Poignant personal objects on display at National Museum of Australia

Joint exhibition commemorates 2020 Australian of the Year state and territory recipients

A pair of boots, an anatomy book, and a Hawaiian statue, are among the objects chosen by this year’s 2020 Australian of the Year state and territory recipients, who include an Indigenous music legend, a refugee orthopaedic surgeon, and a women’s rugby league pioneer.
The National Museum of Australia and the National Australia Day Council (NADC) today launched an exhibition of significant objects chosen by the eight extraordinary 2020 Australian of the Year state and territory recipients which tell us something about their lives, aspirations and experiences.
National Museum Director, Dr Mathew Trinca, said the recipients had chosen diverse and deeply personal objects reflecting their life’s journey.
“We are honoured to feature these fascinating objects selected by eight exceptional individuals. We hope many Australians will see this exhibition and reflect on the issues raised by the objects on display – and the endeavours of the Australians who selected them,” Dr Trinca said.
National Australia Day Council CEO, Ms Karlie Brand, said the objects had moved beyond being ordinary possessions and were now extraordinarily significant.

“These items tell of the exceptional experiences of our state and territory recipients. They form part of the narrative of achievement that continues to be told in their daily lives,” Ms Brand said.

Curator Dr Laina Hall said, “What I love about this exhibition is how it so neatly captures the power of material culture. These objects have been kept for a reason and now, in being shared, enable us to connect with the recipients in a really personal way.”

  • 2020 ACT Australian of the Year, Katrina Fanning: Sporting pioneer, mentor and proud Wiradjuri woman, Katrina Fanning was a rugby league pioneer. She chose the rugby jersey she wore during the first women’s test match against New Zealand in 1995.
  • 2020 NSW Australian of the Year, Professor Munjed Al Muderis: Orthopaedic surgeon and human-rights advocate Munjed Al Muderis fled Iraq in 1999. The book, Last’s Anatomy by RMH McMinn, was one of the few items he brought from Iraq. It is a reminder of his life as a junior doctor and was a treasured companion during his time in detention. 
  • 2020 NT Australian of the Year, Dr Geoffrey Thompson: Sports physician and ex-RAAF flying doctor, Dr Geoffrey Thompson chose his first stethoscope and his pilot’s logbook. Together they capture his long career in medicine and in the air.
  • 2020 Queensland Australian of the Year, Rachel Downie: After one of her students died by suicide, educator and social entrepreneur Rachel Downie developed Stymie, an online resource for students to anonymously report harm. A small ceramic bird her student made is a deeply personal reminder of him and how his death was the catalyst for the work she does now.
  • 2020 SA Australian of the Year, Dr James Muecke AM: Shocked by the high levels of blindness in Asia, ophthalmologist James Muecke co-founded Sight For All. He found a statue of Kahuna Akamai, the Hawaiian god of wisdom, in Honolulu. He was 11 years old and begged his parents to buy it for him.
  • 2020 Tasmania Australian of the Year Dr Jess Melbourne-Thomas: As a leading researcher in marine, Antarctic and climate science, Jess Melbourne-Thomas is a co-founder of the Homeward Bound project, which aims to heighten the influence and impact of women in making decisions that shape our planet. On display are the boots she wore on her first trip to Antarctica in 2012.
  • 2020 Victoria Australian of the Year Archie Roach AM: Throughout his distinguished career, singer and storyteller Archie Roach has drawn on his own experiences to highlight issues affecting many Indigenous Australians. He has provided a book that presents the lyrics of his acclaimed song, ‘Took the children away’, featuring illustrations by his late wife and collaborator, Ruby Hunter. Archie has also loaned one of the necklaces he wears that is a connection to his Gunditjmara and Bundjalung cultures.
  • 2020 WA Australian of the Year, Annie Fogarty AM: Philanthropist Annie Fogarty firmly believes in the power of education and co-founded the Fogarty Foundation, which aims to advance social change through educational initiatives. The book Imagine by Alison Lester was a favourite of Annie’s children and they read it together many times. It reminds Annie of the joy of stories and the wonderful world of imagination.

Each year, Australia celebrates the achievements and contributions of extraordinary people through the Australian of the Year Awards, which honour leading citizens who are role models for us all.

The exhibition will be on display at the National Museum until the 16 February 2020 and then tour nationally.
Confirmed venues
Waverley Libraries Gallery, Bondi Junction, NSW, 16 March – 16 May 2020
Academy Gallery, University of Tasmania, Launceston, 24 August – 18 September 2020

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