This is the second in a series of posts by National Museum of Australia curator George Main that provides updates on the development of a new gallery of Australian environmental history.


The majestic, characterful and culturally significant bunya trees, of the relict Gondwanan forests of south-east Queensland, will feature in the National Museum of Australia’s new gallery of environmental history. Due to open in 2021, the gallery will begin with an immersive, enchanting experience of a bunya forest. Mirrored walls will multiply and entwine the forms of visitors and trees, and ambient audio will carry the voice of country into the space. Through bringing the expressive, sculptural forms of bunya trees into the gallery, our intent is to honour these immense organisms and the webs of ecological, cultural and temporal connections they sustain.

Ancestors of bunya trees (araucaria bidwillii) dominated the conifer forests of the supercontinent Gondwana. As the Australian continent broke away, drifted north and became more arid, conifers gave way to grasses and eucalypts. Bunya trees are of great cultural significance to Indigenous people of Queensland and New South Wales, who continue long established practices of harvesting the extraordinarily large cones of bunya trees, to feast on their nutritious and delicious seeds. In 2017, members of the gallery development team had the privilege of being introduced to bunya trees and their vibrant ecological community by Aunty Beverly Hand, bunya custodian and Kabi Kabi elder. See here for an account of the visit.

Deep time infuses the interpretive approach of the new gallery. To engage visitors with the concept of the Anthropocene, human stories are folded into geological time. In his book Underland, Robert Macfarlane articulates the capacity of a deep time perspective to foster useful thinking and action in the Anthropocene: We should deploy ‘deep time as a radical perspective’, he argues,

provoking us to action not apathy. For to think in deep time can be a means not of escaping our troubled present, but rather of re-imagining it; countermanding its quick greeds and furies with older, slower stories of making and unmaking. At its best, a deep time awareness might help us see ourselves as part of a web of gift, inheritance and legacy stretching over millions of years past and millions to come, bringing us to consider what we are leaving behind for the epochs and beings that will follow us.

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.