2. National Museum of Australia Gallery Redevelopment Stage 1 - Life in Australia

The National Museum of Australia (NMA) seeks approval from the Committee to proceed with stage one of its proposed gallery development program, the Life in Australia environmental history gallery. The proposal is to redevelop original exhibitions to create a new 1500 square metres permanent exhibition of environmental history provisionally titled Life in Australia.
The estimated cost of the project is $20.5 million (excluding GST).
The project was referred to the Committee on 13 February 2019.

Conduct of the inquiry

Following referral, the inquiry was publicised on the Committee’s website and via media release.
The Committee received one submission and one confidential submission. A list of submissions can be found at Appendix A.
On 1 April 2019, the Committee conducted a public and in-camera hearing. A transcript of the public hearing is available on the Committee’s website.

Need for the works

The National Museum of Australia (NMA) was officially opened on 11 March 2001 and was established to develop and maintain the National Historical Collection for the benefit of the nation.1
In 2016-17 the NMA received more than 1.8 million visitors, making it a key cultural institution of national significance.2
In its submission to the Committee, the NMA stated:
The currency of the Museum’s galleries, the number of objects they display, and the standard and quality of presentation is pivotal to the Museum’s continuing success and ability to meet legislative responsibilities.3
At the public hearing, the NMA told the Committee it had developed a Master Plan to 2030 that outlines a strategy to double the size of current exhibition space, leads innovation in new experiential technologies, and enhances commercial operations to raise additional own-source income. The NMA stated that a key part of the Master Plan is a major program of gallery renewal.4
The NMA stated that the proposed gallery renewal program:
…will see the permanent galleries redeveloped into three distinct spaces with a linked narrative experience that comprehensively tells the story of Australia. The first phase of this program is ‘Gallery Development Stage 1: Life in Australia’. This phase will involve the redevelopment of exhibitions original to the opening of the Museum in 2001.5
At the public hearing, the NMA explained to the Committee that ‘the useful life of these sorts of galleries is anywhere between 15 and 20 years.’6 The NMA noted that:
As the galleries approach their 20th year, they are showing significant signs of age and will not meet the demand of growing audience numbers. Over the past five years, on-site visitor engagements at the Museum have grown by an average of 18% each year, from 600,000 in 2014, to over 1,000,000 in 2018. With increased visitation forecast to continue, addressing the age and deficiencies of current galleries is an urgent priority.7
The NMA stated that two of the three exhibitions to be redeveloped are currently closed, having been retained beyond their useful life and due to the ‘option of continuing maintenance being cost prohibitive’.8
The NMA told the Committee it had identified a number of deficiencies in the three exhibitions to be redeveloped under this proposal:
Circa theatre (closed in 2017 due to age and currently repurposed as a programming space);
Eternity (closed in 2017 due to age and currently repurposed as temporary display space); and
Old New Land, the current permanent exhibition of environmental history (opened in 2001).9
In its submission to the Committee, the NMA also identified a number of specific deficiencies caused by the age of these three exhibitions:
Non-compliance with aspects of the building code;
Aged building services;
Aged exhibition infrastructure;
Lack of flexibility and functionality within the built architecture, including a ramp and mezzanine level;
Confusing visitor circulation throughout;
Outdated exhibition narrative, content and visitor experience; and
Inadequate display of collection and interpretive material.10

