Representations of Non-Indigenous History and Identity in the National Museum of Australia and Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.
James M. Gore
Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Research Fellow, History Department, Rhodes University
This paper reflects on the opening exhibitions of non-indigenous history in the National Museum of Australia (NMA) and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Te Papa). These two museums opened recently, in 2001 and 1998, both in response to a changing historiographical and museological climate, and to the increasingly important role and position of national museums around the world. This paper examines the motives behind their displays and considers how they attempt to represent a national identity for non-indigenous Australians and New Zealanders.
Australia and New Zealand have much in common. The post-colonial era has created an environment within which people actively seek to examine the legacies of European imperialism in order to gain an understanding of their place within the burgeoning global world. This has created specific issues of identity for the non-indigenous populations of settler societies such as Australia and New Zealand with their chequered histories, especially those concerning the domination of indigenous peoples. In particular, new interpretations of history have emerged during the last few decades, challenging traditional bases of nationalism, which has led these societies to actively seek to understand and reconcile themselves with the past, in order to define an increasingly problematic and complex national identity. Broadly, issues of identity, especially in relation to history, have gained a particularly prominent role in the political and cultural arenas of Australia and New Zealand. The development of the two national museums is a product of this.
Since opening both the NMA and Te Papa have aroused a great deal of commentary, highlighted by the appointment of a government commissioned review of Te Papa in 2000, while a similar review of the NMA is forthcoming this year. Often this commentary has concerned their presentation of indigenous history and culture, illustrated by a recent paper by Lorenzo Veracini and Adrian Muckle published in the Electronic Journal of Australian and New Zealand History, and this is indicative of the central role indigenous peoples are now seen to play both in museums and the nation.1 However, when criticism has been directed at the museums it has often been towards their interpretations of non-indigenous history. In part, this perhaps reflects the emphasis by both museums on the presentation of Maori and Aboriginal culture, and even reluctance by some non-indigenous commentators to reflect on sensitive indigenous issues. Most importantly, however, it illustrates the highly problematic and contentious nature of non-indigenous Australian and New Zealand national identity at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
Some of this debate concerns the representation of specific histories. Pru Goward, for example, who was appointed as Australia’s new Sex Discrimination Commissioner in 2001, has raised questions over the representation of the role and contribution of women in the NMA. Pointing to the representation of women in domestic settings, such as in a 1950s kitchen display, and the Lindy-Azaria Chamberlain incident as just a ‘quirky’ episode in history, Goward has accused the museum’s curators of not considering that women have made a contribution to Australian society.2 However, much of the criticism has concerned a perceived imbalance between the representation of non-indigenous and indigenous culture. This includes accusations that both the NMA and Te Papa marginalise and trivialise the contribution of the non-indigenous population – especially significant as it points directly to how the museums are attempting to explore notions of non-indigenous national identity, and how successful they are perceived to be.
This paper does not propose to examine in detail the merits or shortcomings of these debates. Rather it analyses and compares the concepts and outcomes behind the opening non-indigenous history displays, and suggests ways they might contribute to an understanding of Australian and New Zealand national identity.3 It highlights the growing recognition within these museums that they should not attempt to present a single interpretation of what it is to be an ‘Australian’ and ‘New Zealander’, but instead should suggest and question possible interpretations. However, it also shows that adapting this recognition into the actual exhibitions is not straightforward, and that both national museums continue at times, however inadvertently, to prescribe their own definitive interpretations of the nation’s identity.
Through different approaches and strategies, the opening galleries of each museum were quite distinct. However, it is important to be aware, as Veracini and Muckle have rightly acknowledged, that they both responded to similar imperatives – ‘such as the need to showcase national or territorial identities or to participate in the reconciliation process’.4 Consequently, many of the exhibits were based on similar aims and concepts. For example, both museums try to explore non-indigenous national identity through the ideas that identity is based on a relationship with the land, that the two nations are immigrant societies, and that national identity is constructed. This illustrates the similarity in Australia and New Zealand of current notions of national identity, their comparable histories since European settlement, and the way museums now try to interpret these national histories.
The underlying concept to both the NMA and Te Papa was the inter-relation of the environment, indigenous and non-indigenous history, and this was to permeate throughout the galleries. This recognised that post-colonial non-indigenous identity is inextricably tied to the indigenous populations. Significantly however, the end results of both museums did not emulate the degree of integration that the intellectual frameworks were trying to convey. There is clearly a spatial distinction, for instance, between the non-indigenous and indigenous galleries. This is most noticeable in the NMA, where the gallery First Australians exists on its own almost entirely separate territory. In Te Papa too, there is a clear division between the Maori and Pakeha galleries. Level Four is clearly in two halves with the central point being Signs of the Nation, the exhibition looking at the Treaty of Waitangi. This reflects the bicultural nature of both the nation and museum, but also precludes the possibilities for generating understanding of the common themes and links between the diverse histories and cultures. This integration of indigenous and non-indigenous history is also limited in the actual exhibitions. For example, there is minimal non-indigenous representation in the indigenous galleries. This is especially apparent in Te Papa. In the NMA too, however, although the First Australians gallery does go some way to exploring the experiences of early settlers and missionaries who had close relations with Aboriginal people, the stories involving non-indigenous people, such as conflicts and massacres, are often told only from the indigenous perspective. As will be evident in the subsequent discussion, reference is also made to the role of indigenous people in the non-indigenous displays in both museums. Yet, this often seems to be a token effort to acknowledge the Aboriginal and Maori presence without really attempting to explore the connections between the different cultures. Only by exploring these histories together, and their influences on each other, can post-colonial identity really begin to be explained.
‘Tangled Destinies’ in the NMA
One exception to this is perhaps the gallery Tangled Destinies: Land and People in Australia in the NMA.5 An exhibition that is one of the first of its kind in the world, it is also a type that was considered in the early planning stages of Te Papa, but never eventuated. A natural history gallery would not normally find a place in this discussion, but Tangled Destinies is not a natural history gallery in the traditional sense. Rather, it examines environmental history. Mike Smith, the curator chiefly responsible for Tangled Destinies, has described environmental history as being distinguished from natural history ‘by an explicitly historical perspective which contrasts with the focus on ecology, systematics, or physical processes more usually adopted by natural history museums’.6 This type of integrative interpretative approach can be seen as indicative of new museological theory, by focusing on the inter-relation rather than compartmentalisation of different disciplines. It is essentially the primary theme of ‘people’s interaction with the environment’ that was part of the structure of the National Museum when it was proposed as long ago as 1975,7 but developed to be approached by interpreting the natural history of the continent through the ways that knowledge of its human settlement has deepened and extended:
It also includes interpreting the frames of reference through which people have perceived the Australian environment, how they have used and misused the productive capacities of the land, and how the Australian environment has shaped human settlement and society.8
The philosophical basis of Tangled Destinies is the three levels of analysis recognised by environmental historian Donald Worster: the history of the natural environment, the reciprocal interactions of people, the land and biota, and the values, laws, myths and ideas that shape these interactions.9 Put simply, the gallery is about the interactions between land and people in Australia, and it is possibly the best example of the museum’s brief to integrate the different disciplines.
Essentially to reflect an Australian identity based upon a relationship with the land, the gallery has a central narrative of ‘response, adjustment and attachment’,10 which is explored through ten modules grouped under three different sections: Encountering Australia, Living with the Land, and Understanding Australia. Encountering Australia, for example, looks at the response of Europeans to the flora and fauna of Australia during the first hundred years of their settlement. Part of this includes potentially controversial issues such as extinction and biological invasion. One module, ‘Endling’, examines the historical wave of extinction of native species that marked the European settlement of Australia, such as the Tasmanian Tiger. ‘Biological Invasion’ then focuses on the many different species the settlers introduced to the countryside in order to make themselves feel more at home, some which died out while others, such as the rabbit, proliferated to change the nature of the land causing difficulties and opportunities for both European and Aboriginal people.
Each section represents both indigenous and settler interaction with the environment. The section Understanding Australia, for instance, concentrates on how changing knowledge, especially during the twentieth century, has shaped Australians’ relationship with land. ‘Deep Time’ explores the acknowledgement that Australia’s extraordinarily long history of human settlement means that Aboriginal people have had to live through major changes in the global climate and regional environments, and so transformations to the continent were part of a cultural as well as natural story.11 Tangled Destinies, therefore, explores national identity by taking a cross-disciplinary approach to explore both what is distinctive about the Australian environment and experience, and the changing relations between people and the land.12
Significantly, a similar gallery had earlier been planned as a major feature in Te Papa, initially to be called Human Impacts and later People and the Land. In a paper presented in 1999 at the ‘National Museums: Negotiating Histories’ conference in Canberra, Geoff Hicks, who was Conceptual Leader of the Natural Environment at Te Papa, explained that in terms of exhibition presentation, it was anticipated that ‘contestation about past “wrongs” could be placed alongside current “rights” deriving from a human sense of place, and openly debated’.13 In this sense, it would explore aspects such as the introduction of new species and the extinction of indigenous species in much the same way as Tangled Destinies.
