Wetlands: From Bunyip to Beautiful

Last Sunday was the official opening/launch of the Museums Australia WA’s new travelling exhibition – Wetlands: From Bunyip to Beautiful. It was the culmination of more than a year’s organisation and work by Jane King and Rosemary Fitzgerald originally coming out of discussions about how MA(WA) can support small museums’ development of professional exhibitions (the idea of exhibitions, even, instead of ‘displays’). The exhibition, done on the cheap (of course), consists of eight panels, installation guide, suggested local content guide, templates to create more panels, participatory suggestions, wetland sounds disc, an educational program and a website. It was designed to prompt small museums to book the main exhibition and develop their own local content to complement it.

Two of the eight panels in place

This sort of project is why I like being involved in the museums world. MA(WA) doesn’t say to small museums run by volunteers that they have no idea what they’re doing, or just provide training, or send someone out once every year. An exhibition like this is fully scaffolded and just asks the museum to rise to the challenge it presents.

Of course, I might be slightly biased as I was part of the Curtin Uni student group that worked on the development, research and writing of the main exhibition. We worked for almost a whole (uni) year on the project and it threatened to swallow my brain at times. In the end I had most to do with the introductory panel and the ‘Settlement’ panel (which I researched and wrote) and helped out with a few other panels too. Designers from the Dept. of Environment and Conservation did the design (which is beautiful).

'Settlement': the panel I worked on

On Sunday, as I stood talking to two lovely curators who have already booked the exhibition for their museums, I realised that there were so many stories I collected during the research about early responses to wetlands (mostly swamps) in Perth that didn’t make it into my panel. Even though the research phase had finished months ago, I could still remember those stories. Love that.

I also loved watching strangers interact with the content on my panel. In particular, the use of two images prompted many discussions about how the Swan River has been altered for the Mitchell Fwy. It rounded off the experience nicely to see that what I thought would be interesting and would tell a story or spark an idea did actually do that. No wonder curators find their work so rewarding.

I’m not sure when I’ll get to do another exhibition, although I have an idea for one that is floating around in my head at the moment. I hope I can be involved in one soon because I had a lot of fun.

If you can make it to Mandurah Community Museum, you can see the exhibition for yourself until the 7 Dec. After that it will be at Whiteman Park. It is also going to Subiaco, Wanneroo and Melville and then…who knows! More details on the exhibition website.

Quick thanks to Jane, Rosie and Jennifer and all my fellow students!


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