21 October 2022
Statement by National Museum of Australia Director, Dr Mathew Trinca AM FAHA
It is with great sadness that we acknowledge the passing of our wonderful friend, Professor Mike Smith AM.
This is a significant loss for the National Museum of Australia, Canberra, Australian history and archaeology. Mike was a magnificent man of generous spirit – an archaeologist, scholar, historian, researcher and author.
He was part of the National Museum community for many years, holding senior positions and contributing across a broad range of areas, including exhibitions and collections, educational materials, public programs, archival and publishing initiatives, research and online content. In his later years he voluntarily ran the Friends monthly Time Traveller's Book Club.
Mike joined the National Museum in 1996, initially as head of the People and Environment section and later as Director of Research and Development. Mike inspired and led development of the Museum’s research endeavours, culminating in the establishment of its Research Centre and scholarly journal, reCollections, in 2006–07.
In 2004, Mike developed the Extremes: Survival in the Great Deserts of the Southern Hemisphere exhibition, which explored the rich desert history of Australia, South America and Africa.
In 2006, Mike was awarded the nation’s highest archaeological award, the Rhys Jones Medal for his outstanding and sustained contribution to the field. In 2013 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his significant service to archaeological scholarship, particularly of the Australian desert regions.
The Museum celebrated 30 years of Mike’s work at a symposium in February 2013. His early work was instrumental in developing archaeological research in Central Australia, showing that Aboriginal groups were already established in the heart of the desert 35,000 years ago.
Mike received the Director’s Award for Excellence in 2014, in acknowledgement of his exceptional work at the Museum and his distinguished career in desert archaeology, which spanned decades. As an author, his works such as The Archaeology of Australia's Deserts (2013) were praised as, ‘landmark works in Australian history’.
On behalf of the Museum executive, staff and the broader Friends community, we extend our sincere sympathies to Mike’s family and friends, and to the academic and local communities of which he was a part. He will be greatly missed.