Ms Kim McKay AO, Australian Museum Director & CEO
Kim McKay AO, Australian Museum Director & CEO. Image: Ross Coffey © Australian Museum

What a year! Your enthusiasm and your engagement in our work this year at the Australian Museum saw our one-millionth visitor welcomed through the doors just as the New Year counted down to January 2023.

Our homegrown exhibitions of excellence have been engaging, enthusing international communities and local audiences alike.

Sharks, Spiders and Tyrannosaurs: Meet the Family — surely captivating touring fellows — are all original AM exhibitions, bringing communities together from Florida to Texas, Michigan to Wisconsin, North Carolina, Ontario and Montreal, Iowa, Kitchener, Halifax, Edinburgh (Scotland), Nebraska, Missouri, Virginia, Georgia, New Mexico and Wellington (New Zealand). That’s a whole lot of new AM friends, and we’re proud to promote the NSW brand across the globe.

We proudly took home three national museum awards, too: for the transformed children’s learning centre Burra, Sharks and for the unofficial icon of WorldPride, Progress Shark.

One of the highlights this year was the Wansolmoana exhibition opening in October, celebrating Pacifika cultures across the region. Funded by a significant grant from the Macdoch Foundation, the new gallery brings together perspectives from 19 countries, as well as the Pacifika diaspora living on the east coast of Australia. It’s a triumph for our team and a treasured showcase of the AM’s Pacific collection.

A golden year already, and we’re not finished yet! This issue of Explore reveals more about a very special golden guest with the arrival in Sydney of the greatest Pharoah of them all: Ramses II. Ramses & the Gold of the Pharaohs, replete with the coffin of Ramses the Great, the most remarkable sarcophagus discovered in ancient Egypt, will be the biggest exhibition the AM has ever hosted.

I’ve had an eye on bringing Ramses to Australia since I began my role here almost a decade ago. Exclusive to Sydney, Ramses includes one-of-a-kind relics such as sarcophagi, animal mummies, magnificent jewellery, spectacular royal masks and exquisite amulets — many of which have never before left Egypt. In this issue, we’ve provided Explore readers with an essay by curator Dr Zahi Hawass — the renowned archaeologist and the former head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, who curated Ramses & the Gold of the Pharaohs — plus a selection of the exhibition’s ten Ramses highlights, but I’d say, see all of them!

Outside of ancient Egypt, we’re looking to the immediate future too. To climate action, food insecurity, human health, pandemic preparedness and wildlife conservation. Behind the scenes, we’ve been contributing this year to a collaborative global research effort, published in Science, combining more than one billion scientific objects from the collections of 73 of the world’s leading natural history museums. The AM is the 18th largest globally.

This is an ultra-ambitious effort with 28 countries involved to find and accelerate a museum digitisation and facilitation framework. Underscoring the vital scientific infrastructure museum collections represent, we hope genomic sequencing can advance a coordinated global strategy, filling gaps in taxonomic, geographic, stratigraphic and cultural understanding of the natural world. It is potentially a game-changer in solutions acceleration.

Finally, one of the most important contributions to climate action research is the steady stewardship of Dr Anne Hoggett AM and Dr Lyle Vail AM, leading the AM’s Lizard Island Research Station, which former AM Director Dr Frank Talbot founded 50 years ago. Anne spoke in a moving Talbot Oration of her scientific colleagues and students’ invaluable research and insights — some 2700 research papers since 1971 — which allow us to track the precarious balance of the Great Barrier Reef, advocate the need to enable nature’s continuity and infuse a curiosity of care for what’s next, in 2024. Anne and Lyle have served the AM’s science for more than 33 years and were the obvious recipients of this year’s AMRI Lifetime Achievement Award, presented at the Lizard Island Reef Research Foundation (LIRRF) dinner in October.

The work never stops here at the AM, whether that’s in AMRI science, education, First Nations and Pacifika or in climate change. We’re all excited for what’s next.

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