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Wednesday, 20 August 1980
Page: 544

Mr FRY (Fraser) - I rise to support the Museum of Australia Bill. Like by colleague, the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) I am a little disappointed that we are not moving forward a little more quickly on this project, but better slow than never. I was pleased to be assured last night by the Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Ellicott) that some funds have been made available in this

Budget for part of the planning procedure. Of course we would like to see the work get under way with provision in the present Budget as there is an urgent need to create employment opportunities, particularly in Canberra.

I hope that one of the first things the interim council will do will be to look at the training of staff for this Museum. We have an excellent course on conservation at the Canberra College of Advanced Education. I would like to see the council get that work in hand quickly. I would particularly like the council to look into the training of Aborigines for work in the Aboriginal gallery, by giving them proper professional training. I would like the council to get onto this matter at an early date and not wait until the building is on the ground. Of course if the planning had been more advanced we would have had the prospect of having one stage ready by 1988, the bicentenary year. I suppose that is still possible but the Government would want to be a bit more energetic in the future than it has been in the past about getting this project underway.

I would like briefly to pay tribute to former Ministers of the Whitlam Government for their part in reactivating this project. I know it has been around for a long while but the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) convened the planning committee in 1973 to get the project reactivated. In 1974 the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) announced the committee of inquiry. Then in 1975 Senator Cavanagh requested the planning committee to report to the committee of inquiry. So all of these colleagues have played a valuable role and I pay tribute to their contribution in getting this project underway. It has taken a long while but at least now it is starting to move. I also pay tribute to Peter Pigott and particularly to Professor Mulvaney who has had a great deal to do with the report on the Aboriginal gallery. These reports pointed up all the problems that are connected with this very ambitious program. It pointed up the storage problems and the great damage that was being done to very valuable material because of lack of proper storage facilities. Material was stored in situations where we did not have proper control over the humidity or temperature. Of course some permanent damage has been done to irreplaceable material.

These reports also pointed up the tourist potential and we were very pleased, as members of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Australian Capital Territory who looked at the tourist potential of Canberra, to incorporate those thoughts about the very great tourist potential of the Museum of Australia. We were quite pleased to highlight that in our report. Just as important as the tourist potential is the educational role. This was pointed up in these reports. What a boost it would be to organisations like the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies and the Aboriginal Arts Board if they could be housed within the Aboriginal gallery of the museum. The exchanges of collections and exhibitions could be arranged within such an organisation and would be of value. There would be a very close connection between the Museum and the many teaching institutions in Canberra, particularly Australian National University undergraduate and postgraduate students studying history, prehistory and anthropology. These students would all have a very keen interest in this project and their studies would benefit from the presence of such a Museum. They would be able to make a contribution to the effectiveness of that Museum.

I would like to endorse the remarks of my colleague about the site. It is a magnificent site and I cannot say that I am disinterested because it happens to be in my electorate. But even if it were in the electorate of the honourable member for Canberra (Mr Haslem) I would still be just as enthusiastic about it. It is ideally situated in that it is very accessible to the three main town centres of Canberra. It is quite close to Civic - just south on the south-west side of Black Mountain - only two or three miles from the Belconnen Town Centre, quite convenient to the Woden Town Centre and it has a very good freeway access to the Tuggeranong Town Centre.

I think the actual nature of the land would also be an advantage. It is fairly fiat land. It has excellent mountains as a very suitable backdrop to the outdoor aspects of the displays and it is quite handy to the Botanic Gardens which are composed entirely of Australian flora. Unlike the Black Mountain Tower which is in conflict with the Burley Griffin concept of Canberra - that is that the mountains should be kept clear- this site is not on the top of a mountain although it does have mountains on various aspects which form a very desirable backdrop. I challenge anybody to find a better site. I am sorry that the decision on the site could not have been written into the Bill at which we are looking tonight, but I hope that that will be an early decision of the interim council. The thing that is most fascinating about this scheme is its general broad concept. I think it can only be described as a brilliant concept, a unique concept. But to bring it to a reality, of course, will require an exceptional breadth of vision. It will require highly developed professional skills, a great deal of dedication, and, of course, a lot of money.

I notice that the Minister, in his second reading speech, says that such a museum will demonstrate to the world the pride we have in our country. I do not think we need to demonstrate to the world that we have a pride in our country. I think we need to create a Museum of history which will allow Australians and visitors to view a composite picture of the whole of our known history, that is, the land and its flora and fauna untouched by man, then the interaction between the land and the Aboriginal people which went on for something like 40,000 years and then, much more recently, the interaction between the land and the Aborigines and the European and other ethnic groups which were involved in the development of Australia. We refer generally to Europeans but, of course, Asians, Chinese, Americans and all sorts of people were concerned with the early history of Australia. But they were basically Europeans. I believe the objective can be achieved if the broad concept, as proposed by the Committee, is accepted in its entirety. I think this concept marks a great step forward in our historical perception.

It has been described in the report as the reciprocal interrelationship between man and the land. I think the whole important crux of the concept is that it is the interrelationship that we are talking about. Whereas we tend to look through a sort of tunnel when we read a history of the Aborigines, of European settlement or of the environment, this concept brings them all together and interrelates them in a realistic sort of way so that people can get a total picture of our history. I think it is worth noting that historians and fiction writers too frequently refer to the interrelationship, particularly in relation to European settlement of Australia, as man struggling to overcome his environment.

I do not think this is a very correct perception of the interrelationship. I think a much more perceptive description of that relationship would be to see man reacting with the environment in two broad ways: Firstly, in the way that he adapts himself, his knowledge, his imported technology and his methods to the environment and, secondly, the attempts he makes to adapt and to change the environment to his needs. He usually does this in a way which allows him to exploit the environment for profit. Unfortunately in adapting the environment to his needs man has frequently decimated it. He has exploited it and often he has done permanent damage to the environment by overclearing, overstocking and overcropping it and causing soil erosion and other damage. I hope the broad concept of this Museum will not depict man as struggling to overcome the environment but rather as man learning to live with, to understand and to conserve his environment, and certainly to change it, if possible, to his advantage.

In the process of learning to understand and live with his environment, I hope that the Museum will show how at times - but not always - we have misused it, exploited it and decimated it. The Museum would also show the interrelationship between the Europeans, Asians and Aboriginal people and how we have misunderstood them, misused them and exploited them. But the exciting thing about the whole concept is that it attempts to present a complete picture and bring it all together so that visitors who have only a limited time in which to look at our history will be able to get a broad overview of how Australia came to be what it is today. I think this is a very exciting and innovative concept. I am confident that there are people in Australia - I am sure that there are quite a few people here in Canberra - who, I am sure, with the benefit of the latest overseas knowledge, could bring this very visionary concept of an Australian museum to a reality. I hope that the Government will pursue it with vigour and that we will have something on the ground to show our visitors from overseas by 1988.

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