The general view, however, was that the exhibition would not be celebratory enough for Te Papa, which in every way was attempting to be an entertaining experience, and would concentrate too much on how badly New Zealanders had treated the land leading, in Hicks’ opinion, ‘to an institutional timidity that ultimately saw the People and the Land exhibition stall’.14 As will later be discussed, the celebratory nature of Te Papa leads to a number of questions over the museum’s effectiveness in addressing national identity. The fact that this particular exhibition did not develop, for instance, can be perceived as limiting the success of Te Papa in its mission to explore national identity through the ‘heritage of its cultures and knowledge of the natural environment’.15 The story of people’s interaction with the land is fundamental to the development and understanding of the nation. The existence of such a theme in the NMA just a few years later, indicates a growing awareness within museums of the need to explore and confront all aspects of the past, even if they are spheres of contestation.
The curators of Tangled Destinies also encountered tensions with how to fit environmental history into what was primarily a social history museum, one whose role it was to celebrate the nation. Indeed the gallery that eventually developed was the third put forward as the ‘environment’ theme of the museum, the first two being more specialised and concentrating more on a traditional interpretation of natural history. During the production process, there were also similar concerns raised by the National Museum Council to those in Te Papa, regarding the inclusion of a gallery that could be perceived as concentrating too much on ‘black-armband history’, and other problems arose such as with loan arrangements.16 The final existence of Tangled Destinies, however, marks a success for the museum in its claim to confront multiple aspects of the past. Certainly, no other museum supplies such a holistic perspective on the history of the environment, the impact of people, and the influence of the environment on Australian society. By bringing together environmental perspectives, social history and indigenous knowledge, and by its placement as the first major exhibition visitors encounter, Tangled Destinies provides a solid introductory framework for visitors to the NMA to think about Australia’s history and the three themes of land, nation and people.
Non-Indigenous History in the NMA
Adjacent to Tangled Destinies is Eternity: Stories from the Emotional Heart of Australia, one of three main galleries dealing specifically with non-indigenous Australian history in the NMA. The others are Horizons: The Peopling of Australia since 1788 and Nation: Symbols of Australia. Eternity is the smallest but also one of the most discussed galleries in the NMA, largely due to its unique exhibition approach.17 Named in remembrance of Arthur Stace, who wrote ‘Eternity’ for thirty years on walls and footpaths around Sydney, the exhibition seeks to explore Australian human history and identity through a range of emotions, placing individuals and their experiences at the centre of the interpretation of Australian history. In terms of national identity, the idea is that through a range of personal stories spanning Australia’s history, the visitor will be able to relate to these emotions and have their own emotional experience allowing them to form a connection to what it means to be Australian.
Fifty stories are grouped under ten themes that are emotions and experiences encountered by everyone in real life: Mystery, Separation, Hope, Joy, Loneliness, Thrill, Devotion, Fear, Chance, and Passion. Each theme is displayed under a singular evocative colour, and within each are five stories headlined by a large face banner and one individual object. Under ‘Mystery’, for example, the story of Azaria Chamberlain is recounted along with the display of her black dress.18 Each of the emotions is supposed to arouse in the visitor nostalgia, and their own experiences of that particular theme. ‘Hope’, for instance, aims to represent the ideas, hopes and dreams that all Australians have had at some point in time, whether it may be as a migrant landing in a new land or the hope of achievement. The theme includes, therefore, the stories of Arthur Phillip, the first Governor of New South Wales, and Olympian Betty Cuthbert. Similarly, ‘Devotion’ seeks to represent the common devotion that many Australians have to different causes, whether those causes might be related to religion, politics, or even a commitment to sport. As a result, the stories represented include that of Mary Mackillop’s devotion to her faith, and Faith Bandler’s commitment to the fight for Aboriginal rights in the 1960s.
Altogether the stories are supposed to represent an emotional history of Australia over a broad matrix of time, ethnicity, class, and gender: ‘They emphasise the importance of individuals, the complexity of Australian life, and the diversity of its people’.19 A 1999 planning document explained the basis behind this ‘emotional overview’ of Australia:
Together the ten emotive themes constitute a complete story of Australian life that looks both backwards and forwards. They present our common national mysteries and tragedies, our passions for each other and our possessions, and our national and shared obsessions. They portray the essence of the Australian character in the ‘lucky country’, they celebrate our joy and achievements, our hopes and fears and our passionate devotion to a range of causes that have shaped Australian society and values.20
Within each individual emotion there are also touch-screen units, whereby people can explore each story in more depth, and at the end of the exhibition two video booths where visitors can record their own experiences, highlighting the Museum’s mission to be as much about the present and future as the past, and making sure that the audience become participants rather than passive consumers.21 The aim is to limit the presence of a curatorial voice in Eternity, beyond the selection of the personal stories at any rate. The stories are told in the first person, the majority using primary source material and when this is not possible, for instance when the subject is no longer living, secondary source material has been used to tell the story rather than text panels written by curators.22 There is also even gender representation, different ethnic communities are represented, and both ordinary and prominent Australians are depicted, and by putting them together in emotional themes it attempts to make sure that they are not aligned in specific historical groups such as ‘migrants’ or ‘icons’.
There are a number of possible problems with Eternity, not least the criticism that can be applied to the small space of what has become a busy gallery. The use of the name ‘Eternity’ in the national museum, to describe a gallery that is supposed to be exploring the nation’s identity, is also problematic. The word ‘Eternity’ has itself increasingly become a clichéd image of the nation in Australia in recent years, illustrated by its widespread use at the Millennium celebrations in Sydney and at the 2000 Olympics. On another level, it is also hard to ascertain the actual emotional connection visitors have with the displays, or even whether the stories succeed in expanding the horizons of Australian history for the visitor. The complete reliance on triggering some kind of emotional response from the visitor is a difficult one. Without further interpretation some stories, such as that of children entertainer’s The Wiggles under the theme of ‘Joy’, could easily just be seen as amusing curiosities. The cramped nature of the gallery might also restrict the possibilities of personally interacting with any one story or theme, though Eternity was initially planned to be double the size, both in the number of stories and in exhibition space. It was designed to be one of two thematic exhibitions, the other being Horizons, that threaded around the other galleries complementing and providing a non-narrative, non-chronological overview of the places and events represented in the exhibitions nearby it.23 Eternity was eventually limited due to practical problems with both space and budget,24 and it can now be seen as isolated from the other galleries, hindering the effectiveness of its interpretation and the possibilities for interaction with other exhibitions, histories and ideas.
While Eternity explores Australian identity through a shared sense of emotion, Horizons: The Peopling of Australia since 1788 focuses on national identity specifically in terms of Australia as a place of destination, in other words as a settler society. Horizons went through various changes during the museum’s planning process.25 Initially it was intended to be a far broader exhibition than it now is, focusing on Australia’s place in global networks of empire, trade and population movement. Titled Journeys, the exhibition was to provide a global perspective on Australian history and society through a theme-based exploration of Australia’s colonisation and national expansion, ‘with an emphasis on the growth and nature of the population, the connections between population policy, economic development and culture, and the relationship of Australia to the world outside its borders’.26
Horizons was originally designed to provide a conceptual spine for the other permanent exhibitions, and in particular to complement Eternity – putting those stories of individuals into a larger context, to create deeper meaning.27 As it eventuated, however, due to problems with space and money, Horizons now exists alone in the museum on a third floor mezzanine, and like Eternity can be seen as isolated from the other galleries. It now also focuses more specifically on topics of migration, rather than the broader themes of population trends and Australia’s place in the world, though of course such themes are inherent in one way or another throughout any discussion of migration. As the title suggests, Horizons: The Peopling of Australia since 1788 examines the history of migration in Australia and the role it has played in the development of the country:
The exhibition encompasses the variety of Australian experience from indigenous people and convicts, to migrants from around the world. It celebrates the richness of our backgrounds and shows how this heritage has influenced our sense of ourselves and our relationship with the rest of the world. … The story of the peopling of Australia is one of the great human dramas, and the exhibition attempts to show the range of human experiences and emotions that are part of this drama.28
Horizons is based around four main themes: Possession, Visions and Opportunity, Home, and Defining Ourselves. Implicit throughout the exhibition is that Australians can now be identified as part of a multi-cultured, multi-voiced, and vibrant society, illustrated in part by the representation of different ethnic groups throughout the gallery. Each theme also attempts to illustrate the debate and changing nature of Australian national identity. ‘Possession’, for example, focuses on aspects such as the history of convicts in Australia, examining the changing perception of convicts in the national memory.
