I tend to stick closely to semi or wholly esoteric musings on literature, or roleplaying. I deviate into the realm of the popular occasionally with a movie review, or discussion on sport. Now, I step out on a limb to say “WTF?” to Sydney’s Museum.
Perhaps I went to the wrong place. I’m prepared to admit that possibility. I’ve been to Sydney only a handful of times, and the giant “Sydney Museum” signs outside might in fact have been saying “go there instead”. Who knows? But what I found inside troubled me none the less for any mistakes on my part.
We arrived at the museum, paid our AU$10 and took a quick look at the prospectus. One floor of largely mineral interest, a floor featuring photography of Australia, two Aboriginal display areas and two areas of natural Australian wonders. Straight off we realised that ‘s burning question of “why was everything except the city itself named after MacQuarrie” was not going to be answered. Convict history? Forget it: Australians have always been respectable middle class farmers.
The natural wonders on display were carefully presented and had nicely attenuated explanations of what each individual critter was: I have no complaints about that. The geology section was focused on displaying pretty minerals, rather than a survey of geological processes or history but I don’t particularly care.
But the two sections on Aboriginals were deeply troubling. The ground floor, and apparently permanent, display was “don’t Aboriginals have it good here mate.” There were large glossy photographs and testimonials from a variety of black-faced people doing well for themselves. What discussion there was of the ongoing issue of Aboriginal inequality was carefully truncated and glossed over. My favourite example was a plaque inside a sample prison which said something like “the institute examined 15 cases of Aboriginals dying in custody. Formal inquest ceased in 1987, but there were some reports after this.” Well, that explained fully the problem and reassured me it was solved perfectly.
The second area was upstairs and was cunningly entitled “First contacts 1932 to 1987”. Correct me if I’m wrong, but by 1932 it was well too late to have a “first” contact with any conception of the Aboriginal people as a collective. There were again huge photo displays of modern Aboriginals expounding what wonderful lives they’d had since the white man had acquiesced to their requests to be brought into civilization, working back into “historical” case studies of the Aborigine people being brought the light in varying ways. Occasionally there would be a worrying allusion to Aboriginal rights, but always with a positive stress, that those problems were all solved.
There was nowhere much of a sign that the curators of the museum were aware of the various atrocities and inequalities both historical and modern. Broadly, the two sections on their native peoples were utter whitewashes. If that is the sum total of the information available to the myriad school children being taken around while I was there I have grave concerns about the whole state of race relations and its future. So I hope you won’t regard me as too much of a long haired hippy if I advise you not to waste your time with or contribute your money to such an institution.