British Museum curator Dr Belinda Crerar, author Delia Falconer, author Gideon Haigh and academic and author Clive Hamilton with ABC RN presenter Fran Kelly, 11 October 2016
MATHEW TRINCA: Good evening everybody. This crowd is like the exhibition has been since we opened it, very full in this space. It’s great to see you all here tonight. Thank you for joining us. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Mathew Trinca. I’m the Director of the National Museum of Australia. I would like to start as we always do here at the National Museum by acknowledging that we meet tonight on the traditional lands of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, the traditional owners of this land.
I would like to offer my respect to the elders past and present. I’d like to extend that to all Indigenous Australians who might be joining us tonight in this crowd. It’s great to see you all here this evening for what promises to be an enlightening and we hope entertaining as well, I think museums are allowed to be entertaining, discussion themed around our current exhibition A History of the World in 100 Objects from the British Museum.
I’m pleased to say that ABC Radio National has been our absolutely perfect media partner for this exhibition. Tonight’s event is being expertly led by our host ABC RN’s Breakfast presenter, Fran Kelly who is just to my left. You might remember, I think it was even discussed this morning on RN, that the station ran a great competition recently based on people telling stories about their own special objects and how they had formed or been formed by events surrounding those objects.
Tonight’s panel will explore what objects from the past reveal about the people who made them. They’ll also touch on the role of museums in collecting and exhibiting them. Then we might ask them as well to reflect on a question that you might find interesting to think about too, and that is if you could rewrite history, what, if anything, would you change? Think about that. You might have a few views about this at the end when there is an opportunity for questions.
I’d like now to welcome our panellists. On Fran’s left is Belinda Crerar, the British Museum’s exhibition curator for A History of the World in 100 Objects. Welcome back Belinda, it’s great to have you with us again.
To her left is academic and author Clive Hamilton. Many thanks to Clive not least for making himself available at short notice tonight after Tim Flannery was unfortunately forced to withdraw.
Some of you will know that Clive is a Professor of Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra. His books include Requiem for a Species: why we resist the truth about climate change (I wonder why), and Earth Masters: Playing God with the climate.
To Clive’s left is author … author Delia Falconer who is a celebrated writer of two novels; The Service of Clouds and The Last Thoughts of Soldiers, a really lovely book; a personal history of her hometown of Sydney which I love.
To her left is journalist and author Gideon Haigh. Recent titles by Gideon include The Deserted Newsroom, End of the Road on Australia’s Car Industry and Ashes to Ashes published just a couple of years ago. Of course welcome to Fran Kelly who joins us for her first National Museum panel discussion. Welcome Fran. Glad to have you with us.
FRAN KELLY: Pleasure to be here.
MATHEW TRINCA: Fran is a highly respected radio presenter who is also very well known as a challenging current affairs journalist, political correspondent and foreign correspondent. I’m now delighted to hand over to Fran to kick off tonight’s proceedings. Thank you.
FRAN KELLY: Thanks very much Mat. Before I go any further it’s not often I get to come face to face with the audience because it’s always through the radio. I just thought I’d put a shout out to see did any of you enter the competition? We got 1500 entries which is phenomenal. I think it just goes to show how much this exhibition captures the imagination.
It’s realy such a preposterous idea to try and track humankind’s cultural, social and political evolution and evolution still by our own hand and minds across centuries, civilisations and religions through just 100 manmade objects. Preposterous and as it turns out incredibly wonderful, so I’m sure if you’ve seen it you would agree.
As I run through this exhibition from treasure to treasure, I was really struck by the repeated patterns and consistencies and individual civilisations across the centuries developing their tools, their icons, their aesthetic and then critically their trade links. Links born of economics, links born of curiosity or war that spun the travel and exchange, that fertilised existing cultures with new ideas and then seeded completely new ones again. An ever spiralling exchange of ideas, religion, language that has delivered us to now, to the globalised 21st century. Though as you walk through this exhibition you realise how globalised this world has been at different times.
To be able to track that story, to look back, to literally see the mark of the makers hand on modern society. The hands of the weavers, the chisellers, the potters, the sculptors, the artists, the carvers, the golden silversmiths in one room with 100 precious objects, I’ve personally found incredibly humbling.
Our panel tonight is both curious and learned. Before we come to them if you are planning to tweet the hashtag tonight is 100objects. So that’s 100 in numerals and then objects. Let me kick off with Belinda who only arrived a few days ago. It’s your museum that brought us this wonderful exhibition. I want to ask who dared to have this idea and the thought that objects, through objects we can tell the story?
BELINDA CRERAR: The basis of the exhibition dates back to 2010. It was conceived of by our former director Neil MacGregor who is quite a visionary in his love of these big history narratives. He, I believe wanted to do something that really took full advantage of the expansive collections that the British Museum holds. This is about as big as history gets.
Appropriately enough it actually began as a radio series. It was never really intended to be an exhibition, it was supposed to be a radio series, which in itself I mean you said that the exhibition is sort of ludicrously ambitious, but to do a radio series about objects is also a little bit odd. It was on paper a quite bizarre proposal but it was phenomenally successful.
The radio series ran in Britain and was then translated into many languages and was run in separate countries. There was a book produced from it, which was translated and sold around the world. I think nobody really anticipated it being so globally popular, successful. The next step once we reached that point seemed to be to do an exhibition and to actually not just take the narrative to global audiences but to actually take the objects as well.
That presented its own challenges because nobody could foresee for an exhibition that some of the objects that had been chosen were woefully inadequate to tour around the world. Some of them were just far too fragile, some were too big. There was a process of rejigging, changing the selection slightly to maintain the original narrative, and scope and ambition of the project but actually make it feasible logistically as well.
FRAN KELLY: The ambition is what makes it so attractive as a notion.
BELINDA CRERAR: Absolutely.
FRAN KELLY: I’m interested in what our other three panellists, three local panellists, think because all three of you are authors. All three of you use words as your livelihood, your communication tool. I’d like to ask each of you this question. Clive I’ll kick off with you; in what way objects are suitable and can be the window into the human condition in a way that words and texts are not?
CLIVE HAMILTON: I’m not sure that they can. I think the objects …
FRAN KELLY: It’s a failure this exhibition?
CLIVE HAMILTON: If you think about how it’s how it’s staged the objects only acquire meaning when words are attached to them. It’s only when we can interpret what they mean. This is kind of a cliché in a way in daily life when we all think about the material objects that we surround ourselves with. They pretty much, every last one of them particularly in modern societies, take on meaning only because we invest them with meaning.
I think the curators have obviously done a brilliant job, but they’ve also invested these objects with meaning. If we walked around and we didn’t read anything, we didn’t have the catalogue or the captions we really wouldn’t know what to make of it. A bunch of kind of interesting things but what the hell are they. Really, I think it’s words that give meaning and significance and importance to objects.
