Museums must change with the times

22 December 2017


The great museums of the world, including the British Museum, the Louvre and the Natural History Museum, evolve over time. The South Australian Museum is one of Australia’s great museums and it too must evolve to reflect changed community values.

Over the past five years the South Australian Museum has undertaken new research, brought our world-leading collections to the fore through exhibitions and programs, and worked with communities to bring our work to light in new ways.

We have received global and local recognition for these efforts. We were awarded the prestigious Eureka Prize this year for our Aboriginal Heritage Project, which created the first genetic map of Aboriginal Australia before European arrival.

The Yidaki Didjeridu and the Sound of Australia exhibition, a collaboration between the Museum and the Yolngu people, was hugely successful with over 14,000 visitors to the Museum. The exhibition has been invited to Japan’s prestigious Echigo-Tsumari Arts Triennial in 2018, showcasing our remarkable collection of yidaki and the instrument’s cultural foundations to the world.

We have attracted donations of over $3 million worth of opal as a result of our record-breaking Opals exhibition, with the Fire of Australia – the finest uncut opal in existence – now residing at the Museum.

To continue this trajectory of success, we are continuing to look at how the Museum operates, with a focus on the care and interpretation of our collections, as well as opportunities to drive the Museum forward in our intellectual and public responsibilities.

We have augmented our knowledge over the past year with a new generation of Aboriginal scholars. We have an Aboriginal curator, and Early Career Researcher and two Aboriginal cadets all learning their craft and all working to push the Museum in exciting and important new directions.

These cadets and other staff will have greater opportunities to progress their careers and become researchers, curators and those responsible for caring for Australia’s heritage over time.

These positions in our modern world-class Museum don’t replace the older ones, but signal a new era of Aboriginal involvement and empowerment in the priorities of the South Australian Museum.

We are also recognising our responsibilities, both historical and ethical, for the repatriation of Aboriginal Ancestral Remains.

The remains of some 3600 Aboriginal people rest in the South Australian Museum under our care. Some of these remains were collected by researchers in the past, some were disturbed by developments here in Adelaide and around South Australia.

There are many reasons why museums around Australia have to care for human remains, but there is now one responsibility underpinning them all – the need to return these individuals to Country where they belong. The Museum recognises this as a moral responsibility above all others.