Australia’s diplomatic history is being documented in a collecting program by the National Museum of Australia in partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The Museum is seeking donations of objects that help tell strong personal stories around key areas of DFAT's work and that document important events including natural disasters and terrorist attacks. We are interested in activities, initiatives or historical moments in Australian diplomacy from the 1940s onwards.
Learn more about why the Museum is interested in collecting objects relating to Australian diplomacy, key themes and what type of objects may be suitable for our collection.
Diplomatic collection guidelines
The Museum is particularly interested in these thematic areas of DFAT’s work:
- The Solomon Islands/Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI)
- Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan
- Australia's international environmental policies, including climate change and Antarctica
- the Cambodian peace process
- the establishment and development of APEC
- Australia and the United Nations, including Australia's most recent term on the UN Security Council
- Australia's relations with China
- ANZUS and the evolution of the Australia-US alliance
- Indigenous Australia and Australian diplomacy
- The Colombo Plan and New Colombo Plan.
We also welcome suggestions and offers of objects relating to other important areas or themes not previously mentioned.
In partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the National Museum of Australia launched a collecting program on the representation of Australia’s diplomatic history in June 2022.
The program aims to promote a greater understanding of Australia’s engagement with the world using significant objects to highlight the importance, scope and complexity of Australia’s diplomatic endeavours to protect and promote its foreign policy, trade, aid, consular and other national interests.
It will offer broad insights into Australia’s national identity, which in many ways is defined by extensive and diverse international connections over a long period of time.
The program will also increase awareness of the diverse and challenging work of DFAT and its predecessor departments and agencies and their historical and contemporary contributions to the nation.
Objects are tangible 3D artefacts of all shapes and sizes. Most demonstrate some visual evidence of use, such as damage, decoration, text, graphics or markings that convey their history.
Objects of interest to this program may include equipment, clothing, artwork, signs, flags, personal mementoes, posters or other ephemera. A small group of related objects in different formats make for a visually interesting display and a rich collection.
We also collect supporting material, such as related paper documents, diaries, scrapbooks or images of an object in use, if these are offered with the object itself.
The Museum cannot consider offers of large collections of personal or official papers or extensive photographic archives. We don’t have space to compile an archive of oral history recordings. Collections of this type may be better placed with other institutions, including the National Library of Australia.
The National Museum of Australia is a social history museum documenting the diversity and breadth of life in Australia. This means that individual experiences, as represented by objects of national significance, are used to interpret broader important moments in our shared history.
According to Significance 2.0 guidelines for collecting institutions published by the Collections Council of Australia, national significance is the values and meanings that objects hold for people and communities. To be of national significance objects must meet one or more criteria demonstrating their historic, artistic or aesthetic, research or social and spiritual values.
Providing as much detail as possible will help curators determine if your offer is of national significance. Strong personal stories directly illuminate the activities, events and challenges experienced by DFAT officers at all levels.
In many cases, donors provide written or spoken accounts of what they know of an object’s history. Other sources of information might include interviews with other associated individuals or published biographies or memoirs.
From time to time, we acquire objects lacking a story if they are particularly rare or representative. Generally, however, if there is no way to recover an object’s story, or if it is in poor or incomplete condition, it will be unsuitable for acquisition.
Strong collections tell stories connected to broader narratives in diplomatic history. Examples of powerful existing Museum collections are:
The clothing, ephemera and keepsakes belonging to Edna Thompson, a secretary who ducked the ‘marriage bar’ and enjoyed an adventurous career with the former Department of External Affairs. Edna's first posting was to Karachi in 1949, as personal secretary to John Oldham, Australia’s first High Commissioner to Pakistan. Edna’s experiences, following the 1947 partition of the Indian subcontinent at the end of the British Crown rule, coincided with significant moments in diplomatic history.
An Australian coat of arms and the shattered remains of Ambassador David Ritchie’s blast-resistant office window damaged in a terrorist attack at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta in 2004. Alongside material relating to the 2002 Bali bombings, this collection powerfully illustrates the ever-present global threat of terrorism and lends insight into important consular services provided to Australians in Indonesia.
The Museum welcomes all offers of objects – or sets of objects – relating to the project’s themes. We are here to guide interested donors and we welcome suggestions and ideas.
After initial contact is made, we will ask several questions to assess whether the collection may be of possible national significance:
- Can you describe it and provide a photograph?
- Is it in largely in good condition? Are any parts missing?
- How does this object relate to one of the project’s themes of interest? Does it relate to another major theme in the history of Australian diplomacy?
- What do you know of this object’s story or who owned and used it? If not, are there likely to be other sources of supporting material – archives, photographs, or published works – that might help?
- Is this object especially rare or unusual?
If an offer meets the Museum's initial criteria, a curator will be assigned to prepare a detailed assessment for discussion by senior staff.