Scope of the works

In its submission, NMA set out the objectives of the proposed works, stating that they were intended to:
Create a building envelope to support the proposed exhibition;
Increase exhibition space and maximise the functionality and flexibility of the space by:
Removing visual and physical impediments such as airlocks; ramps; and columns;
Creating volume for large displays;
Improving circulation and wayfinding through a well-defined visitor path; and
Create space for functions and events to take place in the exhibition space.11
In order to achieve these objectives, NMA proposed the following base building works:
Partial removal of an existing mezzanine floor to create a new mezzanine floor;
Demolition of part of the building façade to create a new external stair improving connections between floors and enhanced connections to Lake Burley Griffin;
Removal of the existing internal stair; and
Removal of existing internal ramp.12
The proposed demolition works include:
Lower ground – an existing door will be removed and replaced with an airlock.
Ground floor – the majority of existing internal walls will be removed to provide a clear base layout for the exhibition. An existing non-compliant circulation ramp will be removed to create a larger usable floor area. The design supports minimal changes to plant and riser locations. An existing internal stair between the Ground Floor and Level 1 will be removed.
Level 1 – the existing mezzanine will be partially demolished to increase the double height space available to the exhibition area below. The existing internal stair to the Ground Floor will be removed. The existing kitchen will be refurbished.
General – Redundant electrical outlets, power and communications cabling and trays will be removed. All existing lighting, including lighting control equipment, will be decommissioned and removed with the exception of the emergency lighting monitoring devices. Redundant communications cabling will be removed. Existing floor coverings will be removed and floors will be made level and good.
External – part of the eastern façade will be demolished to allow for the new external stair.13
The proposed structural works include:
A new external stair;
Removal of an existing non-compliant circulation internal ramp; and
Partial removal of an existing linear mezzanine to create a new multipurpose mezzanine.14
The proposed mechanical works include:
Two new air handling units with ultrasonic humidification systems to provide extremely high efficiency humidification control;
Replacement of existing smoke exhaust fans, and/or installation of additional smoke exhaust fans;
Reuse of existing mechanical ductwork and zoning where possible;
New diffusers to the ceilings; and
Recessed de-stratification fans to double-height spaces for energy efficiency and environmental.15
Additional proposed works include:
Hydraulic works –new reverse osmosis plant equipment, new drainage and cold water for the proposed new kitchenette on Level 1, and relocation of the existing fire hose reel and hydrant.
Electrical works – provision for lighting, power and mechanical including security monitoring, detection and essential services such as fire detection and EWIS.
Acoustics – acoustic design to address noise from the building services and the proposed exhibition.
Façade – parts of the existing aluminium panelled building façade and some of the existing glazing will be removed, and glazing for the new external stair that is consistent with the existing patterns in the Museum atrium.16
In its submission, the NMA explained that the proposed exhibition works will comprise the redevelopment of three existing exhibitions – Circa theatre, Eternity and Old New Land – all of which date from 2001. A fourth exhibition, Australian Journeys, will be relocated and amalgamated into a larger permanent exhibition.17
According to the NMA:
Exhibition works are defined to comprise infrastructure works that are installed within the base building structure which are required for the medium-term operation of the Museum. Design is the responsibility of a specialist exhibition designer and works are generally undertaken by specialist fit-out contractors. The works are specific to a particular exhibition and have an expected design life of 15-20 years.18
The proposed exhibition works include:
Cabinets, plinths and other exhibition-specific joinery;
Exhibition specific services;
Graphic structures;
Public program infrastructure and defined spaces;
Object barriers;
Exhibition lighting, both fixtures and track;
Exhibition security systems;
Exhibition graphics, signage and text;
Object display and support elements;
Hanging systems;
Guidelines for materials used in showcases;
Specified showcase systems;
Multimedia/digital infrastructure, both hardware and software; and
Floor and ceiling finishes within the exhibition space.19
The exhibition will be entitled “Life in Australia”, and is focused on environmental history. According to the NMA, it will ‘reveal the grand, dynamic patterns of the Australian continent, and explore how people are part of its lively rhythms and flows’.20 The proposed key exhibition ‘stories’ are:
Introduction to the Story of Australia - as told through the Museum’s three permanent galleries: ‘Life in Australia’, ‘A Modern Nation’, and ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’.
Introduction to Life in Australia – including the biodiversity, geology and evolutionary history of the continent.
Power – deep time forces of creation understood geologically and culturally, the power and agency of the non-human world, and the role of humans within this system – Indigenous creation spirits, deep time continental formation, monsoons and cyclones, and crocodiles.
Connection – the continent’s dynamic rhythms and flows across landscapes and seasons – Murray Darling Basic, Australian Alps, whales and Eden.
Life – the unique biodiversity, beauty and complexity of life in Australia, and human relationships of care and nourishment with the non-human world – Great Barrier Reef, arid lands, Southwest Western Australia, Canberra region, and Tasmania.
Change – past, present and future change.21

Community consultation

In its submission to the Committee, the NMA stated it has undertaken wide-ranging consultation for this project via a participatory process to develop the Life in Australia exhibition. The NMA states that it is ‘working closely with members of the public who have a direct connection to the content of the exhibition, including Indigenous and non- Indigenous communities’.22
The NMA stated that at the time of making its submission to the Committee it was informing and consulting with the following key stakeholders: the general public, schools and the education sector, Minister for Communication and the Arts, Council of the NMA, Indigenous Reference Group of the NMA, sponsors and other corporate partners, donors and lenders of content, communities and individuals associated with exhibition content, specialist groups and associations, the National Capital Authority, and other museums.23

