Museums Make an Exhibition of Themselves

On a wet Thursday in Adelaide last week, we took the Glenelg tram to Holdfast Bay. The old town hall there has been converted to the Bay Discovery Centre for culture and history (above), all well done and with much to learn. For example, it featured some history of topless bathing at Glenelg. In the early 1930s, the council furiously opposed topless bathing as immoral, regardless of it being practised on some European beaches. Aldermen wanted the beaches patrolled by police who would take vigorous action against any and all topless bathers.

By 1937, however, Glenelg Council was turning a blind eye to scantily-clad sunbathers “with the top of the costume rolled down”, providing they didn’t make themselves “offensively prominent”. By the following year Glenelg men could freely bathe topless, defined as wearing properly belted trunks without shoulder straps.

I was less impressed with the permanent display, Wangkanthi Kumangka (Truth-Telling Together). It was created with help from the Kaurna Nation (so-called)and explores the true history of South Australia.” The caption says, correctly, “The exhibition about truth-telling challenges South Australia’s history books.”

It emphasises William IV’s Letters Patent establishing the South Australian colony. While the King included a guarantee for any Aboriginals and their descendants to retain all rights to their lands[1], the Kaurna can make a good case they were dudded by the colonists. Nearby was a caption headed Tiati (“truth”):

At the time of the invasion, Aboriginal people across the continent had homes, farmed the land, cared for crops, and embraced trade with neighbouring territories. They were advancing with technologies, shared language, oral traditions and ceremony. (My emphases).

Thanks a million, Bruce Pascoe and your Dark Emu best-seller, beloved by museum curators, the ABC and teachers operating from kindergarten to university. For example, Pascoe claims explorer Thomas Mitchell traversed four Aboriginal towns within a 50-mile ride, each with population of a thousand. Nowhere in Thomas Mitchell’s journals (nor Sturt’s) does the explorer mention any Aboriginal “town” of a thousand, let alone a cluster of four. The exhibit adds its own myths about pre-contact Aborigines’ “advancing with technologies” — their skills didn’t at the time extend to boiling water. Regardless, the centre’s display “won the Australian museum sector’s most prestigious award in the Museum and Galleries National Awards for 2020.”

As a dedicated museum crawler, I’ve chronicled the takeover by the woke and climate-crazed. Back in 2013 I catalogued the errors and propaganda pushed at visitors even to iconic establishments like the Field Museum in Chicago; the Smithsonian Natural History (Washington DC); Vienna Museum of Natural History; and Te Papa (NZ). The National Museum of Australia? Too sloppy and ideological to mention.[2]

So this week I decided to probe the top-tier Australian Museum and Galleries Association, which gave its 2020 prize to Glenelg’s homage to Pascoe’s rubbish. I curated my own Tracey Emin-like “Melbourne Museum of Desk-top Detritus” (pictured but minus any Emin condoms and dirty underwear).[3] Then I created an account to submit my museum for the Association’s next prestigious MAGNA award. This got me past the Association’s paywall to discover last year’s entry conditions and much else. Here we go (my emphases):

The goal of reimagining representation is to change the way Indigenous peoples are represented in museums and galleries. To do this, museums and galleries need to reflect on past injustices. This means acknowledging the role museums and galleries played in colonisation and dominant historical narratives. How does your project represent or amplify Indigenous voices and histories? Consider past injustices and dark histories, truth-telling, Indigenous knowledge, etc (max 350 words).

This element aims to move museum and gallery values away from their Eurocentric foundations. Indigenous values need to be encouraged in museums and galleries in order to make Indigenous peoples feel welcome and safe… (max 350 words)

What perspectives were considered and/or integrated into the design and programming (i.e. Indigenous, queer, gender identity, age, ethnicity) and how did you utilise these perspectives sensitively and truthfully? (max 350 words)

Are you getting the idea? And of course, the goal is to ram the Aboriginal Industry into classrooms, as per

How does your project reflect elements of the national curriculum and/or other learning standards, enhance critical and creative thinking, and contribute to well-being? Did the Indigenous Roadmap inform your project framework? (max 350 words)

This “Indigenous Roadmap” turns out to be a 10-year plan to convert every museum and gallery into Aboriginal-lauding, settler-bashing institutions by 2029:

In order for the Roadmap to be successful, the entire sector needs to take it up…This includes, but is not limited to:

      • Australian Museums and Galleries Association
      • Museums
      • Galleries
      • Audiences
      • Indigenous communities
      • Individuals working inside museums and galleries
      • Educational sector including Universities and TAFEs
      • People running training programs for museums and galleries
      • Government at all levels
      • The cultural sector as a whole.” (p8)

The program was launched in 2019 based on a report by all-Aboriginal intellectual property consultants Terri Janke and Co. It was commissioned by the Association (earlier called Museums Australia) and with some Association input. The Executive Summary calls on museums to

reflect on past injustices. This means acknowledging the role museums and galleries played in colonisation and dominant historical narratives. Further, Indigenous peoples’ voice also need to be amplified by increasing exhibitions that involve strong Indigenous engagement and relationships … Additionally, exhibitions that involve truth-telling need to be addressed. A national coordinated program would encompass all museums and galleries and lead to increased Indigenous audiences.

