By ALLISON HORE
After months of extensive renovations the Australian Museum in Sydney will reopen to the public next month.
The 15-month building transformation cost $57.5m and is the most extensive renovation to the historic natural history museum in decades. The renovation saw 3,000 square meters of back of house areas transformed into new public space.
To celebrate the museums’ reopening, the NSW Government has announced general admission to the museum will be free. NSW Minister for the Arts, Don Harwin, said the NSW Government was “honoured” to support the museum’s redevelopment making admission free for the general public was “the icing on the cake”.
“The Australian Museum is now a truly civic space for Sydney, one which we all will be able to visit often and be incredibly proud of as it reinforces NSW’s reputation as a world centre for cultural experiences and creative industries, as well as for science and innovation,” he said.
Australian Museum’s Director and CEO, Kim McKay, said she hopes now entry to the museum is free it will become a popular meeting place and after-hours event space for the city.
“Like a public square, we will be able to host music and performances as well as provide a place to relax and contemplate, discuss and debate, enjoy a coffee and experience an exhibition,” she said.
One notable change is the expansion of the touring exhibition hall from 850sqm to 1500sqm. This change means the museum can now host major international touring exhibits. Although entrance to the museum will be free, guests will still have to purchase tickets for major international exhibits like the upcoming Tyrannosaurs exhibit which will open alongside the museum. The exhibit will feature natural specimens including skeletons, skulls, fossil eggs and dung as well as interactive animated AI displays.
Repatriation of indigenous artefacts
Notably absent from the museum’s reopening will be a set of sacred indigenous tree carvings which will be returned to their traditional owners in central NSW. After tireless campaigning from local council and indigenous groups 23 carvings, along with other artefacts, will be taken from storage in the Australian Museum back to Wiradjuri country in Dubbo.
The first carving was taken to the museum in 1891. But, the carvings have not been on display in the museum since the 1980s when the museum made the decision to “remove all culturally sensitive material from public display” Australian Museum repatriation officer Phil Gordon told the ABC.
“From that time, agreement from traditional owners has always been sought before any culturally sensitive material is put on display in the museum,” he said.
The repatriation of the sacred objects will provide future generations of Wiradjuri children a connection to land and their country. Once the artefacts arrive back, they will be taken to a purpose-built facility within a proposed Wiradjuri Tourism Centre which is set to be completed in 2022.
Renovations at Australia’s first museum, which first opened in 1827, are set to continue over the next 12 months. Two new galleries will be opened and existing galleries are set to be upgraded.