Rehabilitating Australia’s National Museum

Major changes are being rung at the National Museum of Australia. At the time of writing (September 2008), two of the galleries—Horizons and Eternity—were closed in their entirety for complete redevelopment. A third—Old New Land, formerly known as Tangled Destinies—had most of its exhibition space closed for renovation. These closures constitute a program of renewal that promises to remodel the NMA as a significant national institution and, it is to be hoped, a genuine cultural and educational resource for the Australian community and visitors from other lands.

Even before the current round of reconstruction began, substantial alterations to the galleries’ content had already been made. These materially disrupted the ideological grammar that gave the museum its coherence, muting the more strident of its political messages—balancing, for example, the exhibits on the mining industry to include the economic positives as well as the environmental negatives. And sport and industry, largely or entirely ignored in the curators’ original vision, have appeared as welcome inclusions.

I want to discuss these changes in some detail. But before doing so, it is appropriate to hark back for a moment to that original vision, which provided the blueprint for the museum’s construction and the nature and character of its galleries. It is important to do this, because with the changes currently taking place at the NMA, the physical evidence of the curators’ original purpose and intent is being erased. Future visitors, vaguely aware of past controversies and wondering what all the fuss was about, will not realise that the museum was conceived largely as a cruel joke at their expense.

The Original NMA

The NMA was intended to be an ideological showpiece, but of a very special and particular kind. It was designed to play its audience for fools. This purpose was inscribed into the building itself. The surface of the NMA’s external walls is made of rectangular aluminium panels. Many of these panels are marked with a series of circular protrusions, like raised dots or small bumps under the museum’s dull-brown-and-silver epidermis. They look random, and are unobtrusive enough to escape notice from passers-by. Indeed, these series of dots make attractive patterns across the walls, and would probably strike any who did notice them as no more than an interesting piece of metalwork in relief. But the NMA put them there for a very specific purpose.

As originally inserted into the building’s surface, these dots spelled out a coded political message—in braille. No one not in the know can have realised what they meant, and it was not intended that they should be. This was for the insiders only. “Forgive us our genocide”, read one; “Sorry”, read another. These phrases, obviously, were intended as a hidden challenge to the policies of the then government with regard to the “stolen generations” and Aboriginal reconciliation. They shouted it out, but in silence. No doubt the sight of a conservative prime minister opening the museum below a boldly displayed but secret message that contradicted his own policies would have afforded the museum’s designers keen delight as they laughed behind their hands.

Sadly, at least for them, it was not to be. A few days before the museum opened in 2001, Craddock Morton, who later became the NMA’s second (and current) Director, rendered the messages illegible by adding new panels or moving the existing ones around to make the braille letters meaningless. This was not generally known at the time, and it was only some years later that the media revealed what kind of trick the NMA had intended to pull on us.

In their original inscription, these secret messages provide an unambiguous indicator of what the museum’s designers were trying to do. They were using a national institution to progress an ideological agenda with a defined political purpose: but they did so stealthily, subtly; the message was there, all right, but it was hidden in plain view, visible only to those with the eyes to see, and the wit to mock.

Throughout the museum, as originally configured, the same strategy was pursued. Everywhere you went, if you were perceptive enough, you saw the process at work. The signposts were there, like sticky yellow post-it notes, in almost every display, for the curators and the cognoscenti to chuckle over. There was the sly, adolescent Marxism of the Horizons gallery, where you saw, on the left wall (where else?), a celebration of the convicts as Australia’s proletariat, honestly labouring in defiance of their brutal, oppressive masters; and on the right, the swinish capitalists who paid their workers in proprietary specie that could be spent only in the bosses’ own shops. A copy of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations was also included in the display, though without any clear context. Presumably the intent was to show that greed and rapacity were inherent in capitalism from its inception.

In Nation: Symbols of Australia, there was the insinuation of activist rhetoric into exhibitions treating mining and urban development, where we were reminded of the emergence of anti-nuclear and anti-freeway protest movements, lest we be deceived into thinking that extraction of minerals from the land or the spread of cities were in any way good for us. There were snipes at suburbia all over the place, as if the majority of the inhabitants of a vast arid land with a verdant coastal fringe had much alternative but to live in the cities and their outgrowths.

