: The first chapter examines the powerful natural forces which have shaped life in Australia.
  2. Connection: The second chapter revels in the country’s seasonal rhythms and how we are all connected with these systems.
  3. Life: The third chapter explores Australia’s unique biodiversity and the wide range of environments we call home, from the red centre to the reef.
  4. Change: The fourth chapter investigates how Australia has been transformed and adapted over time and looks for answers as to how we can continue to learn, grow and prosper in the face of rapid and dramatic global environmental change.

Key objects in Great Southern Land include:

  • A 2.7-billion-year-old stromatolite from the Pilbara in Western Australia, a fossil built by some of the earliest known lifeforms.
  • A stunning display wall of rare and spectacular mineral specimens from the world-famous Broken Hill ore deposit.
  • A huge 4.5 metre taxidermy saltwater crocodile, revealing the size and might of this extraordinary predator.
  • A fibreglass canoe in which renowned Australian environmental philosopher Val Plumwood was attacked by a saltwater crocodile while paddling in Kakadu National Park in 1985.
  • A steel electricity pole, bent and twisted by the ferocious winds that accompanied Cyclone Tracy on Christmas morning, 1974. On loan from the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.
  • A massive 170-million-year-old, 2.4 tonne coal specimen containing pollen from ancient relatives of the modern-day bunya pine, a tree revered by first Australians for its cultural significance and its abundant harvests of seeds.
  • Three awesome life-sized models of orcas that tell the story of the remarkable predators who helped whalers hunt humpback whales off the coast of Eden until the 1930s.
  • A Telstra pay phone damaged when bushfires swept through Cobargo, southern New South Wales, on 31 December 2019.
  • An imposing 2.2 metre long, 700-kilogram Murray cod sculpture, carved from a single piece of river red gum by artist Hape Kiddle. The sculpture reflects the huge size these fish grew to prior to European settlement.
  • A nostalgic collection of inventive bush toys made by Arrente children in Central Australia, including stockmen, cattle trucks, horses, windmills and camels.
  • Six Wandjinas – powerful creation spirits of the Kimberley associated with tropical storms – painted by Ngarinyin artist Charlie Numbulmoore in 1970.
  • A life-sized sculpture of a massive cathedral termite mound from northern Australia.
  • Posts and chains from the summit of the former climb at Uluru that was permitted from 1964 to 2019.
  • A huge ice-core drill donated by the Australian Antarctic Division that was used to drill 1.2 kilometres deep into the Antarctic ice between 1989 and1993. The project generated data that proved foundational to global climate science.
  • A magnificent 1890s painting of eucalyptus blossom by Ellis Rowan, along with many treasures from the recently acquired Trevor Kennedy collection.
  • A large-scale film documenting the majesty of Uluru, made by Anangu Media.
  • A colourful array of more than 30 ghost net sculptures of tropical fish and birds, as well as a dinghy that is suspended from the gallery ceiling.

Key immersive and interactive experiences include:

  • The giant bunya forest is an immersive experience that invites you to walk among 7.5-metre bunya trunks that have been cast from living trees in the forests of south-east Queensland. Mirrors on either side of the space create an ‘infinity effect’ so that visitors see themselves within an endless forest of ancient giants.
  • Power Theatre was created by award-winning director Alison Page. This semi-circular media theatre immerses visitors in the breadth, beauty and character of the continent – its ancient geological features, signature landforms, unique species and long human history.
  • The heartbeat sound and light experience reveals regional differences in plants and animals using images, colours and textures. Artist Matt Chun captures the dynamism of key regions across Australia and their unique biota in larger-than-life illustrations. The characters of these places – swooping magpies, feasting dingoes and nesting turtles – are brought to life through a vibrant soundscape by creative technology company, Art Processors.
  • These same characters greet you in the iconic species interactive, a collaboration between artist Matt Chun and Art Processors. Through Chun’s enchanting drawings visitors can discover facts about how species have adapted to their habitats and be inspired to draw themselves.
  • Ever wanted to swim with a platypus? In the platypus interactive, created by experiential design and technology company, Art Processors, visitors can interact with this elusive species in its underwater world. Shine a digital torch around the riverbed and you can learn how the platypus evolved and adapted to Australia’s changing climate over millions of years, its daily life now, and the challenges it faces in the decades ahead.
  • Lightwell media design studio weaves stories of all scales throughout the gallery, from people sharing their love of Sydney’s iconic beaches to dramatic large-screen projections of migrating baleen whales. Immersive soundscapes are delivered across several areas, capturing the sonic textures of Country.

The Museum has worked with partners on the Great South Land gallery, including First Nations communities across Australia, the Australian Antarctic Division, the Bureau of Meteorology, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Parks Australia, Geoscience Australia, Australian National University, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

Media contact: Diana Streak 02 6208 5091 | 0409 888 976 or

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