Tony Armstrong’s Extra-Ordinary Things exhibition opens in Canberra

Exhibition showcases ordinary Australians with extraordinary stories

A vintage ute, a novelty cheque, an elite boxing trophy and an unforgettable letter from then Prime Minister Bob Hawke are among the seemingly ordinary objects showcased in an exhibition based on the ABC’s television series Tony Armstrong’s Extra-Ordinary Things, which has opened at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

The National Museum will display a selection of objects discovered by ABC personality Tony Armstrong as seen in his five-part series. The exhibition is a collaboration between the National Museum and Fremantle Australia. It is based on the ABC TV series supported by Screen Australia.

National Museum director Katherine McMahon said she was excited by the collaboration which has uncovered wonderful new stories that talk to Australia’s rich and diverse past.

‘We are delighted to be involved in this fantastic project to explore the untold history of Australia and uncover the objects Australians cherish,’ Ms McMahon said.

‘Three of the Museum’s curators, Dr Sophie Jensen, Dr Martha Sear and Craig Middleton, showed our guest curator, Tony Armstrong the ropes, as he embarked on his first exhibition. The project was a joy to be part of.’

The National Museum has included an object from its own collection in the exhibition, to complement an object uncovered by Tony in the television series, both of which relate to the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

‘A profound pairing is a pin presented in 1932 to rigger George Killen who leapt from a gantry hanging below the Sydney Harbour Bridge to save his co-worker Vincent Kelly who fell into the water during construction in 1930,’ Ms McMahon said.

‘The pin, loaned by his great-granddaughter Liz Killen, sits alongside the medal presented to Vincent Kelly which is in the National Museum’s collection,’ Ms McMahon said.

Tony Armstrong said he was proud of the TV series and the resulting exhibition.

‘I mean, what a thrill this whole project has been. From start to finish, meeting amazing people and having them share their extraordinary things. Then to have it all culminate at the Museum is wild. I’m so honoured to be involved and I hope everyone who took part in it is as proud as I am!’

Acting Assistant Director, Discovery and Collections, Dr Sophie Jensen, said, ‘As seen on ABC TV and iView, Tony Armstrong’s Extra-Ordinary Things brings together 25 personal experiences and reveals how seemingly ordinary things can have extraordinary stories.

‘Tony has travelled around Australia and found that even the simplest of things can tell a powerful personal story, connect a community, and illuminate our history,’ Dr Jensen said.

Tony Armstrong’s Extra-Ordinary Things is at the National Museum of Australia’s lower gallery in Canberra until 13 October 2024. Admission is free.

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