This is the fifth 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. 

Chapter One: Ancient, Powerful and Active

The previous post presented the new gallery’s introductory corridor, which comprises an immersive experience of an ancient Queensland bunya forest. At end of the corridor, visitors turn into the first of four gallery ‘chapters’, titled ‘Ancient, Powerful and Active’ (see above render, courtesy Local Projects). Here visitors encounter artistic representations of the majestic drama of the Wandjina and other creation figures of the tropical north. The mighty monsoonal forces of tropical Australia are referenced in cloud formations that envelope the visitor.

Opposite the powerful artworks of the tropical north is a spectacular array of Broken Hill mineral specimens and a series of large geological specimens including the 2.2 ton sample of Queensland coal (visible also from the entry corridor and shown in Update #4). Each of the large specimens – coal, limestone, banded iron, stromatolite – are products of biological processes spanning millions of years. Alongside the mineral specimens mined at Broken Hill, the specimens reveal how all life (including human) is bound to evolutionary, climatic and geological transformations, establishing deep time as foundational to the gallery’s storytelling. 

Central to the chapter is a dramatic theatre experience that features and interprets powerful forces that shaped and continue to shape the Australian continent and its patterns of life. Throughout the chapter, stories and objects reveal that the continent holds forces that may sometimes overwhelm us, that we are part of a much larger and ultimately more powerful whole. The chapter closes with an exploration of human engagement with saltwater crocodiles, cyclones and fire. Stories reveal how people have learned to survive and flourish alongside the great forces of Australia.

The next post will present the second gallery chapter, ‘Rhythms, Flows and Connections’.

If you’d like further information about the National Museum of Australia’s new environmental history gallery, email curator George Main, [email protected]. See also: