Friday, December 12, 2003

National Museum of Australia – bring on the dinosaur bones

This rant by David Barnett (whose claims to fame include being a biographer of PM John Howard) is the funniest thing I’ve read all week. Similar, but this time not inadvertent, is the joke that the Fairfax broadsheets are having at Barnett’s expense.

Hardy ha ha. Someone has ignored a staple Sir Humphrey-ism – never order a review, even if you already know its outcome, if you don’t know what you are actually going to DO with it all – and so the NMA now finds itself backed into a white picket fence corner.

Earlier this year, anyone could have told the stacked-to-the hilt Review team that they were headed for trouble, with an early report of their findings headlined:

Museum 'populist and ideological'*


That’s the trouble with witch-hunts, of course – they cram exhibits side-by-side, without rational consideration. The resultant jumble cannot even claim to be a contextualising of any sort; like a pile of books that is not ever a “library”, a collection which is ideologically-scarified is a collection surely only assembled for the act of burning or burying it.

Or, to put it more simply – here’s the NMA’s official brief from the time of its construction; what the Review, and subsequent governmental actions, seek to do is to now rewrite it. If this means trashing the institution from the ground up, then apparently so be it.

It will be interesting to see, therefore, what concrete changes result from the NMA’s putative de-ideologising. Yesterday’s appointment of only an acting head, one year after Dawn Casey was given notice, suggests that the new broom will be wielded by a faceless, unaccountable committee for the time being.

As for David Barnett’s own suggested way forth, it is clear the poor man – so prepossessed with micro-denigration of the museum building and its courtyard – doesn’t even comprehend that the main, absolute limitation is material, not ideological. The NMA’s collection only started in 1980, and here are its self-proclaimed highlights:

The National Museum of Australia's collection includes the largest collection of bark paintings in the world, rare convict clothing including a jacket from a hard labour camp, Phar Lap's heart, sporting items such as Victor Trumper's bat and items documenting journeys to Australia over the last two centuries. (same URL)

Other than Indigenous material, then its highlights are some smelly jockstraps and a piece of equine offal. If David Barnett wants to turns such nuggets into something other than “a collection . . . of trivia” he is my most welcome guest.

Perhaps the museum’s new guard will somehow find the money for a set of dinosaur bones or two (Barnett cites palaeontology as one of five academic areas the NMA should start to concentrate on).

Alternatively, with so few Stuffed Things in its current collection, the museum could, with a rash of new orders, make taxidermy into the nation’s number one growth profession. Stuffed ex-PM’s would make a very good start on this front, I suggest (no “anti-heroes" here, David!) – as preferably completed by the addition of the said piece of equine offal where his heart would have been (if he had one), and the posing figure proudly dressed in a jockstrap worn long ago by a famous cricketer.

* Georgina Safe “Museum 'populist and ideological'”
The Australian July 11, 2003 (no URL)

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?