FRAN KELLY: I think them’s fighting words, but Delia what do you think?
DELIA FALCONER: I think we are in an odd relationship with objects at the moment because on the one hand we live in a mass produced age and that’s pretty obvious. We have this hankering in that age too for the handmade, for the crafted. Particularly for, I think, for the aura of some of these objects that are so unique and handcrafted and come to us from civilisations so long ago.
On the other hand objects are weird things because to a certain extent they do have a life of their own. Kafka has written some marvellous stories, a number of stories about objects that come to life. Yet, at the same time we are in an age where we are drowning under our own objects.
We talk about the Anthropocene era and the fact that we are trying to work out when this era, where climate change is human driven, comes from. We talk about driving the golden spike and where that will be and one of the things we talk about is maybe the invention of plastics will be something where we drive that spike.
I think we’ve got this fraught relationship with objects. I think one of the reasons that this exhibition fascinates people and attracts us and objects attract us is because we’re drawn to this aura that they have but at the same I think we are aware of the fact that own objects don’t necessarily mean as well to extent that we are almost being crowded out by the things that we’ve made.
FRAN KELLY Gideon what do you think we can learn from objects? Do you agree with Clive that it’s not much unless they are accompanied with a narrative?
GIDEON HAIGH: To me, the whole exhibition looks like a kind of a metaphor … as a writer it looks like a metaphor for the selectivity of history. When we go to research a particular subject as an author we pile up an enormous amount of information and then we cherry pick those facts that perhaps suit our preconceived narrative or that tell the story best.
To me what fascinated me was why these objects are being collected, why they have been selected, what they gain from their materiality and their authenticity. It suggests a great respect for authenticity perhaps because of what Delia was talking about before the mass production age. The fact that we can see the hand of the maker is manifested in these objects somehow speaks to us in a way that the mass produced objects that we are surrounded by do not.
BELINDA CRERAR: I’m afraid I disagree with you Clive. I feel that objects, as Delia was saying, we have so many of them, but this isn’t really something new. The fact that we have human made objects two million years ago, I don’t think anyone now could conceive of being without objects. The things that we wear, the things that we own they make us not only individuals but they also represent cultures.
For that reason I think they are phenomenally important for history because part of what this exhibition is trying to do by looking through objects rather than the written word is to try and access those parts of our global history that we can’t access through the written word. It’s not possible to try and do history through writing. You will get a very, very unbalanced view of the past.
CLIVE HAMILTON: What I’m saying is that the objects alone are kind of meaningless.
BELINDA CRERAR: You say if you go into the exhibition and you look at the object without text it won’t mean anything.
CLIVE HAMILTON: Yes.
BELINDA CRERAR: But that’s not how an object is found; if you dig up an object and archaeologically you have more information about it. You don’t have a label telling you what it is when you dig it out of the ground. You have to piece that together.
FRAN KELLY: And build the narrative around it.
BELINDA CRERAR: And build the narrative so that text has come from all of this.
CLIVE HAMILTON: The words give it a meaning otherwise if there were no words each one of us would walk into the exhibition there and we would just project our own meanings onto them. We would make up our own stories about them.
BELINDA CRERAR: In that context absolutely.
DELIA FALCONER: If we were able to pick that object up, I don’t necessarily agree. I was thinking about a friend of mine the other day who is a wonderful cello player. I was saying, ‘The sound that you’re getting out of your instrument is just amazing.’ He said, ‘I bought a new bow.’ Then he went into this fantastic disposition about how the bows were made in the 1920s and the history of that. He said, ‘The thing about it is this bow is teaching me how to play my cello better.’
Objects carry body memories with them as well and I think there is something about them, yes they do need interpretation, but there is something about the fact that they are physical and that they do carry a muscle memory or a body memory with them. I think that’s part of their aura that they have in addition to the verbal meanings that we bring to them.
GIDEON HAIGH: Can I say something else about the time scales of this exhibition? They strike me very forcefully as an Australian, we have a country that has a very, very ancient history and a very, very recent history. The fact that this exhibition is more or less continuous over the course of the two million years and, often manifest things taking place simultaneously in different parts of the world, to me gives a completely different sense of history to that with which we aren’t familiar in this country.
FRAN KELLY: I think the time, speaking of the time span of two million years which is phenomenal and as you move through it and you look at the time of the origin of this it’s striking. This is so long ago. I wondered whether what objects tell us about the people who made them and the communities who house them how much of that we know and how much in a sense if how much guesswork is involved?
It might be educated guesswork but is it guesswork nevertheless that things we are attributing to them in terms of what it tells us about a society or what it tells us about the wars that might have been fought around that time.
BELINDA CRERAR: To go back to what Clive was saying about the interpretation labels. There are interpretations, we can’t see what went on in the past like it was recorded on a video camera. That’s just not possible. We have to interpret it through what we conjecture, through what we understand from different contexts and what we can place on those objects. Reading the interpretation panels is just an interpretation.
Also as Clive said if you go in and you want to interpret differently that’s a legitimate way of approaching those objects. That’s the research approach and there is the personal approach and I think both have a valid place.
FRAN KELLY: I wonder if the panellists who have only seen the exhibition an hour or two ago were happy to and absolutely believed the context that was put around it and everything that was attributed to that in terms of its importance in the tracing of the history of …
CLIVE HAMILTON: There is a meta question there because it’s presented … look I think it’s a brilliant exhibition.
FRAN KELLY: No, we all love it.
CLIVE HAMILTON: Everyone should go in there.
FRAN KELLY: We love it. It’s fantastic.
CLIVE HAMILTON: I don’t think we should sit here and just gush. We need to think about it. It’s presented as A History of the World. Delia and I were talking as we walked through there was no world until 300 or 400 years ago so what does it mean to talk about the history of the world? What it is is a collection of stories about parts of the world that have been put together in an exhibition and when we walk out of it … I mean there is massive amounts of wow factors.
You go in there for a wow factor you will get it in spades, but what do you come out with? Do I understand the history of the world as a result? Can one understand the history of the world?
FRAN KELLY: I think it’s interesting it’s called A History of the World, not The History of the World.
CLIVE HAMILTON: That was stressed but what does that mean? I don’t understand the difference.
FRAN KELLY: It means you can tell another history with another set of objects or another set of narratives, can you?
CLIVE HAMILTON: A friend of mine, he is an anthropologist, he does a lot of work with the Mi’kmaq people in Alaska. I think I’ve got this right. He was talking to one of the senior men and I call that with a kind of equivalent with the senior men. He was talking about how once Alaska was connected to Russia across the Bering Strait and this is how the Mi’kmaq people according the archaeologists and so on got there.