Nowhere in this gallery, which was putatively concerned with the icons of Australia, did we see what we might have expected: bushrangers, stockmen, swagmen, squatters, selectors, Nellie Melba, cricket, football, the Eureka Stockade, Cyclone Tracy, the beach, the desert, Alice Springs, Matthew Flinders, Ludwig Leichhardt, Joan Sutherland or Uluru. We got none of these, but we did get endless replays of “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” (of which more later).

Instead, what we saw in Nation was the digger traduced as merely an imagined icon, created by newspapers and magazines, having no reality external to what was imputed or imagined by the powers that be. “A real character”, ran the mocking commentary, having established that he had never been any such thing. And the final thrust of the cultural bayonet was his unhappy status as a “male Anglo-Saxon”. The shearer fared no better: he was denigrated as a “laconic, hard-bitten and hard-working white man”.

But most of all, what we saw throughout the galleries was evidence of the collective mindset of the generation that radicalised in the 1970s, and thereafter refused to grow up, or perhaps found itself unable to do so. In its original presentation, Snapshots of Australian History offered a promenade through the icons of that generation’s adolescence: anti-Vietnam War protests, the Dismissal, the rescue of Tasmania’s Franklin and Gordon Rivers, complete with (now Senator) Bob Brown’s canoeing jacket; the anti-conscription campaign in the First World War, the Shearers’ Strike of 1892. There was nothing on Gallipoli, Ned Kelly or Don Bradman.

The Snapshots gallery was emblematic of the way the museum subverted the national story in support of a partisan agenda, at a cost of some hundreds of millions of dollars, and without the knowledge or consent of the people who paid for it. Anyone who grew up on the Left in the 1970s would have been on familiar ground in the “old” NMA, and would have recognised all the signposts and landmarks. It was for them that the museum was established, not for the people of Australia.

At present, there are welcome signs that the radical agenda has been eclipsed by more responsible curatorial practices, and maybe the museum and its critics should now be prepared to let bygones be bygones. But it should not be altogether forgotten that partisanship and ideological preference had been there from the start, and out of them were born the NMA’s original configuration. This latter should serve as a reminder of what a group of determined ideologues can do when given a blank cheque to draw on the community’s account.

Re-inventing Nation

Many of the most objectionable displays were removed from Nation in the refurbishments which were completed before the current closures. The blanched, ghostly figures of the shearer and goldfields digger have vanished, to be replaced with effective exhibits on Australian sport and cuisine. These also replace an exhibit on the “new industrialist” and the “new worker”, with their resonances of Marxist class war—it was captioned “Fighting for a Better Deal”—and one on John MacArthur as typical of a “new aristocracy” (ditto).

A new display on the mining industry (“Rocks to Riches”) is a model of neutrality. A statement about the environmental costs of mining reads: “Community and industry concern about mining’s impact on the environment emerged in the 1970s. Mines today are confronted with problems of minimizing and controlling waste products.” And it is balanced by equally non-judgmental statements about the processes of mineral exploration and extraction. This is a far cry from the old “Keep uranium in the ground!” placard, prominently displayed, and the Green-leaning commentary on the morality of mining: “Not all Australians share this vision. Some argue for a different understanding of the value of the earth.”

Elsewhere in this gallery, we used to have a laudatory exhibition on the ABC (it seems the ABC and Australia Post were the only Australian institutions that found favour with our museum’s first curators). This included an ABC broadcast van, whose huge footprint always seemed a dubious use of scarce museum floor space. Instead, we now have an excellent exhibit on the Holden (“Australia’s own car”), which includes an actual FJ Holden Sedan Special from 1955. This is a rich and impressive addition to what has often seemed a sadly impoverished inventory.

The transportation exhibits are exemplary, and include an eye-catching 1870s horse-drawn buggy from country New South Wales. The new sports exhibit has a good display on the 2000 Olympics. Its undoubted highlight, though, is Phar Lap’s heart, which illuminates in its recess as you approach it. It is most effectively displayed, and can also be viewed from another angle in which you see it, in cut-out, inserted into the anatomically appropriate space of a huge photograph of the famous horse to which it once belonged.

In these new exhibits the museum is getting it exactly right—although perhaps not in accordance with curatorial chic. For most people, this is what museums are all about: striking objects, impressive artefacts, judiciously presented—whether big and impressive, like aeroplanes or locomotives, or smallish but significant, like the FJ Holden or Phar Lap’s heart—things they can walk around, stand back from and wonder at, all without being lectured at on what they are supposed to think about them.

