Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Gardening & farming at NMA

The new garden at the National Museum entrance works a treat. Photo: Paul Costigan.

Paul Costigan, Gardening and farming at the National Museum, CityNews, 24 September 2022

“Canberra Matters” columnist Paul Costigan takes a down-to-earth visit to the National Museum.

A visit to an exhibition at the National Museum of Australia provided the extra opportunity to have a look at the new garden at the entrance and to check out again the Garden of Australian Dreams.

The new garden at the entrance works a treat. The previous entrance layout was architecturally tricky, stark and uninviting. This medium-sized garden is an Australian native botanical experience. The garden allows you to meander and enjoy some lush plantings – and pick up a few tips on what grows well locally. If you feel like a rest – there are seats thoughtfully scattered about.

The National Museum’s “Garden of Australian Dreams”…. not so popular. Photo: Paul Costigan,

Meanwhile, behind this in the main central area lurks the Garden of Australian Dreams. This is not a garden (despite the name) but an artwork created with layers of political and social messages. I remain not so enthused about this major artwork. Despite the museum being very busy (the car park was almost full), we noticed few people were going out to wander around it. Whereas, the new front gardens were attracting lots of attention. People love a well-designed garden.

Back to why we were there. That exhibition.

It is highly recommended you take a quick trip over the National Museum of Australia before the end of October to see a gem of an exhibition, “Earth Canvas“.

This travelling exhibition from the Albury Library-Museum showcases artworks by artists in response to regenerative farming on NSW properties between the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers.

The “Earth Canvas” exhibition… insights to what is happening locally as well as the artworks by artists who spent time with each farm. Photo: Paul Costigan.

To quote from a website on regenerative farming – “Regenerative agriculture describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.”

The exhibition provides insights to what is happening locally as well as the artworks by artists who spent time with each farm. There is no art-speak involved – it is an easy and informative read along with a mixture of art to be enjoyed.

On the subject of farming, a recommended read is Gabrielle Chan’s 2021 book “Why you should give a f*ck about farming – Because you eat”.

To quote from the bookseller’s site: “Gabrielle lays out how our nation, its leaders, farmers and eaters can usher in new ways for us to work and live on our unique and precious land. We must forge a new social contract if we are to grow healthy food on a thriving landscape, while mitigating climate and biodiversity loss.”

The messages from “Earth Canvas”, the farmers and artists involved, Gabrielle Chan’s writing as well as the new garden in front of the museum, is that we need to rethink so many of our ways of living with our planet. This includes what we eat and where it comes from – and how we produce food while doing no harm.

Earth Canvas” is at the National Museum until October 30.


Council of Australasian Museum Directors c/o Lynley Crosswell, Museums Victoria, GPO Box 666, Melbourne VIC 3001, © CAMD 2023
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