Learning stageEarly Stage 1, Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3
Learning areaEnglish, Geography, History
TypeLearning journey, Teaching resources
On this page...
Learning journeys offer a scaffolded approach to exploring a topic both in the classroom and at the Museum. Follow our learning journey to deepen your students’ knowledge and understanding of cultural and natural history treasures from Australia, the Pacific, and other neighbouring countries.
The Australian Museum is Australia’s first public museum and was established in 1827 with the aim of procuring ‘many rare and curious specimens of Natural History.’ The first gallery in Australia's first museum, The Westpac Long Gallery has been magnificently restored to showcase 200 treasures. The exhibition showcases 100 treasures of the Australian Museum alongside the stories of 100 of Australia’s most-influential people.
Treasures are precious items we often define with words like ‘rare,’ ‘beautiful’ and ‘priceless.’ The values we place on them can be personal, communal or objective. The Australian Museum collections contain many treasures. They are in excess of 21 million objects including cultural material and specimens of animals, fossils and minerals, which represent a readily accessible portion of our world.
Cultural collections are made up of significant ethnographic and archaeological materials from around the world. The Australian Museum's cultural collections represent living cultures and contains one of the largest collections in the world of First Nations cultures, specifically from Pacific and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It also holds a world cultures collection with materials from Egyptian, Indonesian, African and Chinese cultures.
Natural history collections are made up of specimens which are studied by scientists and researchers to increase our knowledge and understanding of the natural world. The Australian Museum has over 20 million specimens of animals, fossils and minerals in its collection incorporated into ten collection areas. The Museum’s collections reduce the need for scientists to collect new specimens or objects when conducting research which is especially important when research is focused on endangered or vulnerable species.
Background information about the exhibition
Spread over two floors of the Westpac Long Gallery, 200 Treasures await your discovery. One hundred are objects carefully selected from the Museum’s extensive collections, another hundred are people chosen for the way they shaped Australia. Through these treasures, fascinating stories are revealed not only about our Museum but our nation – its people, history and role on the world’s stage.
On the ground floor you will see a number of showcases. Each showcase begins with a key treasure and unravels entanglements with other objects, people and places.
On the first floor you will see the 100 people chosen for the way they shaped Australia, as well as collection showcases which display specimens from each Museum collection area: Anthropology; First Nations; Pacific; Archaeology; Archives; Marine Invertebrates; Mammals; Arachnology; Malacology.
The first gallery which showcases the exhibition encompasses three levels in the original William wing of the Museum and it officially opened to the public in 1857. You can read more about the history of the Australian Museum here.
Through this learning journey, students will:
- investigate the meaning of a treasure and develop new perspectives on items within Museum collections.
- investigate the world’s cultural diversity, including some cultural and sustainable practices of indigenous peoples in Australia and nearby nations.
- explore objects made using natural and processed materials and consider how properties determine their use.
- use historical inquiry skills as they explore what a variety of cultural objects tell us about the past.
NSW syllabus outcomes: ENE-OLC-01; STe-9ME; HTe-2; EN1-OLC-01; ST1-13MW; HT1-4; EN2-1A; ST2-13MW; HT2-3; HT2-5; GE2-2 EN3-1A; ST3-13MW; HT3-2; HT3-5; GE3-2.
Prepare your students
An Acknowledgement of Country is a statement that pays respect to the Traditional Custodians of the Country that you are learning or meeting on and recognises their ongoing relationship with Country. The Australian Museum respects and acknowledges the Gadigal people as the Custodians of the land on which the Museum stands.
Which First Nations Country or Nation was your school built upon? If you are unsure contact a local First Nations organisation to find out. You might like to start with the NSW Aboriginal Land Council and the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group.
Ask your students to write an Acknowledgement of Country for your school. To get them started, read more about why an Acknowledgement of Country is important and how to write one in this ABC article.
Culture and natural history
With your students, brainstorm ideas about the culture (way of life). Here are some questions to get you started:
What are some things that define your culture?