It is a relief also to report that in Nation we are now spared the continual repetition of “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” as a background refrain. It remains a mystery why the NMA chose as one of its “symbols of Australia” a song that recites a list of stations in the London Underground, unless it was to show how British we still are, or were—a gentle tilt in the direction of the republic, perhaps?

In this writer’s opinion, a few things remain which the gallery would be better off without. They are relatively minor. One is a description of “the Australian way of life” that I suspect few Australians would agree with or even recognise:

“After the turmoil of the Second World War, a new and unifying idea was promoted—‘the Australian way of life’. This was a set of attitudes and behaviours that all migrants were encouraged to adopt as soon as possible. Although the details were hard to define, its symbol was the idealized suburban family, relaxed and friendly, committed to prosperity and stability, but also modern and contemporary.”

There is nothing here to strike the visitor as particularly Australian, and most people would prefer to think of their “way of life”, however they might understand it, as emerging from history, culture and shared experience, rather than being mandated for them by government. Elsewhere in this exhibit, though, on a plaque tucked away inside a 1950s fridge, the NMA opines that nobody knew what “the Australian way of life” was, anyway.

The Green propaganda machine that is the interactive “Create your own backyard” exhibit has also been retained. This nods in silent approval (figuratively speaking) if you select an environmentally friendly bicycle as your means of transport, or native plants for your garden, but reads you a sharp lecture if you go for a car, a cat or a lawn-mower. All are very bad for the planet. This exhibit is actually more amusing than anything else.

Other than these, there is little to object to in the re-invented Nation. It will be closed next year, and will re-open as Creating a Country.

New Horizons

In Horizons (now closed) the changes were even more marked. All of the anti-British displays at the further end of the gallery were displaced. A recurring theme of the old exhibits was that the British robbed and despoiled the peoples they colonised, even appropriating their languages. The British empire itself was depicted with studied derision. These displays were replaced by good exhibits that treated the British, Dutch and French arrivals on the shores of the southern continent and their competing claims to its territories. The language used was neutral and non-judgmental, and the visitor was left to make up his or her own mind, rather than being hectored.

Also at this end of the gallery, there used to be a long and visually prominent display entitled “Terra Nullius: The Lie of the Land”. The problematic and highly challengeable commentary read:

“European explorers encountered an unfamiliar landscape. They found no tilled fields, no recognisable towns. They concluded that Aboriginal people did not own this land. This belief, that Australia was terra nullius—‘a land belonging to no one’—justified European colonisation. In 1992 the High Court rejected the idea of terra nullius as unjust and discriminatory, and recognised Native title.”

This display was replaced with neutral and historically informative material, including on the Dutch arrival in the seventeenth century.

The exhibits I previously noted as depicting Australia’s treatment of immigrants as cruel and unwelcoming had all been removed. Where there had been some displays containing confusing, and frankly quite bizarre, commentary on Australia’s attitude to migrants—with a clear sub-text that it was deeply hostile—there were now collections of family artefacts from the early decades of settlement. Particularly welcome was an inclusion on the Afghan presence in Central Australia from the mid-nineteenth century.

As far as I could determine, most of the subliminal Marxist material had gone from Horizons. Unhappily, the convict juvenilia on the opposite side of the gallery remained in situ. This included a large placard titled “Extreme Penalties”, which described offences which attracted the death penalty in Britain. To make sure you didn’t miss the point—that the system that despatched convicts to Australia was brutal, unjust and cruel—ridiculous “offences” such as impersonating an Egyptian are on the list, but real crimes like murder and mutiny were not.

Some other absurdities were retained. The depiction of the early days of federal Australia as an oppressive police state—reminiscent of the Soviet era-style depiction of twentieth-century London as a Dickensian swamp of misery and squalor—was preserved intact. Apparently, at that time, the Commonwealth government’s sole purpose and intent was to prohibit freedom of speech, imprison dissenters, enforce quarantine, and guard against racial and moral pollution.

Horizons is now closed and it remains to be seen how many of its exhibits survive to be included in the new Australian Journeys gallery that will replace it.


Old Destinies


The gallery least affected by this quiet, successful and largely unremarked revolution at the NMA is Tangled Destinies, which has now been renamed Old New Land. In my opinion, this gallery remains problematical. However, it is difficult to be categorical about this, as most of the gallery is closed, and the only major part remaining open is the left side of the entrance hall, presumably to enable people to pass through to the galleries beyond. What follows, therefore, is based on those few exhibits that remain open for viewing, and on observations from past visits before the closure.

