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Two women look up at a large undulating mirror wall in the forecourt. - click to view larger image
Visitors inspect the mirrored surface of the Welcome Wall in the National Museum Forecourt

I’m a few months into the Swayn Senior Fellowship and it’s been an exciting and informative time. My role is to create a new curatorial centre — the Swayn Centre for Australian Design at the National Museum of Australia — which will be developed over the next two years.

The centre will focus on all aspects of design, aiming to increase public connection to and appreciation of Australian design, through collections, collaborations, exhibitions, events and research.

Design research

As part of my research into current trends and issues in Australian design I have travelled across Canberra, Darwin, Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth to meet design professionals, academics, strategists and curators who comprise Australia’s design community.

It's vast territory to cover in a short space of time, but it’s been a critical first step to formulating a future program for the Swayn Centre for Australian Design.

I’ve encountered a lot of enthusiasm and support for a national design centre that addresses contemporary issues in Australian life. In particular, design and innovation are essential in tackling sustainability and finding solutions for environmental issues.

Indigenous fashion

The Indigenous fashion and textiles industry has steadily gained momentum and recognition in recent years, building on formative groups like Bima Wear in the Tiwi Islands.

Bima Wear celebrated its 50th anniversary in the fashion industry last year with its first runway show at the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair. Curated by designer Grace Lillian Lee, the dynamic show included diverse work developed by designers in collaboration with remote community art centres.

Fashion is an area of design that is currently facing significant challenges, as designers and the fashion industry address the environmental impact of textile production and disposable fashion.

Ensuring long-term success and viability is always a challenge in the fashion industry, and I recently attended a workshop in Sydney — convened by the Australian Fashion Council and the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair — that focused on effective support and sustainable futures for Indigenous fashion and textiles designers.

An interesting cross-section of the design community attended, sharing ideas and discussing future collaborations. Supporting growth of this profession and industry, combined with environmentally sustainable practice, will be a strong focus for the Swayn Centre for Australian Design.

It’s also timely that the Australian Fashion Council have become a signatory to the United Nations Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action that sets real targets and commits to reducing waste and emissions in the textile industry.

Exterior image of a garden in front of a large, dark building.
Mosaic planting from across Australia under the Loop in the National Museum's new Christina and Trevor Kennedy Garden


Gender equity in architecture and the design professions has been under scrutiny in Australia over the past decade. An Australian Research Council study commissioned in 2011–2014 revealed that although male and female architects were graduating in close to equal numbers, far fewer women were advancing to senior positions.

So in 2019 it was great to see the voice of women in architecture amplified, with all 18 of Australia’s top positions in architecture held by women. This includes the National President of the Australian Institute of Architects, President of the Architects Accreditation Council of Australia, NSW Government Architect, Dean of Architecture at the University of NSW and President of the NSW Architects Registration Board.

These appointments are a great step towards gender equity in Australian architecture, and greater representation by women in designing the built environment.

It’s an interesting time to create a centre for Australian design which will address a broad range of issues and challenges facing the industry and profession. Stay tuned for more news.

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