All museums are instructed to sign on to Karen Mundine’s Reconciliation Action Plans, which in turn require total conformity with the Aboriginal Grievance Industry. A few years back 21 per cent of museums had signed on, with the goal 100 per cent by 2029 (p39).

Museum boards and executives are to be stacked with Aboriginals to make Aboriginal staff and visitors “feel safe”. Don’t expect their permission for exhibits about missionary sisters running the Derby leprosarium, let alone inter-tribal massacres or how young males and females were initiated by the polygamous old men.

Aboriginal staff are to be “compensated accordingly” for their unique cultural knowledge. The roadmap requires that by 2030 at least one national or state museum will be run by an Aboriginal director (p17),[4] while Aboriginal visitors could be offered free admission.

The “truth-telling” will somehow incorporate pre-contact knowledges of “science, technology and ecological understanding.” The document says, “There is much that the world can learn from Aboriginal cultures and traditional knowledge in terms of finding solutions to our global problems. This includes food scarcity, climate change, and environmental management.” (p15).

Even regular science museums are told to add an Aboriginal flavour to their mix for students, and “welcomes to country” could feature “at all exhibitions and events“.

The Association just about runs out of arms for all its black armbands, and even trots out the “flora and fauna” canard:

Indigenous people have felt that representations of them in museums particularly have promoted them as primitive; or just ‘flora and fauna’(p15).

The Association says,

We acknowledge the continued devastating violence and cultural interruption of colonisation.We acknowledge and work to change the practices of museums and galleries which have and continue to contribute to personal and cultural interruption, trauma and loss.

We acknowledge the history and impact of these damaging practices, and that much damage will continue to be done until museums find genuine ways to work inclusively, and respectfully with Indigenous people.

Museums and galleries have the power to help shape our nation’s identity and help end the injustices of colonisation.

It annoys museum academics that so many small-town history museums house items about white pioneer farming, mining and domestic use, thereby ignoring or fudging the Aboriginal dispossession as “just too hot to handle”, in the words of Bruce Pascoe. Mainstream curators want the “bad history” emphasised, like “how replacing the bush and swamps greatly benefited some people at the ongoing expense of others.” 

I accept that history displays should be balanced, but it’s still a bit rough for highly-paid and well-resourced curator types to talk condescendingly to shoe-string country museums reliant on their elderly volunteers, donated items and cheap premises.

The Aboriginal curators already calling the shots in big museums make no secret of their goals. Try Nathan Sentance (he/him, archival decolonist). He’s been of Head of Collections (First Nations) at Sydney’s Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences for the past two years. Writing in 2018 on “What is Our Purpose?”, he condemned museums for ” working almost as propaganda distributors for the settler state.” Instead they should “learn past strategies and get inspiration to enact the structural change we need now.” Supposedly neutral inaction is supporting “current oppressive structures”:

Memory institutions have power they need to share with grassroots organisations working towards repairing the damage done by and preventing future harm caused by white supremacy, colonialism, patriarchy, heteronormativity, ableism, and capitalism.

In the US the Black Lives Matter riots of 2020 involved at least 18 deaths and $US2 billion in damage from fires and looting.[5] The Australian Museums and Galleries Association gave its blessing to BLM and the copycat Aboriginal Lives Matter for their goals “to recognise institutional racism and to seek fundamental change”.

It unanimously backed the doomed Uluru Manifesto in 2018, “urging all museums and galleries to engage their audiences to promote understanding of this most powerful Statement.” And last July its national council urged Australians to vote Yes on the referendum, but couldn’t quite demand that members flood their museums with Yes propaganda because some museums’ charters and funding forbid politicking. Instead, the national council urged members to tap the Yes Alliance Campaign for funding “to help facilitate events and activities in pursuit of a Yes vote.”

Museums are leading the green-Left’s march through taxpayer-funded institutions. Perhaps it’s because staff have been screening out conservatives for a couple of generations. To avoid triggering anyone who is right of centre, they should put  warning signs at entry: “All hope abandon, ye who enter here.”     

Tony Thomas’s new book from Connor Court is Anthem of the Unwoke – Yep! The other lot’s gone bonkers. $34.95 from Connor Court here


[1] Letters Patent: Provided Always that nothing in those our Letters Patent contained shall affect or be construed to affect the rights of any Aboriginal Natives of the said Province to the actual occupation or enjoyment in their own Persons or in the Persons of their Descendants of any Lands therein now actually occupied or enjoyed by such Natives.”