All of the NMA’s original “European” galleries were difficult to read because of the prolixity of their artefacts and the apparent incoherence of their presentation. You needed the key in order to decode the sub-text; or, rather, you had to remember that the real message was written in braille, so to speak. Once grasped, it was reasonably easy to identify the original Horizons as being for the Marxists, and Nation for the supercilious postmodernists; but Tangled Destinies was more elusive and remains so in its new guise.

The positives deserve to be acknowledged. In its original inscription, the NMA never, at least as far as my researches discovered, used the word we to describe Australians as a whole—certainly not in any inclusive sense. When describing Aborigines and their culture, “we” connoted Aboriginals. “We’re here” is a headline on the survival of Tasmania’s Aborigines. “We are the oldest surviving race of people …” is the statement that greets you at the entrance to From Time Immemorial, which introduces you to the “First Australians” galleries. Out in the non-Indigenous galleries, the references were always to “Europeans” or “Australians” (“Australians remain avid readers of newspapers and magazines”, according to an old caption, now removed, in Nation).

This, thankfully, has changed. The first placard you now encounter on entering the gallery introduces the concept of Old New Land. “The Australian land mass was formed over many millions of years, yet the way we think and live in it is still evolving. Just as we shape the land, it shapes us, our ideas and our understanding.” This replaces a placard that informed us: “The result [of European arrival] was biological invasion on an unmatched scale, and extinction of many native animals and plants.”

Also, in a display titled “Understanding Australia”, the NMA says: “Over time, we have developed new ways of understanding the land”. This replaced an old display that read: “Europeans saw Australia as a place that had always been dry … They saw Australia as a timeless land … They saw Australia as empty…” The NMA is now much less of an “us” and “them” museum than it used to be.

Elsewhere in Old New Land, the anti-freeway and other activist messages have been removed from what was the “Cities on the Edge” exhibit, which also included unsubtle anti-whaling and anti-sealing displays. In its place, the NMA gives us a “Living Inland” exhibit, which treats the need for water in the arid hinterland, and includes a good item on the hilarious Henley-on-Todd annual “boat” race along the dry river bed that bisects Alice Springs.

But despite these improvements, the underlying, cohering logic has only been minimally disrupted in this gallery. There are a number of fundamental messages the NMA wants you to take from Tangled Destinies. One, evident from the very first exhibits, is the uncomprehending ignorance and dismay with which the Europeans observed their new environment. Their painters were even unable to accurately depict the strange and unfamiliar landscape, and resorted to pictorial tricks to make it look more British.

The animals bewildered them, too. Australia was populated by fauna such as the echidna—to the Europeans, “a mixed-up beast, a long-clawed porcupine which ate ants”, but to the Aborigines, “a normal everyday animal, as well as an important element in stories and religion”—and the equally bizarre platypus. Only after a hundred years were the Europeans prepared to believe the Aborigines who told them that the platypus laid eggs. The NMA quotes Arthur Nicholls as saying that “The natives … have exhibited their ignorance of the natural history of the platypus …”, whilst making it clear that those very natives, with their “knowledge gained over thousands of years”, were the ones who must inevitably have got it right.

This reflects another consistent theme throughout Tangled Destinies: the Aborigines knew far more about the environment than the Europeans, but the latter obstinately refused to accept their greater wisdom, with uniformly disastrous consequences—including the extinction of numberless animal and plant species, systematic violation of the environment, and repeated and destructive firestorms.

It is reasonable enough to record the Europeans’ confusion at an assemblage of fauna so much at odds with their own knowledge and classification systems, but its treatment by Tangled Destinies constitutes a long and disdainful sneer. Indeed, at times, the NMA characterises the Europeans’ attitude as a kind of biological racism. For example: “Australia was a ‘faunal asylum’, inhabited by inferior and unsophisticated animals. Now we see that this was a ‘biological cringe’.”

And relentlessly, everywhere it can, the NMA bangs the “bad European” versus “good native” drum. The much-vaunted importation of salmon in the 1860s failed, despite all the medals awarded by the Queen to its architect, John Youl. The trout he imported fared better, but of course the environment did not: “Like bees, trout were often thought to do no real harm to the environment. Yet adding brown trout to Tasmania’s Lake Pedder caused a sharp decline in native fish.”

