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27 November 2017


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That seems to be the standard response to everyone Arthur.

It also seems to misrepresent the situation.

When I last looked there were only four Humanities collections, not five. There is foreign ethnology (Barry's area), Aboriginal, human biology and archaeology.

With Barry gone responsibility for foreign ethnology, including the Pacific collection, has been added to the supervising senior collection manager's role (Alice Beale). So instead of supervising four collection managers she now also has to look after one of the collections. She won't be able to do that adequately I suspect and will have no scope for research or maintaining the vital contacts that Barry established such as the one with the PNG National Museum.

Another curious anomaly is that the Aboriginal sacred objects collections will now be managed by a woman who won't actually be allowed to see or touch the objects.

Barry was offered either one or two days work a week, a separation package or an honorary role where he would work for free. Clearly a Hobson's choice. It's pretty obvious that the Museum wants him out.

So the Pacific collection, including all the PNG material, has been shoved to one side in a little nook that everyone can ignore.

Of particular interest to you would be the collections from the PNG islands region that the Museum holds and displays. Most of that came from New Ireland and was collected immediately after WW1, mainly from departing Germans. That's a big chunk of islands' cultural traditions now under threat.

Such are the depredations of career bureaucrats.

I got a reply this morning from Museum's John Carty---

"Thanks for your letter, and for your passionate engagement with the South Australian Museum. I will always value that. I fear, however, that you have been misinformed or only partially informed of the circumstances here.

"These are the facts of matter. When I arrived at the Museum last year we had 3 researchers in the Humanities, and only 2 out of 5 collections cared for by a dedicated collection manager.

"As a result of the changes I am delivering we will now have all 5 of our collections cared for properly and we will have between 6-7 researchers working on them.

"We are in no way abdicating our responsibility to care for or interpret our collections - rather we are growing our capacity to do so. That Barry is no longer one of those researchers is his choice.

"There are matters between an employer and employee that are not for general discussion, and I will do Barry the honour of not going into those here. What I can say is that we value Barry and his research greatly, and we offered Barry a range of options for staying on at the Museum to help mentor and develop the next generation of researchers who will care for our Pacific collections.

"Barry chose not to take those opportunities, and has decided to take redeployment into another area of the public service. It is a loss for the Museum, but that is his choice.

"We remain committed to the ongoing research and care of our Pacific collections, and I am genuinely excited by the range of researchers who will be working with these collections over the years ahead.

"So I can certainly reassure you that our plans for the care of the PNG and Pacific collections remain strong as they have ever been. I hope, in due course, that Barry will also return to support the development of this next era of the Museum. But that will be up to him.

"I thank you again for your concern about this situation,

I sent this email to the above mentioned persons this morning. I would advise other concerned people to do the same.

"The SA Museum has had a long and fruitful association with the National Museum in PNG and holds important collections related to PNG culture and history.

"I have been advised that the positions of curator of foreign ethnology and archaeology are to be abolished at the South Australian Museum.

"I am very surprised and concerned at such a short-sighted decision, particularly as it relates to the Museum’s Pacific collections.

"South Australia has had a long association with the Pacific region through companies such as the Adelaide Steamship Company, individuals involved in pre-independence administration, myself included, and missionaries, particularly Lutheran, teachers and various specialist researchers.

"This association has yielded the diverse collections that the Museum now holds.

"The association is ongoing and of increasing geo-political importance, as highlighted in the recent federal government white paper on foreign policy.

"Not least among these associations are personal contacts and working relationships established with curatorial and other equivalents in the Pacific region. These will now be at risk and will send a very negative message to the region.

"I have had the privilege of working on several of the Papua New Guinea collections as a volunteer and have used both the Pacific collection and the vast archaeological collections in the course of consultancy work, both in Papua New Guinea and Australia. In many cases the collections have been indispensable to this work.

"Through this process I have come to realise that a great deal of work on the collections still remains. In the case of the Papua New Guinea collections this includes the need for conservation.

"Without dedicated curators for both collections I fail to see how this can be achieved.

"I would urge you to reconsider this decidedly retrograde step in the South Australian Museum’s functions and responsibilities."

Bad news.

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