LINDA MORRIS | Sydney Morning Herald | Extracts
SYDNEY - The Australian Museum's decision to move a world-class collection offsite to make way for a touring exhibition has sparked protests from descendants of a distinguished Danish anthropologist.
After the Garden Palace fire of 1882 destroyed all but a handful of museum artefacts, the Australian Museum turned to Richard Parkinson, his wife Phebe and her sister, Emma Coe Forsayth, known as Queen Emma, to rebuild its collection.
Between them, the pioneers - who established plantations in the New Guinea islands in 1879 - provided more than 4,000 items from 1882 to 1884 alone, and continued donations until 1911, forming a core part of the 60,000 objects that are currently housed at the museum.
The objects would become records of times past that would astonish and inform future generations, the museum's then head of anthropology, Jim Specht, predicted.
But the Pacific collection is to be ejected as a result of a $57.5 million expansion of Australia's oldest museum to stage the blockbuster Tutankhamun exhibition and accommodate peak predictions of nine new visitors every minute.
In a submission made to the Department of Planning's Environmental Impact Statement, 157 descendants of Parkinson and the sisters now residing in Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States have protested the relocation and warned this ''gift of history'' would be further marginalised if it is boxed and moved offsite.
''We recognise the obvious lack of floor space at the museum but lament the Pacific - our region, our geographical location, our home - has been on a lower priority rung to other areas and so-called blockbusters," the submission said.
“Commercial values should never trump cultural values. Pacific communities especially should have more, not less, access to objects sacred and spiritual to them."
But the museum contends that the current storage facilities at the Australian Museum's William Street site did not provide the optimum environment for the collection.
Existing space was inaccessible to visitors, provided no area for examination, research or privacy, and low ceilings and narrow aisles meant it was difficult to view or retrieve objects, the museum said.
Many larger objects from the Pacific collection were already housed offsite at Castle Hill due to space constraints.
Manager of Pacific and International Collections Dr Michael Mel said the move to the new facility would enable greater access and opportunities for community workshops, visits, and discussion.
"We will also be encouraging more collaborations and partnerships with Pacific researchers, artists, and community leaders to develop the knowledge and information relating to the Pacific collection so that these can become accessible for all for our shared future," Dr Mel said.
“We want to collaborate more with communities and elders, the holders of knowledge and wisdom from the Pacific, and we are committed to developing partnerships with these communities and their elders.”