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Canberra’s vision splendid: The NMA

by Diana Streak

For International Museum Day, Diana Streak gives us an insider’s view of the National Museum of Australia.


“Oh wow. What is that building?” I exclaimed during my first visit to Canberra in 2004 with my now husband who was working hard to seduce me into the charms of his hometown.

Before me lay the striking outline of the National Museum of Australia with its distinctive shapes, colours and textures that redefined the staid cultural landscape of the capital, when it was completed in 2001.

Thirteen years later, I am working inside this remarkable building, which stands proudly on a peninsula of Lake Burley Griffin, and each day as I glimpse it through the trees driving to the “office”  I wonder at the imagination and resilience of the people who built it and those whose stories are told inside its  walls.

From the sweeping curve of the giant 30-metre high tangerine loop, to the humour and complexity of the Garden of Australian Dreams, the museum building is a statement in itself. Taking a sunset cruise on Lake Burley Griffin, one sees the Museum in a different light and perspective.


A night view of the National Museum.

A night view of the museum from Lake Burley Griffin.


The Museum’s charter is to explore the land, nation and people of Australia, to focus on Indigenous histories and cultures, European settlement and our interaction with the environment.

But there is so much more. From the curious tale of Chris the Sheep, the forlorn wether found wandering near Canberra nearly immobile because he was carrying a 41 kilogram fleece, (a world record!) to Phar Lap,  the racehorse legend who has his own collection, including his 6.5 kilogram heart, 1.5 times the weight of a normal thoroughbred. Chris’ massive fleece and Phar Lap’s heart are both popular with visitors but it’s not just objects that fascinate.

Each time I pass through the cathedral-like Main Hall and hear the excited babble of schoolchildren being shepherded through on their mandatory “Visit to the Capital”, I think how lucky are they to have access to the stories of their ancestors and as they step out of the Kspace, smile at the faces of wonder after building their own robot and becoming time travellers. TWW

Diana Streak is a Media Liaison Coordinator at the National Museum of Australia.
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Photos: Top; George Serras, National Museum of Australia. Above; Eva Schroeder.

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