Topics that are addressed in ‘Possession’ include both the appropriation of indigenous culture by early European settlers and the appropriation and adaptation of introduced culture by Aborigines, highlighted by the relationship between Bennelong and Governor Arthur Phillip, while the changing perception of indigenous people is illustrated through European art during the nineteenth century, as it moved from romantic images of natives to caricatures of the indigenous people as weak or treacherous fringe-dwellers. ‘Visions and Opportunity’ then explores the continuing settlement of Australia, by focusing on schemes to increase migration to Australia and the motivations surrounding those who chose to settle, while ‘Home’ addresses the shifting concept of home in a migrant society, from early settlers who still considered Great Britain as their ‘home’ and ‘nation’, to contemporary immigrants and their own feelings of alienation or belonging to a new land. Finally, ‘Defining Ourselves’ begins to ask broader questions about population, community relations and identity in Australia, by illustrating that the development of migration in Australia intersects with long-standing concerns over the nature of the population, community cohesion and questions of security, loyalty and identity. For example, by focusing on the White Australia Policy, it shows how the government was selective in its desire to strengthen the ‘Britishness’ and purity of the population. Another module, then explores how Australia became a sanctuary for refugees during the twentieth century and the tensions that this at times has created, such as around the arrival of Indo-Chinese refugees after the Vietnam War. By emphasising the triumph of overcoming such problems during its history, the underlying concept throughout the theme is that the nation can largely be judged ‘as a success in its development as a multi-racial and multi-cultural community’.29
The gallery, therefore, attempts to place Australian identity firmly as a product of a settler society, identified by the multicultural nation that now exists. It illustrates in particular how the image of Australia being ‘British’ was constructed in the nineteenth century, and how this became increasingly untenable during the twentieth, and consequently succeeds in raising questions over the non-indigenous populations’ traditional notions of identity. Horizons is the most conventional gallery in the NMA, however, in terms of its display techniques, through its reliance on an abundance of objects and interpretative text displayed in traditional, and often badly lit, glass cases.
This is a problem in any modern museum, but more so in a museum that overall seems to be challenging visitors with new methods of interpretation, through thoughtful combinations of text, objects and multi-media. This return to more established museum practice in Horizons, as well as its isolated physical position, perhaps limits the exhibition’s effectiveness by not managing to entice interest and ensuring that there is less interaction with the audience.
Pakeha History in Te Papa30
Taking a similar approach to Horizons, in that it too explores national identity through the idea of New Zealand being a settler and multicultural nation, is Passports, the first of the main exhibitions dealing specifically with Pakeha history in Te Papa. On opening in 1998, the non-indigenous historical component of Te Papa was made up largely of three main galleries: Passports, On the Sheep’s Back and Exhibiting Ourselves. This examination focuses on Passports and On the Sheep’s Back, along with some discussion of two other exhibits that attempt to interpret Pakeha identity in different ways: Golden Days and Signs of the Nation.
Planning had begun for Te Papa’s galleries as early as 1990, and because of this consideration of the earlier ideas and concepts for the ‘history zone’ is warranted, in order to gain some idea of how these developed into the final opening exhibitions – known as the ‘Day One’ exhibitions. In 1990, the plan for the history area was for a number of exhibitions dealing with separate issues to be linked to The Promenade, designed as a chronological, collections-based journey through New Zealand’s history, including Pakeha, Maori and Pacific Islander history. A number of suggestions for the separate exhibitions were put forward, quite different to those that exist today but which continue to illustrate a modern approach to museum representation. Being Here: The Family, for instance, was to present aspects of New Zealand social history, aiming to ask what the future would bring, and ‘personalised by the inclusion of first-person accounts and primary sources wherever possible’.31 Exceptional New Zealanders was to showcase famous and infamous personalities in a series of collection-based displays, while Creating a New Zealand Identity was to examine the process of creating a unique New Zealand identity, by exhibiting different objects from different cultural groups.32
By the middle of 1993, however, these themes had significantly changed, the specific exhibitions becoming Immigrants, Work and Leisure, Claiming the Land, as well as a ‘current issues’ space that would feature a series of changing exhibitions on issues of topical importance.33 The concept was based around a social history approach, in order to ‘challenge our audience to explore, celebrate and question different viewpoints of New Zealand’s past’.34 Like many of the NMA’s exhibitions, there was also recognition of the need to represent the ‘everyday’ and familiar within the displays, in order to interest a wide range of visitors. Concerning the Work and Leisure exhibition:
Work and leisure are an important component of every person’s life and they can be used to cover many topics. By establishing a gallery like this we can display aspects of the collection with a specific theme in mind. It will also allow us to explore some specific ideas in social history which in the past, as a museum, we have not really dealt with.35
At this point, the Promenade aspect of the history sector was still seen as an integral part of the interpretative process. It had been developed by Tim Hobson in consultation with the curators of the History Sector Group, and its aim was not only to provide the visitor with an understanding of the broad sweep of New Zealand’s history and to act as a backbone in linking the separate issue exhibits, but also to serve as ‘a fast track through the history exhibitions for those visitors with little time or interest’, and to supply a link with the Maori cultural exhibitions.36 At the end of 1993, however, the development process began to change with the appointment of Jock Phillips, the
Government’s Chief Historian, as Conceptual Leader in History. Shortly afterwards, Promenade was shelved, largely due to a belief that its traditional chronological approach was too boring for a museum that was, in every respect, attempting to be innovative and modern.37 As will be discussed later, this shelving can in certain ways be considered unfortunate, leaving some conspicuous gaps in the historical representation.
Once Jock Phillips arrived on the scene a thematic approach was embraced, evident in the exhibitions that exist today. Indeed, the themes adopted for two of the exhibitions soon afterwards, Passports and Exhibiting Ourselves, remained the same throughout the planning process. All the exhibitions, and in fact the whole museum, is geared towards aiding the interpretation of national identity in New Zealand. Significantly too, like the NMA, they were not designed to identify or suggest to the public any single distinct version or idea of New Zealand’s identity – another illustration of changing museological practice, as museums no longer attempt to spell out definitive stories or historical interpretation. Put in another way, they no longer tell their visitors what is right or what to believe. Instead, museums often now encourage people to debate and explore different interpretations of history and to come to their own conclusions. As Jock Phillips has described in relation to the three main Pakeha history exhibits in Te Papa, the aim was to give visitors three approaches to understanding national identity – ‘identity is the sum of immigrant cultures, identity comes from interaction with a distinct environment, identity is a construct of the mind.’ He goes on to emphasise that ‘the hope was that questions would be asked, perceptions opened, not closed down.’38 In other words, the history exhibitions were created to help people question notions of national identity.
Passports, for example, explores national identity through the idea that New Zealand is an immigrant and multicultural society.39 In this respect, it is based upon a similar concept to Horizons at the NMA. Passports sees the migratory past as the one aspect of national identity that all Pakeha New Zealanders share. Jock Phillips describes it as ‘a founding trauma’: ‘They chose to leave, they suffered the uprooting of the voyage and they were forced to set down roots in a new land.’40
The exhibition explores this through three themes – leaving, travelling and arriving. Telling the story of non-Maori migration to New Zealand from the early nineteenth century to the present, ‘these themes of leaving familiar surroundings and moving into uncertain territory allow people of all ages to identify with the migrant experience’.41 The aim is also to take visitors on a journey themselves, ‘a journey of discovery in which they vicariously experience many of the hopes and fears, the choices and obligations of being an immigrant’.42 It attempts this through a combination of artefacts, interactives and oral histories, focusing both on older and more recent migrants. There is a game, for example, through which the visitor can find out whether they would gain entry into modern New Zealand, while another interactive game allows the visitor to take the role of a ship’s captain in the voyage from Europe in the nineteenth century. These games attempt to be both entertaining and educational, based on solid research. A 1995 Concept Report warned, the games should not be designed in a way ‘that trivialises the migrant experience, which was very often not “fun” … Games need to be read in the sense of role-playing, rather than in the recreational sense.’43
Significantly, Passports is careful not to make the migration experience seem a necessarily good one, confronting each of the three themes by focusing on the hardships and trials migrants have to endure. There is also a fair representation of both male and female immigrants. In the section dealing with the arrival and adjustment to the new land, for example, the exhibition highlights that while some new arrivals embraced the challenges of the new country, others were disillusioned by the realities of the environment and poverty. One illustration is the female Danish writer Ingeborg Stuckenborg, who migrated to New Zealand in the 1890s thinking it to be the utopian social laboratory of the world. Finding the country to be backward and uncultured, and forced to work as a maid, after eighteen months she shot herself.