He was talking to him about how extraordinary it was that his people had come across from Russia. He said, ‘Oh no, no, no we came out of the ground. We grew here. We emerged from the ground.’ Of course, my anthropologist friend was stumped by this. He wasn’t going to say, ‘Oh no, no, no you got it completely wrong.’ Is there any number of histories?
GIDEON HAIGH: Is the exhibition a cultural artefact in its own right because it obtains its energy from the huge discrepancy and scale, doesn’t it? 100 objects. History of the world. Two million years one room. Is that kind of analogous to our own desire to compress everything, to abbreviate everything, to truncate everything? It’s a kind of an act of almost digital compression, isn’t it? What does it tell us about our own attitudes to history and to time scales?
BELINDA CRERAR: I think absolutely the structure of the exhibition is something borne out of the western enlightenment, the need to categorise and order. Some cultures don’t even have a concept of linear time, so having a chronological format would not be a legitimate way of looking at history. Yes, you are absolutely right this is a history because having this exhibition was conceived in Britain. Had it been conceived in other parts of the world, I imagine it would be a very different exhibition.
FRAN KELLY: A little later I might ask all of you to think what you might think is missing here, but this notion that Clive said there was no world until several hundred years ago. I mean I think that is striking. I’m not particularly a student of history, but it struck me that so far back in time, there were clear links across great swathes of the earth that were connected, that were very connected. Obviously through trade and exchange. Perhaps through war as well, but there’s several objects there that really make that link and we get to the Vikings trade links.
It’s more extensive than I ever knew. I think that’s right back, that lyre, the first lyre we see in the very start of the exhibition is an example of that, isn’t it?
BELINDA CRERAR: Yes definitely. I mean it’s true that a truly globalised world is quite a recent phenomenon, but what you see before that and something that I find very interesting in the earlier sections of the exhibition is you can see certain developments appearing in different parts of the world that are not in contact with each other.
In the second section or third section really of the exhibition, we look at very early writings. We look at the development of writing in Mesopotamia for bureaucratic purposes and then later on for epic narratives, but then you also have a Chinese vessel with an inscription on the inside and an Olmec mask from Central America with glyphs on the side.
These were not cultures that were necessarily in direct contact, certainly not the Olmecs and the Mesopotamians, and yet these developments were springing up in different parts of the world. I wouldn’t say simultaneously, but within short periods, relatively short periods of history. Same with agricultural production and certain religious ideas you find cropping up again and again in very diverse cultures.
GIDEON HAIGH: Is there a sense of death about it? Is there a desire, is there an eye on eternity? Is there a desire to create objects that will outlast the maker or to somehow arrest time, with the consciousness? Man is the only creature that knows that it’s going to die. Is there a desire to leave a trace, a lasting trace that transcends a human time scale? That’s common across cultures?
BELINDA CRERAR: That’s quite a big question. I’ll probably say you probably find that mostly in the religious imagery that we have in the exhibition, which is very important theme in itself, but yes certainly those objects seem to be transcendental in their very nature. I think this is another nice thing about the exhibition.
You have the very grand objects, but then you have the mundane objects, the cookery pots that have been broken and discarded, which are obviously not designed to outlast the very functional, practical goods. It’s the variety and what material goods can do and the variety and the functions that they fulfil.
FRAN KELLY: Talking of mundane objects, why don’t we interrupt now to see what we can bring here to the table to expand the history of the world. Each one of you has been asked to bring in an object that has a significance for for you in your life and the way you’ve developed in your life, your history if you like. Why you don’t start Gideon? I want each of you to show you the object to the audience and then speak about its significance.
GIDEON HAIGH: Yes, all right. This is a very recent piece of history and incredibly trivial but of course, I guess it would be my equivalent in the exhibition of the Aztec ball game waistband. This is my premiership medal for the South Yarra Cricket Club won two years ago after 40 years of playing club cricket to no end, to no possible end.
I deserved that! Anyway I’ve played cricket since I was nine. Never won a premiership, had begun to think, well, look, if I don’t win a premiership, I won’t feel as though my time is being wasted.
I won’t have led a life of complete futility, and I’ve enjoyed the process. Then quite unexpectedly after seven losing grand finals at my club, I won this two years ago. Then almost immediately lost it because I gave it to my daughter for her jewellery box. I asked for it back a week later and we couldn’t find it. It was actually in with her Thomas the Tank Engine set. It was in Tidmouth Sheds, but my wife very cleverly recovered it.
It’s a symbol of striving and a symbol of, not of supremacy, but enjoyment of the contest. It’s something that I’m not going to give back to my daughter now because I’ve decided that after losing it, it’s just too traumatic.
FRAN KELLY: If we found that in 300 years hence, what could it tell us about Gideon? It would tell us this was an older male who clearly loved to play cricket, but wasn’t very good at it because it took him until quite late in life to win a medal.
DELIA FALCONER: Well I brought in a copper ashtray which was sitting in my family house all my childhood. As you can see, unlike the worked copper that I have in my hand which is also Chilean, this looks to me like an unworked ingot. It’s very heavy. There’s a wonderful hand feel about it. This is a souvenir of … or suppose memento of … my grandfather’s work as a mine manager at El Teniente Mines for Braden Copper which is one of the great copper mines of South America in Rancagua, in Chile.
I’m not as interested in it itself as I am in it as a symbol of a great submerged history in my family, and that is that my grandmother was Chilean and her cherished older brother was the first martyr of Chilean aviation in 1911. This ashtray has taken me on a search to Chile last year to try and find what I could find of this history that my grandmother would not speak about, and it took me to the relic that I couldn’t bring in, which I think is going to be projected on the screen now, which is on this search I came across the propeller of the Manuel Rodriguez, which is the plane that my great uncle, Teniente Francisco Mery, is standing next to here in the global pose of all aviators of that era, with his elbow on that same propeller.
Tracking his history and some of the family history, I could track to the site of trauma where there is so much unspoken trauma and disaster still running through my family from this event. I was able to actually go and hold the remains of that propeller that had been inscribed in my hands in the small museum at the air school, which is still where it was when he was flying there on the edges of Santiago and that was a tremendously affecting object.
It’s a very heavy thing to hold and it was very eerie knowing that the rest of the plane had actually been buried on those grounds like a holy relic, which I think is deeply strange and deeply intriguing, but gives you a sense of what a traumatic event that was in Chilean history, when they were … that the Air Force was the absolute epitome of their entry into modernity and they saw themselves as the most modern country in South America.
FRAN KELLY: That’s fantastic, and that …
DELIA FALCONER: All stems from this copper ashtray.
FRAN KELLY: All stems from that, keeping your Chilean identity alive and forcing you to or propelling you to go and find out more about it.
That’s wonderful. Clive?
