Kim McKay, Director and CEO, unveils some welcome changes at the Australian Museum.
One of the great things about joining the Australian Museum is learning about its colourful history, traditions and wonderful stories. In particular, the story of Gerard Krefft, Curator (Director) from 1864 to 1874, has captured my imagination and, indeed, we have recently honoured Krefft in a most fitting way.
Krefft came to Sydney and the Museum in 1860 to take up the role of Assistant Curator and within a year was made acting Curator. An outspoken man of ‘independent thought and adventurous spirit’, he demonstrated a real passion for the natural world. He mounted scientific expeditions to collect fossils and other specimens, authored books on snakes and mammals, and even discovered a new species of fish, which he identified while consuming a specimen at a dinner party!
Krefft corresponded with Charles Darwin, whose ‘new theories of evolution’ published in 1859 made sense to Krefft. But this scientific stance on evolution put him offside with Museum Trustees, many of whom were creationists. They also disliked Krefft’s management style and eventually had him dismissed and forcibly removed from the Museum.
To honour Krefft’s work and his public stand in supporting science, we have transformed the old Director’s offices into new reception and meeting rooms named the Krefft Rooms. They feature images, portraits and artefacts from Krefft’s tenure – special places where we can share Museum stories with donors, sponsors, VIP guests, media and other interested supporters.
Like Krefft and my other predecessors at the Museum’s helm, I am proud to stand up for science and the other crucial work we do here. Science is under attack on many fronts and it’s important that we continue to be a strong voice at the forefront of scientific knowledge and discovery. To this end, we have formally renamed our Research & Collections Division as the Australian Museum Research Institute (AMRI), just in time for National Science Week.
AMRI focuses on four key pillars of research: the impact of climate change on biodiversity; invasive and pest species; animal conservation; and wildlife genomics. Its advisory board, chaired by Museum Trustee Professor Merlin Crossley, oversees the direction of our scientific research, with input from a skilled team led by Dr Brian Lassig, Head of AMRI and Assistant Director of the Museum.
You might have seen our announcement in the news that we plan to open a new main entrance facing William Street, scheduled for March 2015. A new, long entry ramp starting at the corner of College Street will deliver visitors into a large and impressive glass entry, the Crystal Hall, which will double as a new function space at night. The new entrance connects directly to the ground floor providing better access and making it easier to navigate the Museum.
We will also move the Museum shop and café from their present location and in their place create a new exhibit – the Great Walk Gallery, featuring over 400 animal specimens – that tells the story of Australia and the world’s biodiversity. At 630 square metres, this is the first new permanent exhibition space to be added to the Museum in decades, and it will be a wonderful new attraction. The café will be moved to the rooftop where a new brasserie and function space will provide some of the best views in Sydney. A new express elevator will be installed to reach the rooftop.
We’ll be starting work on the new entrance very soon, thanks to the amazing team at the Museum and to the NSW Government for financial support. In addition to this work, the government has also provided $4.7 million over the next two years to develop a new master plan for the Museum and a clear vision for our future.
I would also like to acknowledge here some of our latest corporate partners for coming on board to support the Museum, including Lindblad Expeditions – National Geographic and Adventure World. Keep an eye out for more information about Adventure World’s incredible support when they present our Aztecs exhibition, opening in September.
This article first appeared in Explore 36(2) August 2014.