Passports can also be regarded as being largely representative of the many different nationalities and cultures and their contribution to New Zealand life, and next to the exhibition there was a temporary gallery focusing on the Chinese community in New Zealand titled The Making of a Chinese New Zealander. In August 2000, this was replaced by an exhibition focusing on Dutch settlers, recognising ‘the enormous influence that the Dutch have had on New Zealand culture’,44 while the current exhibition focuses on Indian immigrants. Jock Phillips has, however, identified two problems that had to be overcome during the development of Passports. The first was simply a lack of collections relating not only to the immigrant experience, but also to popular culture and Pakeha history as a whole – highlighting the absence of collecting in this area by the museum in the past.45 To remedy the situation, Phillips was forced to rely on more visual mediums such as games, and to go out into the community for the objects and stories he needed.46
The second problem concerned the need to be representative of smaller minority migrant groups, but not to the exclusion of the British majority who still accounted for some eighty per cent of New Zealand’s immigrants. According to Phillips, this was a concern raised by some as soon as it was announced that there was to be an exhibition exploring New Zealand as an immigrant society, fuelled by the news of the development of the community gallery focusing on the Chinese. A perception that the ‘British inheritance was being ignored for the sake of making Pakeha New Zealanders look bad’.47 This can be seen as criticism about a perceived marginalisation of Pakeha history in relation to the Maori, extending to a view that ‘traditional’ Anglo-Celtic New Zealanders were being marginalised within the nation by other Pakeha. To resolve this the history team put added focus on British culture by breaking it into its regional parts, presenting the variety of the different cultures it contains. A video called ‘Places of Origin’, for example, visits various parts of Britain and features different people, with different accents, discussing their experiences and ancestors, such as someone from County Antrim talking about linen weavers who left for New Zealand. The suggestion is that if the British inheritance consists of many different cultures then New Zealand, as an ‘immigrant nation’, has always been multicultural.
The Maori impact on Pakeha settlers as they adjust to the land is also highlighted. As Phillips explains: ‘we as Pakeha must come to terms with the fact that our settlement here and our identity as New Zealanders necessarily rest on a history of conflict with the tangata whenua’.48 The most notable illustration of this in the exhibition is the story of John and Betty Guard, early pioneers in New Zealand, who had a famous conflict with the Maori in the early 1830s.49 It is worth noting too that the story of the Guards is one of only a few relating to famous people in New Zealand’s history. Another illustration of Te Papa’s adoption of ‘new museology’, Passports concentrates on ordinary and everyday stories and people. As Phillips describes the concept behind the entire history zone:
We rejected the most obvious, and in some quarters popular, option – to establish a gallery of heroes. The clamour for such a solution came particularly from pakeha who sensed that the Maori exhibitions would be affirming of identity and therefore perhaps hagiographic in tone and who believed that the pakeha exhibitions should fill the same role. But we believed that a hall of fame would lay down narrow definitions of the New Zealand type. … We did not want to fossilise definitions, nor prescribe restrictive identities. … we decided that it would be more interesting to start thinking about identity through the tales of the ordinary, not the famous’.50
The absence of more notable people from New Zealand’s past, however, has been one focus of criticism of the Pakeha history exhibitions. The lack of representation of sporting heroes is especially noticeable – in a country where sport is important and often seen as indisputably contributing to the national character. As Joseph Romanos has described, you could fit the displays dealing with sport ‘inside a decent-sized broom cupboard’: ‘To walk around Te Papa, the huge Museum of New Zealand, you would never believe that sport is, and has been for more than a century, one of the most important aspects of life here.’51
Passports, therefore, suggests that national identity is based on the idea of a ‘nation of immigrants’, in that everyone has the shared and common past of choosing to leave their homes, undergoing the upheaval of their journeys, and adjusting and establishing themselves in a new land. The second exhibition takes an entirely different approach. On the Sheep’s Back, the smallest of the three main Pakeha history exhibitions, suggests that a distinctive New Zealand identity has emerged through people’s interaction with the environment – somewhat like Tangled Destinies in the NMA. Working on the assumption that distinctive patterns of life develop after people have arrived, the exhibition explores this theme by looking at the place of wool in New Zealand’s history.
Initially this theme was going to be addressed far more broadly, under the title Life in New Zealand, examining various patterns of social life that developed once people arrived in New Zealand. Jock Phillips has explained that he initially hoped for a number of changing short-term exhibitions that focused on the social experience, and the history team decided upon three themes with which people could be familiar and relate: issues of work, issues of play, and issues of domestic life and relationships. The three initial subjects agreed upon were the history of gambling to illustrate play, the processing of wool for work, and ‘love’ for the relationship section.52 The gambling exhibit, for example, was to explore the conflicts surrounding gambling, and opposition to it, while the love exhibition was seen as a way of exploring interracial, gay and lesbian love and relationships. Over time however, both the gambling and love components were seen to be too controversial for a national museum and were quietly shelved.
On the surface, it would appear that a history of the wool industry in New Zealand would not be stimulating enough for the visitor in comparison to the rest of Te Papa. Nevertheless, the exhibition attracts attention through its display of familiar objects and its emphasis on the importance of wool to New Zealand. It traces the development of the Kiwi shearing shed, including a reconstructed shed in which the visitor can listen to old shearing yarns including those of Maori people, who played an important part in the shearing world. It also examines the history and traditions of weaving and knitting, displaying various wool products, and significantly succeeds in allowing important social divisions to be explored, such as those between men and women, Maori and Pakeha, rich and poor.
On the Sheep’s Back, however, is the smallest of the history exhibitions, and consequently perhaps the least successful in attracting visitors, and in addressing the view that what gives New Zealanders their unique identity is their encounter with the land. The exhibition was planned to be much larger but in late 1996, the Museum Board, in line with the aim of appealing to the widest range of visitors, commandeered half of the space designated for the wool exhibition to establish Golden Days, an object theatre largely based around nostalgia.53 This decision contrasted sharply with the concept upon which the other history exhibits were based.
Golden Days is a fast-paced moving image and object theatre showing images of perceived nation-making moments. Visitors enter a junk shop theatre, to sit upon worn sofas and stools, to find themselves surrounded by paraphernalia such as a grandfather clock, stuffed toys, a New Zealand flag and old television sets. The window of the shop acts as the screen for the film, which begins as the shopkeeper pulls the window shutter down at the end of the day. The film celebrates, aided by the involvement of moving objects in the theatre, New Zealand’s pioneering spirit from the sowing of the land, the development of international exports and energy resources, to events such as women gaining the vote, Vietnam protests and Sir Edmund Hillary conquering Everest.54 Golden Days is essentially a nostalgic experience that attempts to celebrate the past by appealing to people’s emotions through images of familiar and recognisable moments in history. Through this emotive approach, it can be compared to the Eternity gallery in the NMA. They are very different exhibitions, however, and while Eternity tries to appeal to a wider range of emotions, ranging from joy to fear, Golden Days is unashamedly a feel-good experience.
There are problems with the presence of Golden Days amongst the other history exhibits, especially concerning their aim of exploring notions of national identity. As discussed, the Pakeha history exhibits were designed to suggest a number of different approaches to national identity in New Zealand. Most importantly, they were designed to challenge pre-conceived notions and raise questions over modern interpretations of that identity. Golden Days, however, by dramatically showing a range of celebratory and ostensible ‘nation-making’ moments, appears to be attempting to definitively say that these are the points in history at which the nation can be identified. As Geoff Hicks describes, the exhibit ‘wallows in reflective sanitised histories where no real tragedies occur other than a bit of social unrest and the Wahine and Tangiwai disasters’,55 while Phillips has mused that it ‘seemed to destroy the whole conceptual scheme of the history exhibitions’.56 The exhibit came about at the expense of half of On the Sheep’s Back, and largely because of the New Zealand public’s perception that Te Papa was not doing enough to celebrate Pakeha culture. Golden Days has become one of the most popular exhibits in Te Papa, so succeeding in the museum’s aim to be celebratory and entertaining, but it can also be seen as subversive to the other Pakeha history exhibitions, within which it is positioned, that seek to seriously question ideas of national identity.