[2] Within minutes at the NMA site, you can find the NMA falsely claiming to schoolkids that the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament won a 2017 Nobel Prize. The Australian Museum’s courses for schoolkids are almost laughably green-left biased, using emotional appeals and omitting the conservative case on complex issues. A sampling of the NMA “Defining Moments Digital Classroom – Bring history to life with the NMA” includes a saintly treatment of footballer Adam Goodes and guff about the Canberra tent embassy, “with its flags fluttering proudly in the breeze”, as it agitates for “Aboriginal sovereignty over the continent and the right to self-determination.” On asylum seekers and boat people, the Museum blanks out the entire case against people smugglers and a thousand drownings in favour of multi-coloured balloons labelled “Welcome Refugees” and a successful claimant’s story:

I’m very happy because I have my liberty, but I feel that the detention adds to my problems now of fear. What I experienced there is very difficult to forget. Every day I think about my life in prison. Even this morning I thought about it and started crying…

[3] Emin’s installation, “My Bed” sold for £2,546,500 in 2014. My “Desk Detritus” is available for half that.

[4] ” The participation and representation of Indigenous Australians in this sector is crucial to securing reconciliation between first and settler Australians.” (p4)

[5] During Melbourne’s world-record duration lockdown, Black Lives Matter demonstrators in their thousands got waved through by Victoria Police. Demonstrators against the lockdown got VicPol’s rubber bullets.


22 thoughts on “Museums Make an Exhibition of Themselves

  • March says:

    Thanks Tony.
    You know it’s bad, but good grief, can’t get much worse!

    • bobmbell39 says:

      I find the films of aboriginal life in the Simpson desert in the early 1960s available on Kanopy very interesting. I doubt many of the progressives pushing this nonsense would like to live like that now.

  • NarelleG says:

    Australia as we knew it is gone.

    Thanks Tony Thomas – have you been to the Australian Musuem in Sydney( I call it Aboriginal Museum) ?

    Also the National Museum in Canberra – whose very design was to artfully represent the holocaust!!

    • James McKenzie says:

      Australian museum in the ACT has two references to Pascoe: a national disgrace as other countries will use as a credible reference.

      Worse, a video claims local Eden Aboriginals had a close affiliation with Orcas whereas white man whaling unseen before was the cause?

      • NarelleG says:

        Thank you James – I was gobsmacked at the ANM in Canberra 30 years ago – I could not step foot across it now.
        Even the building was designed to represent the holocaust ie genocide of aboriginals!!

  • brennan1950 says:

    My recent museum visits have brought me to the conclusion that modern displays are more about the message rather than displaying artefacts and explaining uses and history.

    The Canberra Museum I found to be a massive disappointment.


    True history can be interrogated and come up untarnished and uncensored by the agenda of interpreters.

  • Ian MacKenzie says:

    “so many small-town history museums house items about white pioneer farming, mining and domestic use, thereby ignoring or fudging the Aboriginal…”. Perhaps this has something to do with the trend in demanding the return of museum-housed artifacts from around the world all, it is claimed, stolen. You can’t have it both ways. If you demand artifacts back, you can’t complain that that Aboriginal culture is under-represented in institutions created to house artifacts.
    As for Pascoe’s nonsense, all the lies in the world won’t change the evidence. The journals of Mitchell and Sturt will remain the same forever. As the wheel of fortune turns, another generation will rediscover the truth eventually.

    • Paul W says:

      We might add that those small towns are largely dependent on farming and mining and consequently feel connected to the people who made it possible. They can also drive for 10 minutes and exit civilisation. They can see and the feel the difference very well.
      By contrast, the inner-city university-educated dimwits are taught not to feel such a connection and instead to feel guilty.

  • call it out says:

    This notion of “embedding indigenous culture” has also infected my local council, Mitcham, in SA.
    The question is “which indigenous culture?” So far, looks like an urban activist blak political culture., mixed in with a romantic noble savage/new age culture.

  • Peter OBrien says:

    ‘This includes food scarcity ..’.

    They could certainly tell us a thing or two about food scarcity – which we aren’t actually suffering from – because that was situation normal for them.

  • KemperWA says:

    Thank you Tony, you are braver than me.

    To Nathan Sentance, here is some of your own medicine…I don’t feel welcome or joyful being browbeaten in your museum with your six belligerent descriptors, nor do I have the strength to endure Terri Janke and Co’s and Karen Mundine’s programming. I’d rather fork over my compost in my garden. To be inclusive, you have just been exclusive.

    “There is much that the world can learn from Aboriginal cultures….in terms of finding solutions to our global problems. This includes food scarcity”.

