Straws in the Windby Max TeichmannNews Weekly
, December 16, 2000
A few weekends ago, I, along with some friends, visited the New Melbourne Museum. Having watched with mounting concern the rise of the ugly, characterless pile, which was to be the successor of our old, architecturally graceful and much loved original museum, I was still unprepared for the chaotic amateurish mess which occupies the new interior.
Large sections of the display look like the remnants of a garage sale. There was little order, little information, but, rather, a series of failed inspirations, possibly traceable to our Arts colleges, or TAFE. What appeared to the designers as insights, bright ideas, bearing the stamp of originality, emerge as lifeless gimmicks - unworthy of an important museum.
As we entered we ran into a line of dead birds, dead bats and a boot, or two. Frightening to young children, tedious to adults, and probably annoying to animal liberationists. Why have it? The fact that these fruits of the taxidermist's art were near the piles of Age newspapers, which are free, being part of the price of your ticket - is pure coincidence - but visitors were treating them all the same. Touching neither, just hurrying past, faces averted. The future of The Age?
Eventually I realised that there were a couple of core activities in this patently dysfunctional building. One was the Aboriginal Exhibition, which boiled down to a succession of rehashed "Say Sorry" propaganda pieces, Stolen Children faked statistics, and atrocitiy stories, some true, some inflated, some false. There was no evidence of the research, correcting or deflating any of this, of which there is now a substantial and growing body. No suggestion that this was damaged goods on show, based on race libels of the Australian people. The attempted reply to Andrew Bolt by Museum Director George MacDonald (Sun-Herald 23 November) deserves mention.
It confirms Bolt's and our own worst fears and adds to them. The Chairman of the Museum board, David Penington, couldn't have put it more bluntly, or more arrogantly. Nor, more foolishly. "The Museum deliberately sets out to balance the ignorance in the community.... by providing opportunities for Aboriginal perspectives to be heard." But not alternative, more factually based ones? In other words, a continuation of the contemporary treatment of history - one sided, harsh and punitive in tone, a morality play of goodies and baddies. Not serious history - and not intended to be. Which is why students avoid history, especially Australian "History," and "Studies," whenever they can - as they will this depressing little agitprop centre; which was once our Museum.
Professor Pennington has just said that the Museum is going to concentrate on Aboriginal Affairs - this is going to be the New Order. Presumably, if decriminalisation of drugs and the desirability of Shooting Galleries were to strike the board as "issues of public relevance, to research, present and promote," as Kennett's disgraceful 1997 changes to the Museums Act allow - then they will become part of the new Museum culture. Or the Republic may resurface.
Of course only conscripted school children will come, merely adding to the financial fiasco already developing. But what the hell - it's only someone else's taxes.
The Museum is standing its ground - "it supports the conclusions of the Bringing Them Home report until such time as detailed studies contradict it." It would be nice to know what evidence would satisfy the Museum Director and Board - also, how they could presume to be judges, and arbiters on such matters? Are Museum functionaries to assume the roles of statisticians, and part time jurists? Kennett's changes to the Museums Act seem almost intended to produce a new species of professional mutation, intellectual Jack-of-all-trades. No doubt this mischief - "look, no hands; Big Brother knows best," will spread into the Gallery and Library if it hasn't already.
In fact the Aboriginal section reminded me of the anti-religious museums of the old Soviets - replete with stories of religious atrocities, clerical hypocrisies, superstition, etc., etc., - to which school children were regularly taken, to reinforce the atheistic propaganda in their schools.
This being part of the campaign to trash the past, and delegitimise their parents. If this really is to be our future, then why not have a separate Museum - like the Holocaust Museum or the Immigration Museum? Answer - few would go.
Australians actually don't seek out propaganda - it has to be smuggled in among other things, or rammed down their throats, under conditions of monopoly.
There was a sparse roll up the day I visited, although it was a weekend. Mainly working-class families - looking disappointed, and in some cases angry. The prices, including the food, left the feeling that this was no place for a family outing. And these things used to be free.
The other core activity - the recent past of the average Aus - seems like an exercise in kicking the ladder away. "This was the boring suburban life from which I escaped to join the new state funded elite." The football culture is expressed in a diorama: if you look, there are no players, but a streaker. Along the fences are not the usual adds and slogans - Coco Cola, Fosters, etc. - but Vegies. What, or who are the Vegies here?
The wedding dress and cake from Neighbours represent "lower class" aspirations and cultural level. A video, anchored on a Melways map, shows street after street of semi-identical houses - little Boxes, as Pete Seeger used to sing. This is where and how the couch potatoes lived, and still do. But newly enfranchised revolutionary New Classers don't.
They squat in the inner suburbs, where we used to live, as communities - but from which the workers have been priced out - by Yuppies, who only come together in marches against racism, poverty and inequality. And so on.
Stuff I swear I remember from the basements of the Trades Hall is there, helping to represent the history of Labor and the workers. There is also a panel of tools the "workers" used. Interesting little fellows they were. I won't say anything.
I couldn't find any reference to the role and history of religion, and our churches and synagogues: but it may have been there somewhere.
The whole thing is basically unserious - and to think that $290 million have already gone down the plughole. And this is just Stage One.
We remember cities for certain buildings and not others. Tourists seek them out, and the locals recommend them to visitors. Depending upon how well endowed the city is, they are its Art Gallery, its Museum, its Library - especially if it be the Library of Congress, the British Museum, the Bodleian in Oxford; and its Opera House. These are the core - the living heart of that nation's culture and history.
We have had some of these, the triptych of Gallery, Museum and Library plus the Exhibition Building and the Botanical Gardens. All established last century, or before. We are being forced to watch while an alliance of builders and architects, unions and venal politicians, and a class of budding apparatchiki, seeking, like their totalitarian predecessors to destroy the past, because they wish to deny their own.
Mutilating our heritage, our identity. And making our present as rancorous, as joyless and philistine as is theirs. Brothers and Sisters, the clock stands at five to twelve.