Heritage considerations

The Committee notes that although the Museum is an iconic building of national significance located within the Parliamentary Triangle, it is not a place entered in the Commonwealth and National Heritage Lists.
In its submission to the Committee the NMA stated that:
The Museum has engaged the original Principal Architect of the Museum, Howard Raggatt from practice ARM Architecture to undertake the architectural design for the project. The Museum and ARM Architecture are committed to the principles of heritage management and will ensure any change to the building has no adverse impact on its values. 24

Cost of the works

‘The Gallery Development Stage One: Life in Australia’ project has an estimated cost of $20.5 million, exclusive of GST, and is to be fully funded from the Museum’s existing capital reserves.25
The NMA noted that it intends to seek non-Government sponsorship for the project, in addition to the project budget of $20.5 million. This will be used to enhance the exhibition ‘through a greater presentation of objects from the National Historical Collection and supplementation of technology to enhance the interactivity and interpretative reach of the exhibition’.26
The NMA provided further details on project costings in its confidential submission and during an in-camera hearing.
The Committee is satisfied that the costings for the project provided to it have been adequately assessed by the proponent entity.
The Committee was pleased to note that the funding for the project is being sourced from the Museum’s existing capital reserves.

Committee comment

The Committee recognises the National Museum of Australia as one of Australia’s important national cultural institutions, which plays a key educational role in the community and in the dissemination of the Australian story.
The Committee encourages the NMA to continue consulting with key stakeholders with regard to the proposed gallery development and exhibition works.
The Committee did not identify any issues of concern with the proposal and is satisfied that the project has merit in terms of need, scope and cost.
Having regard to its role and responsibilities contained in the Public Works Committee Act 1969, the Committee is of the view that this project signifies value for money for the Commonwealth and constitutes a project which is fit for purpose, having regard to the established need.

Recommendation 1

The Committee recommends that the House of Representatives resolve, pursuant to Section 18(7) of the Public Works Committee Act 1969, that it is expedient to carry out the following proposed works: proposed Gallery Development Stage 1: Life in Australia for the National Museum of Australia in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory.
Proponent entities must notify the Committee of any changes to the project scope, time, cost, function or design. The Committee also requires that a post-implementation report be provided within three months of project completion. A report template can be found on the Committee’s website.
Hon Dr John McVeigh MP

  • 1
    National Museum of Australia, Submission 1, p. 3.
  • 2
    National Museum of Australia, Submission 1, pp. 6-7.
  • 3
    National Museum of Australia, Submission 1, p. 7.
  • 4
    National Museum of Australia, Submission 1, p. 7.
  • 5
    National Museum of Australia, Submission 1, p. 4.
  • 6
    Dr Matthew Trinca, National Museum of Australia, Transcript of Evidence, 1 April 2019, p. 2.
  • 7
    National Museum of Australia, Submission 1, p. 7.
  • 8
    National Museum of Australia, Submission 1, p. 8.
  • 9
    National Museum of Australia, Submission 1, pp. 7 – 8.
  • 10
    National Museum of Australia, Submission 1, pp. 7 – 8.
  • 11
    National Museum of Australia, Submission 1, p. 21.
  • 12
    National Museum of Australia, Submission 1, p. 21.
  • 13
    National Museum of Australia, Submission 1, p. 28.
  • 14
    National Museum of Australia, Submission 1, p. 28.
  • 15
    National Museum of Australia, Submission 1, p. 29.
  • 16
    National Museum of Australia, Submission 1, p. 30-32.
  • 17
    National Museum of Australia, Submission 1, p. 33.
  • 18
    National Museum of Australia, Submission 1, p. 33.
  • 19
    National Museum of Australia, Submission 1, p. 34.
  • 20
    National Museum of Australia, Submission 1, p. 34.
  • 21
    National Museum of Australia, Submission 1, pp. 34-35.
  • 22
    National Museum of Australia, Submission 1, p. 10.
  • 23
    National Museum of Australia, Submission 1, p. 10.
  • 24
    National Museum of Australia, Submission 1, p. 19.
  • 25
    National Museum of Australia, Submission 1, p. 9.
  • 26
    National Museum of Australia, Submission 1, p. 9.

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