The Signs of a Nation exhibition at Te Papa deals with the Treaty of Waitangi, the central document in New Zealand’s history in terms of Maori and Pakeha relations. As such, it represents an important part of the museum’s bicultural nature, also reflected by the exhibition’s prominent central position.57 Central to Signs of a Nation is a large replica of the tattered Treaty of Waitangi,58 and on each side the articles of the treaty are displayed, in both Maori and English, and there are areas where the visitor can sit and gain an understanding of some of the differences between the two versions.59 Perhaps the most effective part of the exhibition, however, is the existence of three clusters of tall steel poles, each cluster representing the treaty’s articles relating to governance, land and cultural heritage, and citizens’ rights. Standing amongst the poles, visitors can listen to a multitude of voices reflecting the different views of both Maori and Pakeha New Zealanders to the treaty and biculturalism: views ranging from ‘The Treaty – it’s not just for Maori, it’s a bill of rights for us all’, to ‘the treaty is just a gravy train for the rich Maori elite’.60
In terms of ‘equal’ representation given to both Maori and Pakeha peoples and their views, the exhibition can be seen to succeed in its bicultural mission, and also in contributing to an understanding of the Treaty of Waitangi, especially for many people who quite possibly would never have read it before but might have pre-conceived opinions. The rest of the exhibition, however, is less successful as it moves on to offer eyewitness accounts of the treaty’s signing and then a series of artefact cases presenting the themes of governance, land and cultural heritage, and citizen’s rights. In general terms, this part of the exhibition is badly lit and confusing in its arrangement of artefacts in glass cases, but more specifically fails to adequately examine the history and development of Maori and Pakeha relations. Where it does touch upon this, it is at best superficial, cursory and unfocused. For example, there is a series of timeline flip panels dealing with the changing relationships between Maori and Pakeha at ten year periods, which succeed in going into only the most minimal of detail.
Since Te Papa’s opening, a second Treaty of Waitangi exhibition has opened in Wellington at the National Archives of New Zealand. This offers a deeper examination of the specific topics that have surrounded the treaty over the years, including a focus on more contemporary issues such as the Waitangi Tribunal. The failure of Te Papa to further focus on these aspects in the Signs of a Nation exhibition can be seen as a missed opportunity. The topic of the treaty and its central location would be an ideal place to further integrate and examine the important themes of the Maori people’s influence on Pakeha civilisation, and the impact of Pakeha settlement on Maori culture. Though these themes are touched upon at times in the museum’s other exhibitions, their lack of full representation in Te Papa is a noticeable and serious aspect of this celebratory museum; surprising perhaps for a museum that has pushed its integrated and multidisciplinary concept so much.
This is an important point, as in its endeavours to be populist and celebratory, Te Papa often appears to be neglecting crucial aspects of New Zealand’s history that might not be especially appealing, but are pivotal to the nation’s development. The indigenous situation is inevitably tied to understandings of non-indigenous identity, and thus the exploration of the Treaty of Waitangi, its subversion by Pakeha settlers during the nineteenth century, and the continuing often bitter Maori-Pakeha relations throughout the twentieth century, is integral to this. In this regard, the NMA, through its occasional emphasis on contentious aspects of Australia’s history, could be considered as being more representative of the nation’s history and identity. In contrast, Te Papa as a whole, despite its blatant promotion of the ‘nation’, seems to portray a more idealised version of the past, restricting the possibilities for analysis and questioning of the factors that have contributed to New Zealand’s history and identity.
‘Nation’ and ‘Exhibiting Ourselves’
The non-indigenous history galleries at the NMA and Te Papa, therefore, address national identity in various ways, such as through the idea that identity is founded on a settler and multicultural society, or on a relationship with the land. The final two galleries dealing specifically with non-indigenous history, Nation in the NMA and Exhibiting Ourselves in Te Papa, take a different approach. Both galleries focus on the ways that national identity can be ‘invented’ through a range of national symbols. Exhibiting Ourselves, for example, attempted to put this in a historical context by looking at the symbols New Zealanders have constructed to describe themselves in the past, while Nation focuses on a range of symbols that could be used today to define Australian identity.
The idea of the ‘construction’ of national identity used by both galleries can be seen to be inspired by Benedict Anderson’s ‘imagined communities’, whereby symbolic vocabulary is shared throughout a community.61 Nation: Symbols of Australia, the largest of the permanent non-indigenous history galleries in the NMA, attempts to explore Australian nationhood and national identity through a range of familiar national symbols acting as windows into Australian history. Guy Hansen, the curator principally responsible for Nation, has explained the rationale behind this method of interpretation:
Expressions, or ‘symbols’, of national identity can be found in the visual, aural and material culture record of Australian history. Each symbol has a history that explains how the object, image or practice emerged, how it was accepted or contested over time, and what ideas and values about Australia and Australians it embodies. Reviewing the history of symbols in this way provides a range of views or voices about national identity, varying according to the time and context in which they were produced, and demonstrating that the concept of national identity is diverse and dynamic. This approach highlights the active way in which different groups and individuals use symbols to represent the nation and its citizens.62
Nation aims to explore various different representations of national identity that have at sometime been constructed by society in a bid to define the nation and the people. In this sense, each symbol that is examined represents a different voice on Australia’s national identity. Allowing the visitors to decide for themselves which symbols best reflect their own notions of the nation, the objective is effectively to provide them with a basis upon which to start considering issues of national identity and nation.63 By moving away from a traditional historical examination of national history, each symbol that is examined provides a ‘window’ to specific aspects of Australia’s history, hopefully encouraging the visitor to explore the nation’s history and culture even more.
The ideology behind the Nation gallery changed little during the development process. The use of symbols to reflect the nation’s history has been prevalent throughout, though earlier in the process these were to be more strictly and evenly divided between official symbols, that provided a more traditional chronological overview of national history, and symbols of popular culture.64 As it eventuated, the gallery was extended once the Eternity gallery was cut in size, and more emphasis was given to the selection of constructed symbols of popular culture that have been prominent in the national imagination. Official symbols are still represented in Nation, however, and indeed a centrepiece of the gallery is a scaled-down replica of The Citizen’s Arch that was built to celebrate the 1901 opening of federal parliament.
The official symbols displayed in the gallery are straightforward enough, illustrating recognisable images such as the national anthem and flag; exploring the history of such symbols to reveal ‘how they have evolved over time, reflecting the changing face of Australia’.65 As Guy Hansen describes, the symbols are examined so that they ‘no longer appear as immutable signifiers of the Australian nation but rather as an evolving set of symbols reflecting changes in Australia’s national identity’.66 An example is the history of the national flag, where despite Federation in 1901 it was not until 1950 that the Federal Government confirmed the official adoption of a new national flag.
The symbols of popular culture, however, are more challenging and open to mis-interpretation. Twelve different categories represent constructed images that are recognised nationally, and that can be seen to contribute to a sense of belonging and the national psyche, and because of this the exhibition relies significantly on the display of individual, prominent and everyday objects aimed to instil recognition and often nostalgia in the visitor. ‘Cooee!’ for example, explores how the development of national institutions such as the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) and the Post Office helped create a shared sense of community across the nation. Highlights are the display of different types of Post Office mailboxes that were used between the 1870s and 1960s, and the ABC outside broadcast van used during the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.
Each category depicts images that can be seen to personify the Australian character. ‘Spirit of the Digger’, for example, looks at the origin of the ‘Digger’ archetype and the importance of Anzac Day as a national holiday. ‘Hopping Mad’ portrays the kangaroo as a symbol of the uniqueness of Australia, including the display of a rugby jersey of the Australian national team who are called the Kangaroos, while ‘Feeding the Nation’ attempts to show how the Australian diet is an important part of the national identity through the display of familiar foods such as Vegemite. Within ‘Suburbia’, the importance of suburban living in a nation where most people live in suburbs is explored. Particular attention is given to the significance of the backyard as a special place in Australia’s cultural landscape and imagination, through the display of objects such as Hills Hoist rotary washing lines and Victa lawnmowers, and asks the visitor: ‘Is this where Australians are most truly themselves – sociable, relaxed, domestic and democratic?’67 ‘Australian Voices’ on the other hand, examines the uniqueness of the Australian language as contributing to a distinct national identity. Visitors can explore the development of the language through the medium of a basic interactive, whereby they can learn the origins of various common phrases, such as discovering that the expression ‘dinkum’ originates from a phrase from the British Midlands meaning ‘a fair share of work’.
