National Museum of Australia controversy

National Museum of Australia controversy


In 2001, writing in Quadrant, historian Keith Windshuttle argued that the then-new National Museum of Australia (NMA) was marred by “political correctness” and did not present a balanced view of the nation’s history.[103] In 2003 the Howard Government commissioned a review of the NMA. A potentially controversial issue was in assessing how well the NMA met the criterion that displays should: “Cover darker historical episodes, and with a gravity that opens the possibility of collective self-accounting. The role here is in helping the nation to examine fully its own past, and the dynamic of its history—with truthfulness, sobriety and balance. This extends into covering present-day controversial issues.”[104] While the report concluded that there was no systemic bias, it recommended that there be more recognition in the exhibits of European achievements.[105]

The report drew the ire of some historians in Australia, who claimed that it was a deliberate attempt on the part of the Government to politicise the museum and move it more towards a position which Geoffrey Blainey called the ‘three cheers’ view of Australian history, rather than the ‘black armband’ view.[106] In 2006 columnist Miranda Devine described some of the Braille messages encoded on the external structure of the NMA, including “sorry” and “forgive us our genocide” and how they had been covered over by aluminium discs in 2001, and stated that under the new Director “what he calls the ‘black T-shirt’ view of Australian culture” is being replaced by “systematically reworking the collections, with attention to ‘scrupulous historical accuracy'”.[107]

An example of the current approach at the NMA is the Bells Falls Gorge Interactive display, which presents Windshuttles’s view of an alleged massacre alongside other views and contemporary documents and displays of weapons relating to colonial conflict around Bathurst in 1824 and invites visitors to make up their own minds.[108]


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