Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

NMA’s hidden treasures

Betty, one of the 12 giant kewpie dolls from the closing ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.  Source: ABC News.  Photo: Greg Nelson.

Narda Gilmore, Rare glimpse at National Museum of Australia’s hidden treasures, ABC News, 19 September 201

The National Museum of Australia‘s official collection is constantly growing, but the majority of its items might never go on public display.

Instead, behind the scenes, staff are working hard to conserve and carefully store the collection, making it more accessible online.

There are more than 200,000 objects in the museum’s collection but only a fraction are displayed in the museum’s permanent galleries in Canberra.

“Obviously we can only ever have a small proportion of our collection on display,” senior curator Sophie Jensen said.

“We have the ability to display 4 or 5 per cent of the collection at any given time.”

The rest of the treasures are carefully preserved and stored at repositories in the Canberra suburb of Mitchell.

“We get a lot of offers of donations from the public which is wonderful,” Ms Jensen said.

“We also do a lot of active purchasing. You get large collections, small collections, it’s a huge diversity.”

Play School windows, Rocket Clock among artefacts

Many of the items are familiar to Australians, like the original set and props from the long-running children’s program Play School.

In particular, the Rocket Clock and shaped windows proved popular.

“The response from people to Play School is quite overwhelming. You have now generations of Australians that have grown up with this particular program,” Ms Jensen said.

But she said the items could be going on display temporarily to mark the 50th anniversary of Play School next year.

The museum also stores an impressive collection of motoring history, including Sir Robert Menzies’ Bentley and an original ABC TV broadcast van.

The Holden Torana driven Michael and Lindy Chamberlain on that fateful holiday to Uluru with baby Azaria was a more recent acquisition.

“This car played a really central role in the case because it was used for forensic testing when Lindy was eventually tried for Azaria’s murder,” Ms Jensen said.

The forensic testing led to Lindy Chamberlain’s conviction and was later crucial in clearing her name.

Senior curator Daniel Oakman said he was particularly excited by the recent acquisition of three highly sought after giant clam shells, seized from illegal fishermen in waters off northern Australia.

“They’re so rare it’s such a rare opportunity for a museum like us to get hold of these specimens,” Mr Oakman said.

Space, expense hindering public’s access to storage facilities

The storage facilities are used to welcome the public at repository open days but space and expense now prevent that access

Aboriginal communities are invited regularly to view the 90,000 Indigenous items in storage and researchers can also access the collection.

Meanwhile museum staff are working hard to make as much of the collection as possible available to the public online.

“We’re adding to it all the time,” Ms Jensen said.

“We’re putting on more and more objects from our collection and people therefore then are able to have a good look at the objects themselves.

“We need people to be able to come and view these items … it’s not like sticking things away in a cupboard. This is actually an active and working part of the museum.”

Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2021
Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for information purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice. No claim is made as to the accuracy or authenticity of the content of the website. The Council of Australasian Museum Directors does not accept any liability to any person for the information or advice (or the use of such information or advice) which is provided on this website. The information on our website is provided on the basis that all persons accessing the site undertake responsibility for assessing the relevance and accuracy of its content. No responsibility is taken for any information or services which may appear on any linked web sites. Hostgator.