Indigenous people are also represented within Nation. ‘Australian Dreaming’ examines how Aboriginal people and their culture have often been used to symbolise Australia through souvenirs, art, advertising and films, and there is acknowledgement that for many the use of such imagery is offensive and disrespectful. Some of the other themes also consider the contribution of the Aboriginal people. Bush tucker and how it has sustained Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for thousands of years is explored in ‘Feeding the Nation’, while ‘Spirit of the Digger’ includes a poem by an Aboriginal serviceman describing how he continued to suffer racism in Australia even after fighting for the nation in the Korean War. ‘Hopping Mad’ also explains how kangaroos have held a profound place in the traditions and stories of indigenous people.
Nation, therefore, attempts to explore a selection of traditional symbols that have been constructed to represent the Australian nation and national identity. Each is portrayed to illustrate how the object, image or practice emerged as a national symbol, how it has been accepted or contested over time, and what ideas and values about Australia it embodies. Problems arise, however, with such an approach to national history and identity in a museum. As discussed, for instance, some critics have been vocal in accusing the museum of trivialising Australia’s history, with a message of ‘sneering ridicule for white Australia’.68 In some ways this is easy to understand, as displays that include kangaroos, vegemite, Hills Hoist rotary washing lines and Aussie slang, can be seen to perpetuate stereotypical views of Australia more appropriate to promoting the country abroad than forcing self-examination of the Australian national psyche. Nevertheless, the gallery appears to engage with a wide range of visitors. Despite the absence of a chronological examination of Australia’s history since 1788, the display of everyday and, significantly, recognisable symbols and objects, reflects new museological ideas and might instil in its audience a sense of belonging and attachment.
While Nation can be seen as largely celebratory in its use of familiar symbols as windows to a possible Australian national identity, Exhibiting Ourselves in Te Papa took a far more critical approach in examining the motives and flaws behind previously ‘official’ images of identity. Exhibiting Ourselves actually closed during 2001, as part of the Greater Te Papa Project that saw the extension of gallery space for Te Papa’s art collections. Its existence as one of the main Pakeha history opening exhibitions, however, and its conceptual similarities with Nation, warrant its consideration here.
Exhibiting Ourselves essentially explored the history of national identity in New Zealand. Central to the exhibition was the notion that having migrated to the new world, and having developed a distinctive way of life, Pakeha New Zealanders began to consider their identity and sought ways to proclaim their uniqueness. It examined how they ‘officially’ regarded themselves at different points in time and then explored, with the benefit of hindsight, the reality behind those sanctioned views. Exhibiting Ourselves suggested that national identity is a product of the mind, no more or less than what people imagine it to be, focusing on the question ‘How was our national identity constructed?’.69 By investigating four international exhibitions spaced at approximately fifty year intervals, the 1851 Great Exhibition, the 1906 Christchurch International Exhibition, the 1940 Centennial Exhibition in Wellington and the Seville Exposition of 1992, Exhibiting Ourselves attempted to highlight a celebratory sense of nationhood while at the same time inviting debate about its content. At the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, for instance, the New Zealand display was designed to illustrate New Zealand as a land of abundance, in order to sell goods in Britain and attract immigrants and investors. The Maori were portrayed as ‘native curiosities’ and one exhibit was John Gilfillan’s painting Inside a Maori Pa, which evoked a peaceful image of life in a native village. Exhibiting Ourselves challenged this promotion by not only displaying the painting but also telling the story of when Gilfillan was attacked by Maori, losing his wife and three children, and forcing him to move to Australia.
The 1906 Christchurch Exhibition was largely a celebration of the progress made since the time of the pioneers. Exhibiting Ourselves showed how New Zealand was portrayed as the social laboratory of the world where ‘the landscape had been tamed’ and ‘civilisation and prosperity were just around the corner’,70 evident through progressive laws giving the vote to women and pensions to the aged. By this time too, Pakeha New Zealanders were portraying New Zealand as ‘Maoriland’, an appropriation of Maori culture to express a national identity that Exhibiting Ourselves acknowledged has existed ever since. In 1906, for example, this was expressed by the construction of a full-scale Maori pa next to the Exhibition’s fairground, a placement suggesting that the Maori were best seen as a tourist attraction. In contrast, at the Centennial Exhibition in 1940, New Zealand illustrated its progress as being based both on a tradition of loyalty to Britain and veneration of pioneer New Zealanders. It also put itself forward as a model for bi-racial harmony, and Exhibiting Ourselves challenged this myth by displaying, alongside a photograph of the Prime Minister Joseph Savage shaking hands with a Maori warrior, a quote by the Maori leader Apirana Ngata: ‘I do not know of any year that the Maori people approach with so much misgiving as the Centennial year. In retrospect what do the Maori see? Lands gone, the power of the chief crumbled in the dust. Maori culture scattered – broken.’71
Exhibiting Ourselves questioned traditional images of national identity by illustrating the ways in which identity is often a construction of the mind. Another more recent example is that of the 1992 Seville Exposition. At a time when New Zealand was in deep recession, the message was put forward of a sophisticated cosmopolitan nation with strong secondary and tertiary industries.
Exhibiting Ourselves was the most traditional of the opening history exhibitions, in terms of its reliance on an abundance of artefacts in glass cases. Yet, this in some way perhaps aided the exhibition’s intellectual, if not popular, success. Bronwyn Labrum, one of the history curators at Te Papa, has described how Exhibiting Ourselves appealed particularly to academic historians, especially on a conceptual level as they knew the history behind it.72 The exhibition was punctuated throughout by vivid re-creations of the Exhibitions’ displays, including basic interactive features such as an original fortune-telling machine and test-your-strength machine from the 1906 Christchurch Exhibition, and the robot Dr Well-and-Strong, from the Department of Health, who in 1940 proclaimed to visitors the virtues of the New Zealand welfare state. Indeed, the only part of the exhibition that relied heavily on new technology, the section dealing with the 1992 Exposition that included a light and sound show, was far and away the least comprehensible and generally failed to get the desired message across. Jock Phillips acknowledges himself that this area, called ‘The Void’, was confusing and that a lot more could have been done with the space, and it was through late development and lack of money that it could not be developed further.73 At any rate, there is a certain irony in the inclusion of Exhibiting Ourselves in Te Papa in the first place. The International Exhibitions, and more lately the Expos, were very self-conscious ways in which a country and its people promoted and presented themselves. In many ways, Te Papa can be interpreted as the latest manifestation of this. Jock Phillips himself has described the Exhibitions as the ‘Disneylands of the past’,74 and as Rodney Wilson, the Director of the Auckland Museum, has discussed:
[Te Papa] does it in a more profound and intelligent way of course, but it is essentially within the genre of our display in Brisbane or our display in Seville, and I do not mean that in a dismissive way, or disrespectful way. I think Te Papa has a very clear desire to tell a story about New Zealand … and it does it in a way that people, by and large, enjoy.75
Exhibiting Ourselves was a unique approach to addressing the issue of national identity, and forced visitors to question their own pre-conceptions of what it was to be New Zealanders. This was brought to the fore at the end of the exhibition, where a selection of t-shirts were displayed illustrating various narrow or stereotypical images of national identity in New Zealand today, such as sheep and the America’s Cup. In many ways then, Exhibiting Ourselves can be seen as the most pertinent opening exhibition in terms of the museum’s mandate to be about nation, as well as the most critical of traditional representations of national identity, and because of this it is unfortunate that it was closed in 2001.
Central to the philosophy of both these new national museums, is the need to consider and explore national identity, without prescribing any one single definition of identity. Addressing the problematic question of non-indigenous identity, both museums attempted to do this by taking a thematic approach, and by putting forward three main different interpretations upon which national identity could be based. To summarise, in the NMA Eternity interprets identity as being based on shared emotional experiences, Horizons suggests that this identity derives from Australia’s existence as a settler society, while Nation attempts to explore Australian identity through a range of familiar symbols, which have been invented over time to create a shared sense of belonging and attachment to the nation. In essence, both the NMA and Te Papa take the visitor on a journey of possible ways to interpret what it is to be an Australian or New Zealander. In Te Papa, for example, Passports takes a similar approach to Horizons by suggesting that New Zealand should be viewed as a nation of immigrants, in that everyone has a common past shaped by the trauma of ‘leaving’, ‘journeys’ and ‘arrival’, while On the Sheep’s Back presents the opposite view that identity is actually shaped by the land. Finally, Exhibiting Ourselves, like Nation, suggested that national identity is nothing more than a construction of the mind. In other words, it is ‘what we conceive it to be’.76 Significantly too, Exhibiting Ourselves indicated that one image, history or identity is not sufficient in proclaiming a nation.