    Yes Australian Museum and Galleries Association, you can learn. Learn from Zimbabwe, who violently seized farmland from highly productive and efficient Anglo-European broadacre farms and replaced with pre-colonial subsistence farming by incompetent native Zimbabweans. The result? Total collapse of its economy and exports, starvation from scarcity of wheat and maize, and 25% of it’s entire workforce sacked (millions of their dependents left homeless, schools destroyed etc).

    “We acknowledge the continued devastating violence and cultural interruption of colonisation”
    What utter rubbish! I cannot take this verbal horseshit (pardon me) from these psychologically maladjusted people. Give me strength!

    “…the power to help shape our nation’s identity”. No thank you, I am what I am. I don’t require shaping. These borderline sociopaths slander the character and lives of Australian people day after day after day.
    When they defame Australia, they are simply just hurting themselves as well.

  • Stephen Ireland says:

    Tony, may we pass the hat around to defray your costs for membership of the non-Australian Museums and Galleries Association.
    Has your entry been shortlisted for the next batch of MAGA awards?

  • en passant says:

    This ‘invaders’ of our country are massively (and deliberately) in debt to bring about our societal collapse. A conservative government lead by a real leader (pardon my fantasy) would save a $billion here and a $billion there by cancelling all funding to these treasonous 5th columnists in museums and the ABC. I pay my way, they should pay theirs by attracting paying visitors. And stop paying the separatists ‘whitefella’ money.

  • Archidendron lovelliae says:

    I too have experienced this fungal slime of woke history recreation as one walks through the doors of Australian Museums and parts of Art Galleries. It waters you through and through, leadens the steps, hardens the arteries and kills brain functioning via starving synapse connectivity’s. One exits cloned. It can take time to recover a la a China bat dose. You do not return for a second helping.

  • pmprociv says:

    I don’t recall Bruce Pascoe ever claiming that Aboriginal cultures had museums or written languages. That means we are witnessing a serious case of cultural cannibalism (“misappropriation” for more sensitive souls), with the Aboriginal Industry devouring a fundamental component of Western civilisation. Has the message of the Voice referendum not sunk in yet? We’re definitely not looking at a 50K-year, unchanged, “continuous” culture here!

  • subrosa says:

    As a young person, my question to Quadrant and Quadrant readers is: What are we going to do? The long march through the institutions is succeeding, in part, because there are no/few alternative options for young, ambitious, intelligent, creative minds. Or even old, ambitious, intelligent, creative minds for that matter. Virtually every major award, scholarship, grant and research opportunity in the humanities comes from the hard-left – with only a few notable exceptions. Quadrant offers magazine publication, sure, but little chance of a book going on to win a major award. Same/same with funding within the museum sector. It’s shallow but many are willing to “play the game” and accept wokeism just to get their own piece of the pie. Sometimes it’s as simple as paying rent and putting bread on the table. Same/same with landing great jobs. I’m sure there are non-woke employers out there, but how you connect with them is anybody’s guess. The usual sectors (church, education, even science) cannot be relied upon not to force cultural Marxism down your throat anymore. Could Quadrant hold a literary prize that out-moneys the left somehow? Could Quadrant find creative ways to reward regional museums for their balanced displays and champion them? Could Quadrant set up a real truth telling history scholarship? This might all sound impossible, but the fact is, the left have done it, while the centre/conservatives have put their energy elsewhere. Yes, many of these museums are full of woke “true believers” but they’re also full of curators who love their collections; they’re playing the game to keep the funding coming in to keep their storehouses from going to ruin. I absolutely agree with en passant that museums should pay their way by attracting paying visitors, but a shift in the market won’t occur until there are real alternatives in the culture wars. After all, most of the time people go to galleries, museums, bookstores, etc, because they’re pleasant activities. The average person doesn’t really know the background political story to the various prizes being handed out, they just see the “prize winning” stickers in the corners and get curious.

    • Lonsdale says:

      Yes, yes, yes

    • MungoMann says:

      As a young person, take it as your responsibility to assist in handing our culture intact and accurate across to the next generation. Create an “App” for each museum that museum users can use on their phone as they travel around the exhibition. The app has the historically correct, politically neutral information on each exhibit. This allows users to counter the ‘woke’ version the curator has posted on the wall of each exhibit. Do a good job, make a fortune, buy your own home, raise a family then retire on the coast somewhere – the Australian dream achievable to anyone in this great country with a bit of nous, hard work ethic, persistence and a pinch of luck.

  • Lawrie Ayres says:

    I’m a bit late to this party but I went to a museum this time last year where there was no recognition of Aboriginal culture. The Dinosaur museum near Winton escaped the contribution by elders past. I suppose even they can’t stretch their ownership back to Jurassic times.

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