Inclusive ideas for interpretation

I’m about to launch into a new project, researching the history of the Department of Native Affairs (as it was known then) when it was accommodated in the government offices building at 57 Murray Street. This is a huge, complex and delicate piece of research. The period I’m concentrating on is during the “heyday” of the infamous A.O. Neville as Chief Protector of Aborigines and in particular 1922 to 1945.

A conservation plan was written for this building more than a decade ago which intentionally and fairly neatly side-stepped this aspect of its history. I can’t decide if that was prudent or seriously wimpy. Either way, it has left a hole for me to fill. I’m doing the research for the National Trust (WA) who have just acquired the building. It is hoped that the research will be used to develop some concept or beginning idea for interpretation of the site. I feel this work will go into safe hands after seeing Anne Brake’s presentation in Kalgoorlie on the Curtin Family House.

It gives me all sorts of warm fuzzy feelings that the house the John Curtin – perhaps our most loved Prime Minster – lived in with his family for decades has been interpreted not as a house that a man who happened to be famous lived in, but as a family home that one of the family happened to be famous lived in. There is a huge difference here – one I’d do well to include in my dissertation work – that I think suggests the future for properly and adequately including minorities/ignored groups, such as, in this case, women. Go and visit the website (unfortunately it looks very ‘old school’) to see more about how and why they’ve done this.

Being at Anne’s presentation last week has given me a bit of a frame in which to conceptualise the research I’m doing for 57 Murray Street. The National Trust (WA) seems in the throws of re-inventing itself as less conservative and stuffy (maybe it has never really been this) and more willing to take on quite radical and modern understandings of museums, buildings and interpretation. This is exciting times to be working in the museum sector and makes me feel better about what I’m (quite sneakily) trying to do at Smirk’s Cottage (…more on that soon).

In the meantime, though, I have to actually DO the research. This requires me to stop fiddling around doing other non-urgent things!


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