Nation and Exhibiting Ourselves, through their exploration of images and symbols that have been and could be constructed to provide a basis for an Australian and New Zealand identity, can be seen as the exhibitions that most flagrantly reflect the perceived role of the national museum in addressing the nation and its meaning. They can also be seen as manifestations of a new museology, in terms of their questioning of possible interpretations of identity, as well as illustrations of the complex and confused nature of non-indigenous identity throughout Australia and New Zealand’s European histories, and especially at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
More critical than the celebratory nature of Nation, Exhibiting Ourselves can perhaps be viewed as more successful in making clear that identity is a construction of the mind, by examining how New Zealanders have ‘officially’ regarded themselves and, with the benefit of hindsight, then exploring the reality behind those views. In contrast, Nation at the NMA, rather than challenging such images, at times seems to celebrate and proclaim them in a way that could easily be interpreted as perpetuating constructed and often misleading perceptions of the Australian nation.
The approach of exploring national history and identity through a range of constructed symbols can cause notable problems. Nation is designed to provoke Australians to question traditional representations of the nation. Yet, many of the themes are represented as being largely celebratory with little space for contesting views. This is in contrast to other parts of the museum, which often highlight areas of contestation. Despite one of the principles behind the Nation gallery being that it was not to attempt to lay down definitive interpretations of identity, just by displaying such images in an institution such as the National Museum, the message that might be conveyed is that these are the images through which we can identify and define ourselves. In effect, simply reinforcing the notions that define the ‘imagined community’.
Indeed, this leads to an important possible shortcoming of the thematic approach that the history exhibitions in both the NMA and Te Papa take, and that was briefly mentioned earlier in regards to an early plan for a Promenade in Te Papa. In both museums, there are significant gaps in the Australian and New Zealand ‘story’. Especially in terms of political and military history, and without any kind of chronological key to the country’s history, these ‘absences’ make the interpretation of some of the displays very confusing. Of course, the express aim of the history exhibits in both the NMA and Te Papa was not to tell a comprehensive history of Australia and New Zealand. It is important to be aware, however, that many people do still visit museums to learn or experience the past of a museum’s locale, whether it be a town, city, state or nation, and the lack of some kind of general historical narrative, in this author’s view, can contribute to a lack of coherency and understanding.77 In this sense, the retention of the pre-1993 idea of the Promenade in Te Papa, a chronological journey through New Zealand’s history linking various separate theme exhibitions together, might have been more successful. At the very least, it is likely the History Zone would be better served by even just a detailed panel highlighting the pivotal events in New Zealand’s past. The lack of some kind of broad overarching narrative linking the different exhibits, can make the national histories that the museums are supposed to be interpreting incoherent and unintelligible. In the NMA too, the closest the museum comes to a traditional national history narrative is ‘Moments’, a part of Nation, displaying a number of individual moments in Australia’s history since 1788. Yet not only are these limited in number, by laying out a range of specific events, such as the gold rush, Federation, and the death of Phar Lap, the underlying curatorial voice in 'Moments’ seems to be declaring that these are the defining moments in Australia’s history, not allowing room for dispute. This is comparable to Golden Days in Te Papa, which also presents a selective number of nation-making moments.
The lack of inter-related discussion of the different histories is also evident, notably between indigenous and non-indigenous history, despite the integrated frameworks upon which both museums are based. In order for identity to be comprehensively discussed, museums need to create an understanding of the many diverse pasts and histories that exist. This is particularly true of national museums in their aim of contributing to the interpretation of national identity. Only then, and by allowing history and notions of identity to be questioned and explored, can a national museum really begin to be representative of the nation.
About the Author:
James Gore is an Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Rhodes University in South Africa. He received his doctorate from the University of Melbourne – investigating the representation of history and nation in museums in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand, with a particular focus on the National Museum of Australia and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. His current research extends these themes into a comparative examination of the history and development of museums in three post-colonial societies, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, focusing on their role of representing identity.
L. Veracini & A. Muckle, ‘Reflections of Indigenous History inside the National Museums of Australia and New Zealand and outside of New Caledonia’s Centre Cultural Jean-Marie Tjibaou’, Electronic Journal of Australian and New Zealand History , 2002, www.jcu.edu.au/aff/history/articles/veracini_muckle.htm Another example is S. McCulloch-Uehlin, ‘Past the point of a fresh turn’, Weekend Australian, 24th March 2001, p.R21, which discusses the different approaches that the NMA, Melbourne Museum and South Australian Museum, take in representing indigenous culture in their exhibitions – which have all opened since 2000.
P. Goward, ‘Making an exhibition of ourselves’, Australian, 13th March 2001, p.13. Also S. Brook, ‘Elite clash over museum for the ordinary’, Australian, 13th March 2001, p.3.
It is important to note that this paper is concerned with the opening exhibitions that were designed to reflect ‘Australia’ and ‘New Zealand’ in 1998 and 2001. It is useful to aware, however, that since opening, various exhibits have been changed or replaced – especially in Te Papa.
Veracini & Muckle, 2002.
Previous names for Tangled Destinies were Australian Space and Time, Time Past: Time Present, Settling In and Links to the Land..
M. Smith, Links to the Land: Overview of programs, February 1998, p.2, NMA Research Library. Also see M. Smith, ‘Environmental History in the National Museum of Australia’, Public History Review, vol. 8, 2000, pp.27-43.
Commonwealth of Australia, Museums in Australia 1975. Report of the Committee of Inquiry on Museums and National Collections including the Report of the Planning Committee on the Gallery of Aboriginal Australia, Canberra, 1975.
National Museum of Australia (NMA), National Museum of Australia: A Summary of Acton Programs – Council Planning Meeting, 24th July 1998, p.4, NMA Research Library.
NMA, Public Programs Brief No. 2 – Links to the Land, September 1998, NMA Research Library, Land & People Working File. Also see NMA, Ideas Summit 2, 17-18 June 1998 – Briefing materials for participants, NMA Departmental File, 98/0017, NMA on Acton – Program Working Group – Nation; and Working title: Links to the Land, NMA Departmental File, 98/0019, NMA on Acton – Program Working Group – Links to the Land, NMA Research Library.
NMA, North Gallery – Tangled Destinies: Land and People in Australia, NMA Departmental File, 98/0032, NMA on Acton: Public Programs Section Advice – Links to the Land, NMA Research Library.
For a general overview of the programs in Tangled Destinies see NMA, North Gallery – Tangled Destinies, and also NMA, Land & People – Interim Design Development Submission, 11th June 1999, submitted by Anway & Co. Inc., Amaze Design & DMCD Inc., NMA Research Library.
This type of historical interpretation of the environment is beginning to gain considerable popularity around the world, largely because many natural history museums that have remained traditional in their interpretation and display have experienced falling visitor numbers. One example was the exhibit ‘Seeds of Change’ at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History during the mid-1990s. It explored how the voyages of Christopher Columbus laid the ‘seeds’ that profoundly transformed the world, both biologically and culturally, through the exchange of plants, animals, and diseases, which were introduced sometimes deliberately, sometimes accidentally, by Columbus and those who followed him. The exhibit attempted to show that the process of encounter and exchange Columbus initiated affected the Old World as well, altering the flora and fauna, reordering the ethnic composition of countries, and changing the diet and health of peoples everywhere.
G. Hicks, ‘Natural history museums in the environmental age’, in D. McIntyre & K. Wehner (eds.), National Museums - Negotiating Histories: Conference Proceedings, Canberra, 2001, p.188. Also J. Phillips, ‘Treaty of Waitangi Exhibition’, Unpublished paper, no date. My thanks to Jock Phillips for providing me with a copy of his notes for this paper.
Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (MoNZTPT), Report of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa for the year ended 1 July 1998 to 30 June 1999, Wellington, 1999, p.1.
Mike Smith, Personal Interview, 27th June 2001.
Eternity was previously called Australian Stories and then Perceptions.
To find out about the Chamberlain incident see J. Bryson, Evil Angels, Ringwood, 1985.
NMA, Perceptions – Interim Design Development Submission, 11th June 1999, submitted by Anway & Co. Inc., Amaze Design & DMCD Inc., p.8, NMA Research Library.
NMA, Australian Stories, 2nd February 1999, Prepared by Dr Marion Stell, Sophie Jensen and Johanna Parker, NMA Research Library.