Elsewhere, in the parts of the gallery now closed, there are unflattering references to the Europeans’ farming practices. In “First Fleet wheat”, we learn that “The tall English wheat brought by the First Fleet never grew well in New South Wales”, and beside a large mechanical harvester dating from 1900 we are reminded that the Aboriginal people did it much better, using natural methods, “far beyond the limits of agriculture”.

In “Living with the land”, the gallery was at pains to emphasise the Europeans’ inability to understand or control fire. The Aborigines, on the other hand:

“farmed the land with fire. It cleaned up the country and brought abundance and plenty … Aboriginal people used fire to manage, cleanse and nurture the land, and for hunting. Early settlers were nervous of wildfire and tried to control it, but sometimes this created fire-starved landscapes where explosive bushfires brought ruin and death.”

The Europeans were more than heedless and stupid; they were cruel. In the exhibit “Broncoing Panels”, over and again, and quite needlessly, the NMA emphasises an unmistakable message: the Europeans were merciless in their treatment of the animals they exploited. “A lassoed calf was pulled onto the panel and leg-roped. Once secured, it could be branded, earmarked and castrated.” And: “Earmarks help stockmen tell from a distance which cattle have been through the yard, castrated and branded.” And: “[Cattle were] dehorned, castrated and branded …” Again: “… dragged to a post, thrown, tied and branded”. Castration and branding devices were prominent among the accompanying artefacts.

The Europeans were pretty beastly to buffalo, too. Holding pride of place among the NMA’s exhibits in Tangled Destinies was the “buff catcher”. “Buffalo were caught alive for meat [by] 4WD vehicles heavily armoured with roo bars and a ‘bionic arm’ to catch running animals.” Nature was cunning in its own defence, but so were its predators in pursuit: “Feral buffalo were shot as part of a campaign to rid Australia’s cattle industry of brucellosis and tuberculosis. After buffaloes had learnt to hide from shooters, bulls were fitted with radio-tracking collars [and] the shooters followed.” And from the shooters themselves, the NMA’s intentionally ironic quotation: “We love the buffalo!”

Tangled Destinies is interesting, though, on the rabbit. As an introduced pest that wrought havoc on native flora and fauna, it was naturally to be detested. And yet the NMA doesn’t detest it, or not quite. From a video screen affixed to a replica of the rabbit-proof fence, a loud British-accented voice calls for the complete extermination of the rabbit species. It stridently demands: “More rabbit-proof fences! More poison gas! More traps!” If the establishment hated the underdog-rabbit, the NMA had better rather like it. And so you get this:

“Big landowners hated rabbits. Yet many small farmers and poorer Australians, both European and Aboriginal, needed them. For the price of a cheap rifle or a few steel traps, they had endless meat for their families and skins to sell for cash. Many a kid of the Depression years remembers creeping out into the frost to collect rabbits for breakfast.”

If the capitalists hated it, and the workers loved it, the rabbit had to be at least partly a good thing.

In the discussion on Nation, above, mention was made of the strength of some of the new artefacts acquired by the NMA for that gallery, and I suggested—perhaps wrongly—that this is a key criterion by which a museum should be judged by its visitors. Here are the most prominent artefacts in the still-accessible parts of Tangled Destines:

Several platypus corpses in preserving fluid, from eggs to four-week old hatchlings; a row of surgeon Sir Colin MacKenzie’s preserved animal remains, including body parts as well as whole specimens; footwear and camping gear belonging to early conservationist Miles Dunphy, with very approving commentary; a picture of the paradise parrot, accompanied by panels proclaiming “The first extinction” and “Paradise lost”; a roll of rabbit-proof fence; a chloroform exhaust fumigator for flushing out rabbit warrens; a syringe for injecting rabbits with myxomatosis; a rabbit-tracking collar; an metre-long device for injecting poison into prickly pear; a radio-controlled collar for tracking buffalo, the better to kill them; a steel-jaw rabbit trap (but a nice warm rabbit-skin rug); a picture of dead rabbits on their way to the freezing works; and in case by some miracle you still had not got the point, a wall-high map showing the spread of various pests across the continent, described on the adjacent wall plaque as a “biological avalanche”.