CLIVE HAMILTON: I actually, when asked this question, I thought I had trouble identifying an object with which I have a strong sentimental attachment. I hope my wife isn’t listening. I’m sure there is some object in the house which does represent our long marriage …
… but as so … now this is just a meaningless rock, but in a few minutes it won’t be, just to illustrate my point. This rock is from the Strelley Ranges in the Pilbara. It is 3.4 billion years old.
That’s three quarters of the age of the earth, 3.4 billion years old. It’s significant because of certain structures you can see here in different facets of this rock, which are called stromatolites. These stromatolites were left by microbes, which were the very first form of life on planet earth. This represents a kind of … it more than represents, is embodies the emergence of life on planet earth.
The reason this is to me very significant, this rock actually sits on my balcony and emanates meaning. I look at it and think about it a lot, and the reason is because I’ve just finished it, in fact yesterday, I sent a manuscript of a book on the Anthropocene off to the publishers and that is the meaning of the Anthropocene. This new geological epic that humankind has brought to planet Earth. The first time in 4.5 billion years of life on the planet.
Its geological evolution is being influenced by a conscious willing force. What has happened in the Anthropocene is that human history, which is told in this exhibition has converged for the very first time with geological history, and so humans have become agents not just in … history is usually defined as the story since the emergence of writing and prehistory prior to that … but for the very first time humans have entered into deep history.
Belinda mentioned the exhibition is an exhibition about big history. This is big history. I just have this strong powerful sense that this rock has a cosmic meaning, a cosmic message. Not necessarily in itself, but our … connection with this rock is enormously important.
FRAN KELLY: It’s fantastic that you have that rock and that it connects to you like that every time you see it. It strikes me too that as you say, the interaction between humans and deep geological history. I mean the objects, not all of them in the exhibition, but certainly in modern day, that’s what we’re talking about. The making … the creating of these … the manufacturing of these objects is one of the key reasons why we are having such a big impact on that.
CLIVE HAMILTON: Yes, absolutely.
FRAN KELLY: Did you write Affluenza, was that you?
CLIVE HAMILTON: Yes.
FRAN KELLY: I mean Affluenza was a book Clive wrote a long time ago now, was all about our need to acquire more things in a way, more objects which … and that need is what’s creating … part of the problem that’s driving the rate of change and impact on the climate too, and on the geology. Really interesting Clive.
CLIVE HAMILTON: Well indeed and I was just thinking about this process of investing objects with meaning and I mean in a way, that’s what our societies do overwhelmingly. The marketing industry, which is vast is all about investing objects with meaning. For example, a pair of jeans which sells for $200 made in a Bangladesh sweat shop. The value of the labour and the materials is about $20. There’s probably another $80 of distribution and retail margins and so on and so forth.
The $100 left over is really about marketing. It’s money spent on convincing us that this isn’t just a functional object to keep your legs warm, but actually will make you a cool, funky kind of person. I think about this when … I think about those women in those factories in Bangladesh and they’ve made this beautiful pair of jeans and then the supervisor comes along with some box cutters and said, ‘Now slash them.’
FRAN KELLY: Yes, what do they make of that?
CLIVE HAMILTON: Because people in the West will actually pay more for them.
FRAN KELLY: I know. Don’t even go to the stupidity of that.
CLIVE HAMILTON: Sure they have teams of specialist slashers.
FRAN KELLY: Well they do because if a slash is wrong, you know they’re cheap. Belinda, your item?
BELINDA CRERAR: I brought in my very first pair of glasses that I got when I was 14, and when I was first told to bring something in I was desperately trying to think of something that was meaningful to me, that I had a connection with. Then I realised that I was completely oblivious to the object that was literally sitting on my face and that I really can’t do anything without.
I think everyone who … well I don’t know, but I imagine anyone who wears glasses remembers that first time when they put them on and realising what you hadn’t been seeing before and now I just … I can’t do anything without my glasses, but also these for me sum up that sort of awkward teenager who desperately didn’t want to wear glasses, so if I had to, I was going to get the most expensive ones I could possibly find.
I don’t think they suit me. I don’t think they ever really suited me, but they were going to be fancy.
BELINDA CRERAR: Gucci, yes. Only the best. The other reason, that really got me thinking after a while … The other reason I bought them is, I still have them. They’re broken, they’ve got one lens, I can’t fix and then the wrong prescription.
FRAN KELLY: Why do you still have them?
BELINDA CRERAR: Why do I have still have them? I think there is a strange phenomenon that we tend to form attachments to material things and it’s illogical, it’s like what you’re saying. It is illogical to hoard all of these things, but I still have these glasses.
GIDEON HAIGH: Some years ago I was researching the life of an Australian cricket administrator and I managed to track down a trunk load of his papers and personal effects. The thing that most profoundly impressed me was his glasses. There was a set of his glasses in there from 100 years earlier. They’re so intimate to the wearer.
BELINDA CRERAR: They’re quite personal objects.
GIDEON HAIGH: They’re something that probably no one else touched in his life and they’re so uniquely his. I felt when I handled them, I was very, very close to him.
BELINDA CRERAR: There’s also another reason, if you don’t mind, that got me thinking about these is that, it’s something that the exhibition doesn’t really touch on is the medical advances, but what we do see throughout the exhibition is the development of human communities increasingly getting bigger and bigger, urbanisation, the development of the printing press. All factors which contribute to changing human health and wellbeing.
I’m no scientist, but from what I understand, myopia is largely created by … well exacerbated by not using one’s peripheral vision enough. From being in a more focused environment, by being in smaller spaces, by reading a lot. The big issues that are covered in the exhibition lead on to other issues like needing glasses for a lot of the population and the differences between urban populations and rural populations in these physical changes to humans.
DELIA FALCONER: It’s funny because I was saying to Belinda that I needed broad specs in too. I’m wearing contact lenses, but I’m terribly short sighted and one of the other things I was thinking about with glasses was when they were invented, I think the first people to get glasses were monks in monasteries, weren’t they? From memory and then I think as a woman, when would I have had the chance to get glasses?
How many hundreds of years would I’ve had to wait to be able to have this technology that would allow me to be in the world? I have desperate phobia of losing my glasses. The terrible scene where Piggy has his glasses smashed in the Lord of the Flies. I do think that reminded me of how we have these advances in technology, but we must not assume that everyone gets access to them at the same time.
FRAN KELLY Glasses were one of the winning entries in our competition too and another thing that in fact the first one I read out I was really struck by, I thought it was very moving was, he talked about not much mention of the medical developments, but one person named the syringe because the syringe gave them life, saved their life. He said for him and for his children, it was the difference between them living beyond 14 and himself living beyond 14 to the age of whatever he is now, 47 or something.
CLIVE HAMILTON: Which is a perfect segue because if you were … Fran going to ask us, which object we would include in the exhibition.