This has proved popular with around 700 visitors a month leaving a minute’s message in Eternity. See S. Powell, ‘Self-portrait of a nation’, Weekend Australian, 23rd June 2001. Also J. McDonald, ‘From there to Eternity’, Sydney Morning Herald, 10th March 2001.
NMA, Perceptions – Multimedia and Design: Discussion paper, 31st March 1999, prepared by Sophie Jensen & Marion Stell, NMA Departmental File, 99/0055, NMA on Acton – Program Working Group – Stories of Australia, NMA Research Library.
See NMA, Conceptual Design – 100% Submission, 21st January 1999, NMA Research Library.
Personal correspondence to the author from Dawn Casey, Director of the NMA, 18th June 2001.
Previous names for Horizons were Journeys, People in Motion, and Currents.
NMA, Development Prospectus – Journeys: A National Museum of Australia Exhibition, 17th August 1998, NMA Departmental File, 98/0018, NMA on Acton – Program Working Group – Mapping. Also see Ian McShane, Journeys: A Concept Paper, 21st October 1998, NMA Departmental File, 98/244, NMA on Acton – Public Program Section Advice – Journeys, NMA Research Library.
NMA, Conceptual Design – 100% Submission.
NMA, Currents: An Exhibition Brief, 12th August 1999, p.2, NMA Research Library, Currents Working File. Also see NMA, Currents – Interim Design Development Submission, 11th June 1999, submitted by Anway & Co. Inc., Amaze Design & DMCD Inc., NMA Research Library.
In this paper Pakeha is taken to encompass all non-indigenous New Zealanders, but especially those of predominantly European descent.
S. Simeral, ‘Excerpts from the Exhibitions Conceptual Plan: Ralph Appelbaum Associates Inc. in collaboration with the Concept Development Team’, Museum Anthropology, vol. 15, no. 4, November 1991, p.17. Also See MoNZTPT, Exhibitions Conceptual Plan: Draft, Prepared by Ralph Appelbaum Associates Inc., New York, 1990, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Te Papa) Archives.
As will be evident, these themes are reflected in the opening exhibitions: ‘Immigrants’ in Passports, ‘Work’ and ‘Claiming the Land’ in On the Sheep’s Back.
MoNZTPT, History Sector Exhibitions Concept Description, October 1993, p.6, Te Papa Archives.
My thanks to Michael Fitzgerald, History Curator at Te Papa, for clarifying these issues.
J. Phillips, ‘The politics of pakeha history in a bicultural museum: Te Papa, The Museum of New Zealand, 1993-1998’, in McIntyre & Wehner (eds.), National Museums - Negotiating Histories, p.149.
Passports was originally called The Peopling of New Zealand.
‘Search for the Kiwi identity’, Sunday Star Times, 14th April 1996.
MoNZTPT, Passports, 90% Developed Design, Part 1, Interpretation and Objects, 12th June 1996, p.7, Te Papa Archives.
MoNZTPT, Peopling of New Zealand 30% Concept Design, 6th June 1995, p.15, Te Papa Archives. Also see A. Bailey, ‘Journeys’, Inform: News and Information from the Department of Internal Affairs, vol. 4, no. 1, June 1998, pp.7-8.
MoNZTPT, Concept Sector comments on the ‘Peopling of New Zealand’ Concept Development Report draft, 7th March 1995, p.1, Te Papa Archives.
MoNZTPT, Nieuw Zealand – going Dutch, Concept Design 90%, January 2000, p.3, Te Papa Archives.
Jock Phillips, Personal Interview, 25th August 2000.
Passports is consequently made up of a considerable number of loans and donations, as well as oral histories, especially from ethnic communities such as through the Wellington Indian Association, the Netherlands Foundation and the Dalmation Cultural Society. See MoNZTPT, Passports, 90% Developed Design, p.168. This was a problem also encountered with the exhibition On the Sheep’s Back. See ‘Museum help call’, Wairarapa Times, 13th August 1996.
Phillips, ‘The politics…’, p.150.
J. Phillips, ‘Our History, Our Selves – The Historian and National Identity’, New Zealand Journal of History, vol. 30, no. 2, October 1996, p.119.
Briefly, the Guards were returning to New Zealand from a trip to Sydney when they were shipwrecked on the Taranaki coast. They and their companions were attacked by local Maori who took Betty and her two sons hostage. John Guard was also captured but was let go on the condition he return with gunpowder. Instead, he set sail for Sydney where he persuaded the Governor that the Maori needed to be taught a lesson. Returning with a company of the Fiftieth, the Queen’s Own Regiment, the hostages were released, and the violence ended with the soldiers of the Fiftieth playing football with the severed head of a Maori chief.
Phillips, ‘Our History…’, p.119.
J. Romanos, ‘Not really our place’, NZ Listener, 4th April 1998, pp.54-55.
Phillips, ‘The politics…’, p.152.
Jock Phillips has also pointed to the lack of sponsorship as contributing to the problems of On the Sheep’s Back. Wools New Zealand had been approached, but support was not fostered as they wanted the display to focus on the modern development of wool, with the latest technical expertise, instead of a backward look at the historical culture of the wool industry. See Phillips, ‘The Politics…’, p.154.
For further description see T. Martyn, ‘to the future’, Pacific Wave, February 1998, pp.60-65, and G. Reid, ‘Let’s do the time warp – we are more than a sound-bite’, New Zealand Herald, 7th February 1998, pp.G1-2.
Hicks, ‘Natural history museums…’, p.188. The Tangiwai disaster was a rail accident caused by debris flow from Mount Ruapehu in 1953, costing 151 lives. Then, in 1968, a cyclonic storm caused the Wahine ferry to founder at the entrance to Wellington harbour, costing 51 lives.
Phillips, ‘The Politics…’, p.154.
See P. Bossley, ‘The Treaty’, Architecture New Zealand, February 1998, Special Edition, p.64.
The Treaty was neglected for the first sixty years of its existence, before being found damaged by water and chewed by rats.
For explanation as to the problems involved in the interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi, see James Belich, Making Peoples: A History of the New Zealanders, Auckland, 1996, pp.193-7, and M. Durie, Te Mana, Te Kâwanatanga: The Politics of Maori Self-Determination, Auckland, 1998.
E. Poot, ‘Finding ourselves at Te Papa’, New Zealand Geographic, no. 38, April – June 1998, p.123.
B. Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, London, 1983, p.9.
G. Hansen, Symbols of Australia: Exploring national history at the National Museum of Australia, Unpublished paper presented to the Museums Australia conference, Australian National University, Canberra, April 2001, p.6. My thanks to Guy Hansen for providing me with a copy of this paper.
NMA, Symbols of Nation – Program Resources Brief, 29th January 1999, NMA Research Library. Also NMA, Public Program Brief - Symbols of a Nation, 16th April 1998, NMA Research Library; Nation – Interim Design Development Submission, 11th June 1999, submitted by Anway & Co. Inc., Amaze Design & DMCD Inc., NMA Research Library; Program Summary: Symbols of Nation, prepared by Guy Hansen, Denis Shepard & Brad Manera, NMA Departmental File, 98/0017, NMA on Acton – Program Working Group – Nation, NMA Research Library.
See, for example, Nation Exhibition Overview, Facsimile from Guy Hansen to Matt Kirchman, 17th May 1999, NMA Departmental File, 99/0066, NMA on Acton – Program Working Group – Nation, NMA Research Library.
Exhibition text. Also see Summary Content Outline – Symbols of Nation, Module 0928, NMA Research Library, Nation – Symbols of Nation 0928 File.
Hansen, Symbols of Australia…, p.7.
M. Devine, ‘A nation trivialised’, Daily Telegraph, 12th March 2001. Also B. Dutter, ‘Australians angry at “kangaroos and koalas” museum’, Daily Telegraph (UK), 17th March 2001, p.21.
MoNZTPT, Exhibiting Ourselves, 90% Developed Design, 6th June 1995, p.19, Te Papa Archives.
B. Labrum in ‘Thinking Visually: Doing History in Museums – An interview with Bronwyn Labrum’, in B. Dalley & J. Phillips (eds.), Going Public: The Changing Face of New Zealand History, Auckland, 2001, p.186.
Jock Phillips, Personal Interview, 25th August 2000.
J. Phillips, ‘Our History…’, p.116.
R. Wilson, Personal Interview, 9th August 2000, Tape with the author.
Phillips, ‘Our History…’, p.115.
Also see K. Windschuttle, ‘How not to run a museum’, Quadrant, vol. XLV, no. 9, September 2001, pp.16-17.
|Published: 18-10-2003 URL: http://www.jcu.edu.au/aff/history/articles/gore.htm|