Built after over twenty years of planning (and its own act of Parliament), the National Museum of Australia is situated on the peninsula on the north shore of Lake Burley Griffins in Canberra. It is supposed to be Australia's showcase not so much to the world, but to Australians themselves in the attempt that we question who we are. Well, that is what AUD$155 million hopefully will do.

In a city where the monuments and government offices are supposed to be sedate, neo-classical and budget-friendly, the NMA looks more like a half complete fairground. It is comprised of a large semi-circular multi-level building, enclosing the Garden of Australian Dreams. The building has a bright red facade, with bricks indented in braille probably spelling out some profound message. To top off the whackiness is something resembling a large yellow rollercoaster that doesn't seem to serve any functional purpose, except perhaps to mock the schoolchildren who visit Ha ha...you thought you were going to the circus....

Some people have thought that the museum was modelled on Daniel Libeskind's Jewish Museum in Berlin, in terms of the building's form symbolising a turbulent history. It never was the intention of the NMA architect Howard Raggatt to do so, but more than one art critic was prepared to draw the connection. Anyhow the similarities are quite rough (the Jewish Museum is silvery and pointy, the NMA is red and curvey).

Suffice to say, the museum became part of the culture wars in Australia, with some academics like Keith Windshuttle questioning the veracity of some claims of massacres and guerilla warfare that the museum presents, while others thought that the era of convicts, transportation and other heavier Anglo-Saxon histories aren't given sufficient weight. When you see that they have the space for Phar Lap's heart and the Wiggle's uniforms, you might agree (too many artists pretending to be historians, and too many historians pretending to be artists) . There were enough concerns to warrant the museum's content being audited, with the outcome dismissing any systematic bias being applied, but saying some issues deserved more treatment, and that some displays were far too esoteric (or just plain disorganised) to be understood.

Inside, beyond the large hall and an exhibition centre meant for temporary displays, are the permanent exhibits:


A series of three video mosaics mounted in a revolving cinema, exploring the themes of land, people and nation. A good introduction, suitable for the five second attention span of any teenager.

The Garden of Australian Dreams

At the heart of the Museum is the Garden of Australian Dreams. It is a garden with sculptural elements, a body of water and very few trees. A concrete floor depicts a highly coloured fragment of the map of Australia. Take one step and you travel 100 kilometres across the real landmass of Australia.
It looks like a skateboarders paradise, with a transposed linguistic and a physical geography map painted on the ground. Plus there are some fun looking sculptures and a pool of water. The audit report said that the garden was confusing.


The Eternity exhibition brings to life the personal stories of 50 ordinary and extraordinary Australians. The exhibition is a glimpse into Australia's past, present and future through the lives, emotions and experiences of its people.
Named after the scrawlled word Arthur Stace used to chalk all over Sydney, the legacies of famed Australians are displayed, including Edith Cowan, Prince Leonard of Hutt River and some woman called Geekgirl who is famous for creating a website in 1994. Nearby there is a interactive audio-visual console where you too have the chance to talk about yourself and have your legacy recorded for posterity.

First Australians

One of the better part of the museum, this section features the culture, society and stories of Australia's aboriginals and Torres Strait islanders, including the sensitive topic of their experiences with white settlement.


From the humble Hills hoist to the legend of ANZAC, Nation takes a new approach to Australian history through Australian symbols.
Covers in more detail than it really warrants the ordinary aspects of Australia that fostered a sense of nationhood. Like Aussie English, what kind of food we used to eat, what our kitchens used to look like, and how clever we were to invent the Hills hoist (a mass produced clothes line of the 1950s).

Tangled Destinies

Tangled Destinies is a unique depiction of Australia's natural and cultural histories. It explores the twists and turns of the incredible relationship between the Australian continent and its people. This exhibition captures the richness and diversity of our landscape, flora and fauna. It also demonstrates how we've tried to challenge, adapt, control and, sometimes, surrender to it.
This section is helpful to understand Australia's unique - and dangerous - biodiversity and geography. Perhaps if it wasn't for this section of the museum, many young Australians living in the city would not appreciate how this country is dry and fragile. A large computerised map of Australia shows how various themes (transport, pest infections etc) are influenced by geography.

What's Next ?

The history of science and innovation in modern Australia, to a soundtrack innovatively ripped off Star Trek and Batman.

Free entry. Suggested donation: $155 million.

source: www.nma.gov.au

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