FRAN KELLY: I am going to ask you that. Would you like me to ask you that?
CLIVE HAMILTON: No, I’m going to answer it anyway. This [holds up a small tablet].
FRAN KELLY: A tablet, is it?
CLIVE HAMILTON: Contraceptive pill.
FRAN KELLY: Oh, contraceptive pill.
CLIVE HAMILTON: I mean this had an amazing impact on the world when it was first introduced in the 1960s. It was first …
GIDEON HAIGH: You’re just carrying one around with you?
CLIVE HAMILTON: I just happened to have one on me. For women to be able to the control their fertility and for men to be able to exploit the capacity of women to control their own fertility had an enormous social impact.
FRAN KELLY: That was another one of our winners actually.
CLIVE HAMILTON: Oh really?
BELINDA CRERAR: Yes, runners up, but yes.
CLIVE HAMILTON: Oh I missed. Well I mean it launched the sexual revolution. I would suggest that the energy that was generated in the sexual revolution spilled over into all those other social movements and empowered them. The movements of the 60s and 70s.
FRAN KELLY: Changed the lives of women and unhooked us.
CLIVE HAMILTON: Massively. This tiny object has had a massive influence on the world.
FRAN KELLY: That is a perfect segue, Clive. Let me bring us back to the exhibition now. Thank you all of you. Incredibly thoughtful contributions and representations of yourselves. To come back to the exhibition itself, there are many groupings of objects in this exhibition in terms of faith and religion and culture and creativity and faith and beauty.
Money and wealth and power are big ones and we might come to power in a moment.
Another theme is just the notion of the human capacity for ideas and innovation. We start way back with the Olduvai handaxe, the first handaxe. I think it was Gideon who said, ‘How do we know that’s actually just not a rock?’ But the bust of Sophocles and what that represents. The Hebrew astrolabe, the WLAN, the CSIRO wi-fi, the Indigenous basket. I wonder if each of you, if I could ask each of you, Gideon, I’ll start with you, if you were satisfied with the representation selected to represent human ideas, innovation, ingenuity, because we could have chosen the wheel, we could have chosen the X-ray machine. What do you think Gideon?
GIDEON HAIGH: The innovation that always comes to my mind is double-entry bookkeeping which … seriously, seriously, it’s a major breakthrough. Luca Pacioli’s …
FRAN KELLY: It always comes to my mind too.
GIDEON HAIGH: Seriously it is, because it’s been used sort of almost continuously for 700 or 800 years. It underpins every modern corporation, just as it did every tiny business in Florence in the 1400s. It’s such a subversive and powerful idea and a kind of an error detection tool for accountants ever since. Not quite sure how you’d manifest it in an exhibition but maybe I always think of that …
FRAN KELLY: A ledger.
GIDEON HAIGH: Yes, a ledger. There’s a very famous collection of ledgers and business correspondence by the merchant of Arrigo, is it Florence Datini? Whose business letters, hundreds of thousands of business letters and an accounting ledgers were found virtually intact about 100 years ago and shows just how long and how continuous the process of organising a business has been. It’s kind of instantly recognisable to anyone who’s running a business today.
FRAN KELLY: There’s a wonderful book written about this. The history of the modern accounting and it’s great. Okay, the ledger for you. Delia?
DELIA FALCONER: I think something to do with cinema. Cinema or photography. The technologies of thought as well as actual physical technologies. I think that as soon as we start to see ourselves from the outside, to see ourselves, especially to see the face projected on the big screen that we become different sorts of people.
I think we enter a different era of being and I think that for me one of the iconic moments that I would possibly want to see in the exhibition would be that photograph of the Earth from space. I think that capacity to not be looking up at the universe from our world and I’m imagining what it’s like but to actually look down and see the fragility of it from space and to see it as a small entity in a grand scheme should be more of a game changer in terms of how we live in the world now. It’s certainly a game changer in terms of our perception of humanity and the planet.
FRAN KELLY: Yes. Clive, I’ll come to you in a moment but there is no representation of space. Now maybe that doesn’t fit in with the British Museum’s collection?
BELINDA CRERAR: That’s essentially what it comes down to. All of the objects in the exhibition are from the British Museum’s collection which has a history in itself about how that collection was formed. It would be wonderful to have an X-ray machine in the exhibition but we don’t have an X-ray machine in the British Museum.
There are limiting factors like that but the British Museum is not a science and technology … institution because there were so many very good specialist museums who look at that. We wouldn’t actually have the collection to put something from the modern age of space travel in the exhibition. Having said that, I do think it’s a wonderful idea and even having a moon rock or something at the end so it’s not just about this world. It’s actually moving elsewhere. I mean some of the objects were actually acquired especially for the projects, so maybe we could have been a little bit more ambitious than just a football shed.
FRAN KELLY: Clive, you’ve given us the contraception pill but is there another thing briefly that you would have had there to display human innovation and …?
CLIVE HAMILTON: I’ll just comment on Delia’s observation about the Apollo 9, I think was photos from space. What she says is true but other people saw it quite differently. Other people saw it in engineering terms. Here is this object, the Earth in which we live, we can see it in totality. We can control it. We can dominate it. It has a quite a different, a more sinister …
FRAN KELLY: Others store it so we can save it.
CLIVE HAMILTON: … reading. That’s the kind of typical reading of it. This fragile beautiful blue marble, but others don’t see it that way.
DELIA FALCONER: It should be a game changer for how we behave. Not that it was.
CLIVE HAMILTON: Exactly yes, but the game changer which I’d mention and it’s banal but obvious and that is the steam engine. From the late 1700s, late 18th century, it transformed the world. It made fossil fuels exploitable on a large scale and it’s that, that connects us to that rock over there. We’ve become planet terra formars.
FRAN KELLY: Belinda, you’ve travelled with this exhibition. It’s nearly a million people have seen this exhibition now. In fact we hope that while it’s here, we will click over the millionth person. I don’t know if they get a prize. Through all those people who have come through it, is there something that has come up again and again as people were thinking or has there been a critique of something obvious that is missing?
BELINDA CRERAR: Not so much. I’m sure people will come to it with their own ideas of what should and shouldn’t be present. I think because we have been relatively flexible with the format in that we have this final section which is when we invite the host institution to choose an object to put in the exhibition.
I think this is really quite fascinating having been able to travel with the exhibition to various venues and seeing the different ways that different institutions from different world cultures approach this problem has just been completely fascinating. I think that’s where the exhibition becomes more personal, more local.
Really the only remit that we give is that it should be something that represents the modern world. Some object which showcases the world that we live in today. We’ve had responses which include technological advances, actually space travel was one of them, or spirituality, connections with past heritage. There’s a lot of scope for interrupting that.
