'My Museum' is an ongoing column in Explore magazine that gives Australian Museum staff members the opportunity to introduce themselves, their work and their worlds. This edition gives the reins to Laura McBride, curator of Unsettled and newly appointed Director, First Nations.

Laura McBride, Director, First Nations
Laura McBride, Director, First Nations, stands in one of the many exhibitions she has curated at the Australian Museum – Garrigarrang: Sea Country. Image: Anna Kucera
© Australian Museum

Yaama gurra (hello with respect). In March this year, I moved into the role of Director, First Nations at the Australian Museum and I’m happy that I have this opportunity to share more about myself and my work with our Museum community.

I am a proud Wailwan and Kooma woman. Wailwan and Kooma are both Aboriginal Sovereign Nations located in north-western New South Wales and south-west Queensland respectively, I grew up under the guidance of strong cultural Elders, in both Sydney and in Coonamble, NSW, moving between these communities throughout my childhood. I knew from a young age that I wanted to work closely with First Nations cultures and have always had a passion for history, science and museums. I undertook my undergraduate academic degree (double Major in Australian Indigenous Studies and Psychology) at the University of Sydney, and my Master of Aboriginal Education at the University of Technology, Sydney.

I knew from a young age that I wanted to work closely with First Nations cultures and have always had a passion for history, science and museums.

I have worked at the Australian Museum for the past 11 years in the education, programming and exhibitions teams. This experience has given me a solid understanding of the Museum’s operations and business. I have undertaken a museum apprenticeship, so to speak. I may have met some of you when delivering a tour, or in our First Nations programs such as the WEAVE Festival in 2018. Or perhaps you have attended exhibitions I have curated like Garrigarrang (Sea Country) and GADI, all about Aboriginal culture here in Sydney.

Mahn curator floor talk

Laura delivers a curator floor talk at the opening of the permanent installation Mahn in 2019.

Image: Nick Langley
© Australian Museum

In my time at the Museum, I have had the privilege of learning from many Elders and First Nations community members, sector peers and colleagues about how we should be undertaking First Nations cultural business at the Australian Museum. Over the years I have worked on implementing some of these best practice
models across programming and exhibitions. This has resulted in meaningful and representative exhibitions, public programs and projects that have been loved by our audiences and have also strengthened our relationships and reputation with First Nations communities.

Research shows that our audiences want to learn more about our First Nations collections and be offered opportunities to engage with Aboriginal cultural practitioners to hear what they have to say on critical issues affecting our communities, such as climate action and sustainable living. The First Nations team plays a key role as facilitators of community voices, giving them an influential and authoritative platform at the Museum and helping provide access and pathways to First Nations peoples and cultures.

Paul Keating Event in Garrigarrang 2015

Laura with Uncle Allen Madden in Bayala Nura: Yarning Country, December 2015

Image: Tim Levy
© Australian Museum

I feel honoured and enthusiastic about my new role as inaugural First Nations Director. My vision for the future includes creating self- determining models across the Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Pacific cultural collections. It is about prioritising and amplifying First Nations voices so that Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Pacific communities represent themselves and their cultures within the Museum. I will lead the work, including collections care and presentation of these important collections. This will include continuing Phil Gordon’s pioneering work in Indigenous repatriation of ancestral remains, in which the Australian Museum has led the way. I will continue having the conversations that he started regarding community-based resting places.

In the first few months of my directorship, I finalised the development and presentation of Unsettled, which will be on display in our new touring exhibition hall and open to the public from May to October 2021. I hope we have once again provided an educational and informative show that helps our audiences connect with First Nations histories and cultures. We have a range of programs that are associated with the exhibition and I look forward to meeting you at those, or within the walls of the Museum, in the near future.

This article first appeared in Explore magazine, Winter 2021. View the whole issue here.