Alongside these artefacts of death, disease and violence towards nature, though, there are sprinkled encouraging signs of the Green revolution to come: “By the 1920s rug owners were already aware of the destruction needed to make a platypus rug.” Of the extinct paradise parrot: “[It died out] before we knew how to save it and when few people cared. But now people understand that extinctions are not inevitable.”

Reading the braille, then, tells us a story that goes something like this. The invading Europeans hated and abused the natural world and deployed all their unnatural technologies against it, aided and abetted by the alien pests they brought with them (some of which, nonetheless, did nature’s job for it by turning against their human sponsors). The Europeans themselves were the greatest plague, a swarm of pests upon the environment, ignorant, unheeding, their every act a destructive one. And in all of their struggles with the land that they despised and tried in vain to pretend was England, the Aborigines could have saved them, had they been heeded; but their superior understanding was rejected and refused.

The gallery is thematically consistent throughout, and follows a discernible teleological path. It begins with the Europeans’ devastation of the native Australian environment, pursues the theme through a wide physical arc across the NMA’s floor, repeatedly contrasting it with the deeper spiritual understanding of the Aboriginal people, especially with regard to fire management—“We like our lizards FRILLED, not GRILLED”—carefully notes the beacons of hope offered by the conservationists; notes, too, the futility of ideas such as “making the deserts bloom” through the application of science and technology, and ends by confirming that Australia’s moral and environmental resurrection can be achieved only by the Green movement.

Tangled Destinies tells us that European Australia can only be redeemed of its past and present sins against the environment by joining with the greater wisdom, values and practices of the Indigenous people. And it is only down the Green pathway that Europeans and Aboriginals can walk towards that future together. Some Australians would agree with that; others would not. This gallery, and indeed the museum as a whole, was designed for those who do.

Final Comments

It may be that I am making too much of “old” NMA survivals. I haven’t catalogued them all, though there are others. One I find particularly disturbing is the commentary (in Nation) on Cathy Freeman’s victory lap at the 1994 Commonwealth Games, headlined “Aboriginal or Australian?” It reads: “There can be tension between being both an Aboriginal and an Australian hero. Cathy Freeman’s decision to carry the Aboriginal as well as the Australian flag on her victory lap at the 1994 Commonwealth Games attracted both praise and criticism.”

That’s all the NMA has to say. But the controversy that attended that incident arose entirely from the fact that an official reprimanded Freeman for carrying the Aboriginal flag, not the fact that she had done so. A media firestorm broke, but over the head of the unfortunate official, not Freeman’s. Australians didn’t give a fig that Freeman had broken some daft rule or other about only carrying the Australian flag on a victory run; they ran with her all the way, Aboriginal flag and all. She was the people’s hero, and they made it clear. So while the caption is not technically incorrect, it nevertheless conveys a wholly inaccurate impression of what actually happened. It is a classic case of the NMA’s genius for ambiguation.

But it is not necessary to over-stress the negatives that remain. The fact is that the NMA has been markedly improved, overall, and much credit for the many positives should be given where it is clearly due. Horizons—prior to its closure—and Nation have been substantially remodelled and, by and large, successfully rehabilitated. This is something I would not have thought possible four years ago. For this, the museum’s management at various levels deserves sincere commendation even from a hardened critic.

I have spent some time discussing what remains of Tangled Destinies. This was always going to be the most difficult gallery to restore to respectability. Most of its floor space is now closed for renovation. Perhaps, when it opens again, the gallery will have been able to recover a little empathy for those hated European “invaders”—lonely immigrants dumped on a threatening, far-distant shore, with little to prosper them but their hands, their wits, some clumsy weapons and meagre tools, with only the prescriptions of Christian morality and eighteenth-century science to guide them, and their single lifeline stretching half a world away; who suffered and laboured and prevailed over the generations; and who were able, in the space of less than two brief centuries, to transform a vast continent all but forgotten by time into one of the strongest industrial democracies on earth. Perhaps; but that’s not the kind of narrative our museum has so far shown much fondness for.

It remains to be seen how it will ultimately turn out. In the meantime, I believe that those few of us who publicly protested against the NMA’s appropriation of the national story in support of a radical agenda have been vindicated by the recent changes to the museum. Most of the worst has now been swept away. Keith Windschuttle, David Barnett and Christopher Pearson, who led the charge and endured much calumny as a result, have proved to have been right all along.

Rob Foot wrote on the National Museum of Australia in the October 2003 and March 2004 issues of Quadrant.

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