FRAN KELLY: I think one of you talked earlier about the selectivity of history. Obviously this has been a huge selective process to go through at the British Museum and work it down to 100 objects that can represent the history of the world. There’s some crossover I suppose in what we’ve just been saying, but as you walked through too, I wonder if there’s some gaps there. You think there’s a gap in periods that aren’t represented? Is there a missing moment rather than a thing?
GIDEON HAIGH: The 20th century … the last two centuries or so are incredibly compressed or perhaps you were disproportionately aware of them because you have lived through that period. We always talk about the acceleration of technology … it’s almost like we’re living in dog years at the moment so much seems to be accomplished so quickly. One thing I didn’t think that the exhibition came to terms with was man’s destructive capacities.
I thought maybe you could have had something like a cooling rod from Chicago Pile-1. The first nuclear reactor to achieve criticality because it is unique in the last two generations that we’ve actually had the capacity to destroy mankind. That power has never been within our reach before and somehow we managed to exist despite this shadow hanging over us. This capacity for instantaneous destruction. That seems to me to be a significant game changer.
FRAN KELLY: Okay. On that, I’d like to go to one or two objects that I just didn’t understand why they were selected. I don’t know if this is burrowing down too deeply in the time we have left because in about 10 minutes I will be asking you if you have some questions. For instance the bust of Sophocles?
Delia, you’re a writer, you’re a novelist, why Sophocles? Why not Plato? Why not Shakespeare? Why not Chaucer? Why not? What did you think about that choice of Sophocles I’ll get your thoughts first and then Belinda can explain why Sophocles was selected.
DELIA FALCONER: I have no thoughts on the bust of Sophocles actually.
FRAN KELLY: Then let me skip you.
DELIA FALCONER: No. The object that I’d rather talk about an object that really struck me. We’re talking about destructive capacity and one of the things I think in this exhibition that I would possibly like to see more is more of a sense of the unevenness of culture, of progress, of access to goods and access to citizenship I suppose. One brings those things to the exhibition. There are exhibits that clearly relate to the history of slavery.
I think that isn’t interpreted for you. You have to bring that to certain extent. The exhibit that I found really most fascinating in the whole exhibition is the beautiful hand. The hand of Ta’lab Riyam from Yemen and it’s the most exquisite in itself. It’s an exquisite object. It’s a distinctly Arab hand. It’s a beautiful long tapered fingers. It’s very different to say the square Roman or Greek hands that one is so used to seeing.
That is a hand that is related to a local god. One of the things that I thought were really fertile from this exhibition was from around about that period 100 AD to 300 AD and onwards, you have this disappearance of all these tiny local gods and religions across the world, country to country.
I suppose as a writer I’ve always had a sympathy for … I’m always fascinated by those early pagan or local and lost religions and I was very moved by that. It was fascinating also to see that that was replaced by global religions. Then some of those global religions like Zoroastrianism are now themselves disappearing. We have this as the other global religions rise. For me that was so eloquent and containing such an enormous history in this one object.
FRAN KELLY: That’s very interesting because I … well forget Sophocles because clearly I’m the only one perturbed by that but …
BELINDA CRERAR: I’ll explain it to you after.
FRAN KELLY: I too thought the hand was extraordinarily beautiful but I wondered why it was selected as part of the 100 objects. Now I understand the story and you explained it so beautifully then, I think. Didn’t she Belinda?
BELINDA CRERAR: Yes.
FRAN KELLY: I did wonder about its place in that select group.
CLIVE HAMILTON: I’ll just take up the theme that Gideon and Delia have mentioned and that is look – I mean it’d be the impossible job and I have no doubt at all that the ten curators who got together and probably spent years thinking about what should we include – it’s an incredibly difficult job and all power to them. Of course we all have our own particular views.
I too thought that the overall message of the exhibition is kind of wow, aren’t we amazing as human beings. Look at what we’ve done, look at how much we have progressed, but humans are responsible for an enormous amount of evil and none more so than in the 20th century. Perhaps something from Auschwitz would be a very stark reminder of that.
FRAN KELLY: Then which evil would you choose?
CLIVE HAMILTON: You only need one.
BELINDA CRERAR: If you look at the objects in the final section, there are a lot which are connected with war and conflict.
GIDEON HAIGH: Russian Revolution.
BELINDA CRERAR: The Russian Revolution, the war in Afghanistan, even inter-tribal conflicts. The Mozambique civil war. You’ve got different types of war. Civil war, revolution, global warfare represented there. That’s quite a good proportion of the objects in that final section are connected to warfare. You’re absolutely right in saying that we are lacking that sort of widescale destructive capacity of humankind.
Maybe an object from Hiroshima or something like that would have brought that to bear more pointedly. There are gaps in that sense but it’s also …
FRAN KELLY: There is a narrative through it from way back of conquering, domination.
BELINDA CRERAR: Yes, absolutely.
FRAN KELLY: Which of course we all understand to be war and portraits of warriors and so the notion of war is well represented.
BELINDA CRERAR: I don’t think it’s necessarily being celebrated as such. It’s just put forward for consideration. That’s how I would see it but I can understand how since the exhibition does progress in a chronological and technologically more sophisticated way, perhaps there is a danger that is being sort of celebrated a bit more than was the original intention.
FRAN KELLY: Delia, just one more question before I go to the notion of the Museum overall. Delia loved the hand. Gideon did you give us a favourite?
GIDEON HAIGH: Yes, I loved Dürer’s Rhinoceros. When I was a kid we had a Dürer print up on the wall at home and I just was absolutely fascinated by the craftsmanship in the lineaments of his etchings. Then a couple of years ago, you probably can’t see this but my daughter … we went to the National Gallery, and my daughter bought me as a keyring, the Dürer’s Rhinoceros.
Just because she liked the look of it. I thought isn’t it wonderful that it speaks to a four year old. Now my daughter loves drawing, painting. I’m actually wearing her art tonight on my T-shirt. I just love the fact that it reached out across 500 years and captured the imagination of a tiny child.
FRAN KELLY: It’s sensational. Clive, did you have a favourite?
CLIVE HAMILTON: I was struck by the Buddha head from Borobudur in Indonesia simply because of the irony of including a symbol of detachment from material objects in an exhibition to celebrate the power and importance of material objects.
BELINDA CRERAR: There is an irony.
FRAN KELLY: He’s obviously a contrarian.
BELINDA CRERAR: There’s an irony in even that object existing in the first place and that’s part of the beauty of it. This fantastically expensive and massive monument is created to celebrate detachment from material objects.
FRAN KELLY: Belinda do you have a favourite?
BELINDA CRERAR: I do have a favourite. My personal favourite is the Victorian tea set because I think it’s very symbolic in a way of British imperialism at that time.
GIDEON HAIGH: The Wedgwood.
