National museums of Australia

Peter Aronsson

Where is it? Laurajane Smith and Kylie Message, Australia National University, are the best guides you could imagine for an understanding of the dynamics of the Australian National Museum since it opened in 2001. They make me understand how central and adjustable the exhibitions are to changes in contemporary politics. The short history of the museum shows shadows of the History Wars of Australia. Exhibitions moves from focusing people and stories to objects, territory and chronology. Colonialism becomes hidden in general migration.
It is Remembrance Day 11 November, and at 11 trumpets sounds and a silent minute is held for the sacrifice of war. The war memorial placed in line with both the old and the new parliament create an axis of memory and politics like the Mall in Washington, flanked by National Gallery, National Library, the High Court. At the War memorial the names of the fallen soldiers are honored and the statement that Australia was borne on the shores of Gallipoli is transferred to new generations. A new heritage is constituted by the Old parliament that turned into a museum of democracy and the site of the Aboriginal protest tent camp from the 1970’s that now is protected as a heritage site. Altogether this forms a functional national museum that goes beyond the ANM, contextualize it, and highlights its political location.
However you need a car to experience this in its totality, and perhaps a few more hours than I had to fully appreciate its complexity. It is a heritage alive – and today Barack Obama will pay his respect at the War Memorial and make his contribution to the history wars where pride over white achievements balance with regrets for atrocities against the Aboriginal inhabitants of the continent.

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