What are some things from your culture that you are proud of?
How would you describe Australian culture?
To help students describe traditions within their own culture, ask them to share examples of the following: the food they eat; clothing they wear on special occasions; any special celebrations; their religion or spirituality (if they have one); any languages spoken at home; any examples of music, art or dance.
With your students, brainstorm ideas about nature and natural history.
What are some examples of materials we find in nature?
What are some examples of animals we find in nature?
How might our natural environment have changed over time and how do we know?
Why is it helpful to study and learn about animals around us?
Are there any animals that are important to you?
Bring in your own personal or cultural object to share with other students in your class
Ask your students to bring to school an object of personal or cultural significance to them (or a photo of the object if it's more appropriate). Their object could be an item which has special meaning to them, or it could be something from nature which makes them feel happy. Their object may have something to do with their religion, it may relate to a memory, it could be a photo of an animal, experience or person important to them, or it may have been given to them by a member of their family. Ask your students to find out as much as they can about their object.
Students can present their object to the rest of the class. To help them prepare, ask them to draw and label their object. When they present, ask them to share a response to the following questions:
What is your object?
How old is your object?
What is it made from?
Do you know who made it?
Why is it special to you or why do you like it?
Explore and discuss some treasures found in the Australian Museum’s collections
Explore with your students the meaning of the word treasure.
What words might you use to describe a treasure?
What makes an object valuable?
What are some examples of natural history or cultural objects that might be viewed as treasures?
Ask students to work in pairs, choose an object from the Australian Museum’s collections, and discuss why it is a treasure. Students then share their treasure to the rest of the class. When presenting, ask them to respond to the following questions:
What is your object or specimen?
How old do you think it is? Why?
Do you know who made it or where it was collected?
What makes it a treasure?
At the Museum
Use our Treasures exhibition insights or our Treasures conversation starters or a mixture of both. These activities are designed to encourage your students to connect, share and reflect on this topic through the specimens or objects on display.
We recommend that your students work in small groups, however, it is up to you how you implement and manage the activities.
Back in the classroom
Ask your students to imagine they have been sent by your local newspaper to review the 200 Treasures exhibit. Ask them to choose a picture of the exhibition and write some words to describe it, and comments (positive and/or negative) that will be the basis for their written review. Complete the assignment by writing a two to three sentence paragraph review of the exhibit.
What was the exhibit about?
What did you like and/or dislike?
Who would you recommend it to?
Set up your own exhibition
Students can set up their own exhibition about cultural diversity or another identified theme using the objects they brought into school prior to the excursion. Use our classroom activity on how to create an exhibition in your classroom or school to guide you.
First Nations cultural objects
First Nations peoples have an incredible connection to and understanding of Country (land, environment, animals, surroundings) and the Australian Museum has one of the most significant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collections.
Explore our online collections as a whole class and think of any First nations objects they saw in 200 Treasures.
What was it?
What was it made from?
How was it used?
Brainstorm some of the natural resources that would have been used by First Nations Australians prior to British Colonisation, then source some of the following: shells, plant fibres, bark, wood, leaves, rocks, feathers, animal skin, teeth, and bone. Use pictures if you are unable to find the real thing. Sort these into groups – animal, vegetable or mineral – and discuss their properties uses.
Break up the class and distribute some of the resources to each group. Ask students to investigate their properties (hard, soft, flexible, strong, sharp, heavy, light, attractive, waterproof, sticky), and then research First Nations objects which are made using the resources.
Can you think of objects used for similar purposes today?
What materials are they made of?
Which objects are most beneficial for our environment and Country? Why?
How are the scans useful to the public?
How are the scans useful to researchers?
How are stuffed animals useful for the public?
How are stuffed animals useful to researchers?
Split the class in two and have a debate about which is more important for our future – 3D scanning of objects and specimens, or taxidermy of animals.
Want to get even more out of your learning journey? Ask students to write a short response to one of the following questions.
What is a museum?
Why do we collect objects?
Who visits museums and why?