BELINDA CRERAR: The Wedgwood tea set. It’s got a lot of stories which feed into it which I won’t go into all of them now because we don’t have time. One which I really love is that it is sort of quintessentially the symbol of refined Britishness, and yet in order to fill that tea set with tea, we have two wars between Britain and China. The British obsession with getting tea undermining Chinese society through the trade of opium leading to two conflicts. This symbol of peaceful tranquillity is actually resting on quite brutal imperialism.
UNKNOWN: The Chinese chip on the shoulder that’s still being played out today.
BELINDA CRERAR: These things still have ramifications as we are experiencing now.
FRAN KELLY: I’m going to come to you in a moment this whole exhibition brings up a question that perhaps is always brought up for the British Museum from the beginning of time. Which is it was the first public museum in the world with a mission to be a museum of the world, for the world. There remains a question about appropriation around museums like yours.
BELINDA CRERAR: Absolutely.
FRAN KELLY: Is this exhibition in some way an answer to those concerns do you think? Because here it is on display that one place has been able to preserve the story of the development of the world if you like through objects. That without the British Museum we would not have this range of objects to bring together or is it proof of it?
BELINDA CRERAR: It sort of does both. Really it’s true that the British Museum does have a collection in which you can put on an exhibition like that with objects from all around the world. The very fact that we can put on such an exhibition raises uncomfortable questions about why we have all of those collections. As I said before, the British Museum is an institution with a 300-year-old history of its own.
British culture and world culture has changed dramatically in that time and it is appropriate that we reevaluate, constantly reevaluate what these institutions do and how they serve the modern world. The British museum was founded in the mid-18th century. We do not live in that world anymore, but I do think that there is a legitimate case to be made for the importance of having global connections together in one place.
Especially in the modern world when cultures … I feel particularly in some parts of the world, there is a tendency to become culturally isolated from one another and to withdraw behind barricades. This is really the time when learning about different cultures is more important than ever and museums can contribute to that.
FRAN KELLY: We’re just seeing the terrible destruction of Palmyra by ISIS, which has raised a whole of these questions. Let me ask the panel just briefly before we go to the audience, what role do you think museums around the world do play, should play, if any role in collecting and exhibiting objects, and preserving objects? Who wants to take that?
DELIA FALCONER: I take up Belinda’s point, that I think that museums have a sort of double job. One is obviously to preserve objects, but the other is to remind us of the history of collection and the history of organising the world. I suppose I have a problem, myself, I take my kids to museums a lot at the moment. I think that museums that start to orientate themselves around entertainment, that are too selective sometimes around their exhibitions, there’s a place for those, but I think that it’s really important to be able to connect with an understanding of the old systems that we used to classify the world. Whether it was the Linnaean systems, or whether it’s the evolutionary systems to actually be able to see that visually represented, and to understand that as a fundamental, in your culture I think it’s still really important. I would hate to see museums lose that.
FRAN KELLY: Okay. Unless the other two panellists have strong views on this. I’m going to throw it to the audience now.
GIDEON HAIGH: Let’s just say my favourite museum in the world is the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London.
FRAN KELLY: Oh, it’s amazing.
GIDEON HAIGH: Which is just the reflection of one guy’s fascinations with stuff. It’s like a tour of the interior of his head. I go there every time I go to London, and there’s always something I’ve forgotten, and I go, ‘Wow, what possessed him to put that back together?’
In some respects a museum should put us in touch with our common humanity, and touch off our own sort of instincts to preserve and to value.
BELINDA CRERAR: Where it’s those exactly those kind of collections that formed the British Museum in first place. That’s what we are building on now.
FRAN KELLY: Okay, now we just have time, 10 minutes or so of questions. I think. If anyone would like to ask a question to the panel just put up a hand, and we’ll get a microphone to you. Okay, there’s a hand up at the back. If I could just ask you to perhaps say your name and I ask a question rather than give us a statement, because time is tight. Thanks.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: My name is Caroline.
CAROLINE: I was a bit concerned about that rotating disc [for displaying personal objects] when we came in, but now I know what it’s for. I was just wondering Fran, what you would have put on there had you been asked to?
FRAN KELLY: It’s a really hard question, and it got sort of sprung on me in the radio station. I’d been too busy prepping an interview with Tanya Plibersek or somebody to think about it. On the spur of the moment, I’m not sure that I’m happy with this, but I did say the ball, because at that moment, I was particularly riveted by the football grand final and a particular team that I support. Through my life and the development of me within my family, I’m sort of known as the person who throws a ball around all the time. I can’t walk past a ball without picking it up.
Through that, I became very involved with sort of teamwork, and physical activity, and encouragement. I think it taught me a lot of skills that I’ve carried through to the development in my career, which is working in teams. Preferring to work in teams, understanding what leadership is and how that can move in and out of a group, and the camaraderie and enthusiasm.
CLIVE HAMILTON: Also how to shirtfront someone.
FRAN KELLY: A role for enthusiasm and perhaps the role to shirtfront someone if it’s appropriate. However, I had thought of that. For me, it’s a ball, but I didn’t bring one in. Any other questions? Yes.
ALISON: Just to Clive, my name is Alison, and to your object, which is stunning. How did you come about it, and how would you feel if you found out it wasn’t genuine?
FRAN KELLY: Great questions.
BELINDA CRERAR: That’s a good question.
CLIVE HAMILTON: Yes, well, we’re into authenticity. I have a friend, Andrew Glikson, who’s a well-known geologist, who among other things has done a lot of work on the impact of asteroid strikes on the Earth, and how that transformed the global climate.
I was visiting him at his place and in his backyard, it was full of rocks. He just started to tell me about these rocks, including that one. I said, ‘Can I have it?’ He said, ‘Sure.’ I took it home. It’s worth two bob, you know, it’s just a rock. There are millions of them out in the Pilbara from these particular formations. I’m sure it’s genuine.
I do wonder how Andrew gets these rocks back to Canberra in a plane. The excess baggage must be …
FRAN KELLY: Yes, must be incredible. I’m just going to just finish my narrative on the ball. I was very heartened to see that what made it within the 100 objects was the first symbol representing the first ball games, so that made me feel a little better about my choice. Anybody else? Up there. This is probably our last question, I have to say.
LOIS: Hi, I’m Lois. Do you feel any exhibition reinforces or challenges the enlightenment view of the progress of civilisation? About how Aboriginal people were treated in colonisation? The idea that we’re Stone Age, back when people didn’t use land, and didn’t own it, all the terra nullius stuff? In looking at an exhibition about the history of the world and civilisation, as I said, do you feel like that reinforces or challenges those enlightenment ideas?
FRAN KELLY: Who wants to take that? Yes, go ahead Belinda.
