Blog

Over my shoulder

By: Frank Howarth, Category: Museullaneous, Date: 24 Mar 2014

Outgoing Director Frank Howarth takes a look back at his time leading Australia’s first museum.

Frank Howarth, Australian Museum's Director welcomes Papua New Guinea delegation

Carl Bento © Australian Museum

The last ten years have had many highlights, large and small. At the monumental end is the construction of the Collections and Research Building, opened in 2008, with much credit to former Trust President Brian Sherman and former Arts Minister Bob Debus for securing and retaining the funds to make the building happen.

And while we are on research facilities, the 30th Anniversary Development of the Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station has resulted in one of the world’s foremost tropical marine research facilities. Special credit here must go to Ken Coles and Charlie Shuetrim of the Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation for raising the funds for this expansion and for their continuing support.

Establishing both the Australian Museum Research Institute and Australian Centre for Wildlife Genomics last year will further focus Museum research and boost our research profile. The increasing application of genomics to the biological work of the Museum has greatly increased our ability to understand Australia’s biodiversity.

Foundation

Other personal highlights result from the generosity of donors to the Australian Museum Foundation, enabling many of the Museum’s recent acquisitions such as the Menagerie contemporary Indigenous art collection, the wonderful Dauma and Garom ‘ghost net’ sculptures and the Timor-Leste expeditions, among many others.

A particular highlight for me continues to be the Pacific Youth Cultural Reconnection Program (also supported by the Foundation, with community and government partners), where we have used the Pacific cultural collections to help at-risk youth from Pacific communities build identity and pride and avoid the cycle of crime. The use of the Museum’s cultural collections by creator communities is extremely important and marks a move away from previous, more academic research uses of the collections towards a greater dialogue with diverse communities.

Engagement

There have been many wonderful exhibitions during my time here. Close to home, we’ve had the Scott Sisters exhibition drawn from the Museum’s Archives – still touring regional New South Wales and now available as an app. At the other end of the spectrum was last year’s magnificent Alexander the Great exhibition from the State Hermitage of St Petersburg, which set a new benchmark for the Museum in major exhibitions.

But overall it’s the people who make up the Australian Museum family that I am most proud to have worked with, be they staff, volunteers, Members or supporters. I am happy to be leaving the Museum in their capable hands and in those of our new Director, Kim McKay, whom I like and admire very much. Please give Kim the same wonderful level of support that you have given me.

Frank Howarth PSM
Director of the Australian Museum
First published in Explore 36(1) p1, 2014