This is the fourth in a series of posts by National Museum of Australia curator George Main that provides updates on the development of the Museum’s new gallery of Australian environmental history that will open in the middle of 2021.  

The new environmental history gallery begins with an immersive experience that artfully suggests the character and feel of a southeast Queensland bunya forest (see the above render by Local Projects of the introductory corridor). To produce this experience, the Museum is working closely with members of the Kabi Kabi community, and an artisan and acoustic ecologist with close ties to bunya country. Bunya trees (Araucaria bidwillii) have a deep evolutionary history that extends far back to Gondwanan times. The species is of great cultural significance to numerous Indigenous groups. In the forest experience, reflective walls visually multiply the towering tree forms and enfold visitors within an ‘infinite’ terrain. Lighting casts canopy shadows from above.

Image by Local Projects

Window annotations indicate where bunya trees stand in nearby parks and gardens visible outside the Museum, where settler Australians have planted numerous specimens of this enchanting, characterful tree. On display are jewel like, opalised araucaria cones from Lightning Ridge in northern New South Wales, and a spectacular array of fossilised Gondwanan vegetation, evoking the deep evolutionary and geological past to which the bunya is bound. A string bag produced by master Quandamooka weaver Sonja Carmichael holds an abundance of the large and nutritious bunya seeds. Images, film and text convey the strong and abiding connections of Indigenous people to bunya trees, and the powerful capacity of the species to draw humans into relationship.

A key aim of the introductory corridor experience is to evoke a sense of human embeddedness within the majestic flow of deep time. At the end of the corridor, a 2.2 ton sample of Queensland coal, mined near the Bunya Mountains, contains the fossilised remnants of bunya ancestors. 200 million years of evolutionary history connects the nearby towering trees to the massive coal sample. Together, the content of the introductory corridor folds people back into the deep evolutionary and geological past, and forward into near and deep futures of profound and turbulent biophysical change.

If you would like further information about the National Museum of Australia’s new environmental history gallery, email curator George Main, [email protected]. See also NEW GALLERY OF AUSTRALIAN ENVIRONMENTAL HISTORY AT THE NMA, BUNYA TO FEATURE IN NEW ENVIRONMENTAL HISTORY GALLERY and ANTARCTIC ICE AND OTHER ‘SENTINELS’ OF THE ANTHROPOCENE.