Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Our greatest explorers

Tim Elliott, Australian Museum exhibition: Jessica Watson named among Australia’s 50 greatest explorers’, 28 October 2015

It doesn’t look like much, but as lucky charms go, it’s got a pretty good record.

It was there when Dick Smith flew around the world in his helicopter in 1982. It was there, in 2010, when teen sailor Jessica Watson circumnavigated the globe. And it was there, in 2013, when Ryan Campbell landed in Wollongong, becoming the youngest person to fly solo around the world.

It’s a 90-year-old scrap of cloth, just 7cm by 5cm, taken from the wing of Charles Kingsford Smith’s famous Fokker, the Southern Cross, and it has played a part in some of this country’s most daring exploits.

“It was definitely reassuring to have it with me,” says Watson. “It was loaned to me by Dick Smith, who came and screwed it into the bulkhead of my boat, Pink Lady, just before I left.”

Watson, who survived a collision with a 60,000 tonne tanker off Queensland and 10-metre seas in the Atlantic, is front and centre of the Australian Museum’s new exhibition, Trailblazers: Australia’s 50 Greatest Explorers.

A celebration of Australia’s most intrepid adventurers, past and present, Trailblazers features exhibits on Australia’s Indigenous peoples (“our first explorers”), Antarctic pioneer Douglas Mawson and Tasmanian firebrand, Lady Jane Franklin, who in 1839 became the first European woman to travel overland from Melbourne to Sydney.

“It took some months to whittle down the list,” Australian Museum CEO and director, Kim McKay, says. “We expect that it’ll be quite controversial in regards to who has made the final 50 and who hasn’t.”

The exhibition draws from the museum’s 18 million artefacts, and includes films, journals, and artefacts.

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Council of Australasian Museum Directors c/o Mr Brian Oldman, South Australian Museum PO Box 234 Adelaide, South Australia 5001 Australia, © CAMD 2022
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