BELINDA CRERAR: There are sort of two sides though. In one sense, as I mentioned, it is a very much in keeping with the enlightenment idea of order, categorise, compare, this is how you approach the world, this is how you approach history.
FRAN KELLY: Impose meaning to things.
BELINDA CRERAR: Yes, but I would say that actually it’s the kind of imperial enlightenment idea about the supremacy of western civilisation over all other cultures/civilisations is not, or certainly not the intention. I don’t think it comes across, simply because one of the reasons of doing this exhibition through objects was to access those cultures, that didn’t have writing, who tended to be the ones that the western cultures, the European cultures invaded.
Writing is very, as I mentioned right at the beginning, writing it’s very restricted, it’s a very relatively modern invention, and it’s limited to only a few cultures worldwide or used to be at least. So to access the voices of the Native American people, the South American people, the Indigenous Australians pre the invasion, is only possible through objects, and that’s why this exhibition approaches history in that way.
FRAN KELLY: Does anyone else in the panel want to add to that?
CLIVE HAMILTON: I had some thoughts about this as I was walking through it. One is that, it’s a very democratic exhibition. Underlying it is this idea, this enlightenment idea not of the grandness of European vision and conquest but of the grandeur of humankind. That’s the kind of fundamental message I get from it, but let me add this.
Arguably, it’s too democratic. That in fact, if you look at the world today, it has been profoundly influenced by what happened in Europe in the 17th, 18th, and 19th century, and 20th centuries, Europe and America. That’s just the fact. That one can interpret that in terms of cultural superiority, but the truth is, the technological and military power of Europe has shaped the world that we live in today. I don’t think that because of the democratic urge of the curators, I don’t think that is reflected in the exhibition.
FRAN KELLY: Belinda, I know you’ve got something you want to say, because so do I, but you go.
BELINDA CRERAR: I think that a lot of inventions now are based on older inventions, and those are not necessarily European inventions. The Islamic Middle East, China are incredibly advanced cultures, probably before Europe. Europe was a bit of a late starter. If you look at the second section in the exhibition, you’ll see the phenomenal bronze working in China, at the same time that we know next to nothing about what was happening in Western Europe. Those …
CLIVE HAMILTON: Chinese used gunpowder for fireworks, and Europeans used it to kill people.
FRAN KELLY: That was an advance, so …
BELINDA CRERAR: But they also invented some things. The Chinese also invented weapons like the crossbow, I mean they are not …
CLIVE HAMILTON: It’s a fact. It changed the world.
BELINDA CRERAR: I don’t think it’s fair to say that all the best inventions are European. I don’t think that’s an accurate reflection of …
CLIVE HAMILTON: No, I didn’t say that.
BELINDA CRERAR: … of the history at all.
CLIVE HAMILTON: I’d say that the dominant ones have been undoubtedly …
BELINDA CRERAR: I think you’re thinking of recent history.
CLIVE HAMILTON: Well, you know, the world …
BELINDA CRERAR: The pre-western …
CLIVE HAMILTON: … changed with the industrial and scientific revolutions. There’s absolutely no comparison, and the idea that we can just draw a continuous line back of constant development it’s just not historical, I mean things went like this.
FRAN KELLY: I think Clive, and I’m going to pull this back now, because we have to wrap this up. I think that you could certainly look at the early part of the exhibition and look at the degree of sophistication of idea and capacity to invent and manufacture and create and see that there was a whole period of great creativity and influence that …
CLIVE HAMILTON: Absolutely, which was suppressed by the European colonialism. There’s no doubt about that, but if you look at how power actually transformed the world, it came from Europe.
FRAN KELLY: Ladies and gentlemen, could you please thank the panel, Belinda Crerar, Clive Hamilton, Gideon Haigh and Delia Falconer.
I think it’s been a really terrific discussion, and I’m sure that if you’ve seen the exhibition, you’ll agree how fabulous it is. Although they may have been some contrarians amongst us tonight, and all of us, may have taken issue with Belinda on a few things. I think it’s fair to say, well, certainly from my point of view, it is a fantastic list of significant objects that create a particular story that is very powerful. Really just the being amongst the objects I found the most moving thing at all. Forget the narrative. Thank you. Thank you.
MATHEW TRINCA: Indeed, I think it’s a measure of the success of the exhibition that we have had a very stimulating and thought-provoking debate this evening. It wouldn’t be a blockbuster exhibition and this might not delight Clive, in terms of fetishising of the material world, but it wouldn’t be a blockbuster exhibition without merchandise.
In fact, we have a show bag. It might delight Gideon actually because in the show bag is a cushion cover of Dürer’s Rhinoceros. A very special duck … one is of a Roman centurion I think that you know. Thank you again to our panellists Fran Kelly, Belinda Crerar, Clive Hamilton, Delia Falconer and Gideon Haigh.
FRAN KELLY: Thank you. Thanks very much Mat. Thank you.
MATHEW TRINCA: I’d now also just like to thank everybody who put tonight together, to the great staff of the National Museum again, who’ve worked so hard, Luke Cummins and his team, Media Services, Tracy Sutherland, who have done an exceptional job in recent weeks really putting this together and to invite you, great audience to all join us now, together with the panel members in the Old New Land gallery downstairs for complimentary refreshments.
That’s a little different for those of you who are frequent attendees of these kinds of events. It’s not down in the Main Hall because we have another function tonight in the Main Hall. We’re going to ask you just to go downstairs, some staff will show you were to go and to enjoy a drink and to ruminate on the exhibition and the discussion that you’ve heard tonight.
Also just to ask you kindly, when you exit the building, you’ll be shown through one of the side doors, just because that function in the Main Hall. The Museum staff will be on hand to guide you in the appropriate direction. I also want to thank very much our fantastic wine sponsors, Capital Wines for their support of the event. Capital Wines is a five-star James Halliday winery of the Canberra district, which is well known for its cool climate wines.
I recommend them to you, even though I have been very abstemious of recent months. Thanks again to all of you, and please join us downstairs for a drink.
FRAN KELLY: I have a question, Mat. If we that we do get the millionth person through the exhibition, will they get a prize?
MATHEW TRINCA: That’s a very good question because I didn’t quite realise it was a millionth person. It rather shames the plot that we were hatching today to celebrate the 50,000th visitor to our show here that we’re expecting next week. I think it just means there have to be two prizes …
FRAN KELLY: I think so too.
MATHEW TRINCA: … because clearly if we get to a million in January, it’d be a great thing.
Disclaimer and Copyright notice
This is an edited transcript typed from an audio recording.
The National Museum of Australia cannot guarantee its complete accuracy.
© National Museum of Australia 2007–19. This transcript is copyright and is intended for your general use and information. You may download, display, print and reproduce it in unaltered form only for your personal, non-commercial use or for use within your organisation. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) all other rights are reserved.
Date published: 01 January 2018