Kim McKay AO
Director & CEO, Australian Museum
Ever since I picked up rocks and fossils on a beach in England as a child or, a few years later in Australia, watched on a small black and white television set at school as Apollo Astronaut Neil Armstrong took those first steps on the surface of the Moon in 1969, I’ve been intrigued by our universe and the rocks and minerals that shape it.
More recently, like most people around the world, I’ve gazed in awe at the images coming back from the James Webb Space Telescope, the largest telescope ever launched – images that reveal detail of unknown galaxies, shapes and forms which, according to NASA, will fundamentally alter our understanding of the universe.
The rocks and minerals housed in the Australian Museum’s extraordinary collection, curated over almost 200 years, tell a truly amazing story of our planet’s geological history as well as specimens that have landed here from space, giving a ‘deep time’ perspective.
It also tells a more specific story about how the Australian continent was formed and a ‘social history’ related to its exploration and mining industries.
The collection, one of Australia’s largest, has over 80,000 specimens with some 1800 selected for display in the new Minerals Gallery opened in December, 2022. Ross Pogson, the AM’s renowned collection curator who joined the Australian Museum in 1979, along with his team have done a remarkable job of selecting the rocks and minerals for display to help tell the stories which are coming into sharper focus and importance each day – from sparkling gemstones reflecting all the colours of the spectrum, some with extraordinary ‘carat’ value, to the rare earth minerals that are essential today in modern battery and catalytic converter technology.
Ross Pogson’s insights build on the knowledge of a long line of AM experts and generous collectors like Albert Chapman and Warren Somerville whose appreciation and understanding of the importance of the geological sciences has helped preserve stories and specimens across generations. They say it takes a village to create something meaningful and lasting and the AM team, whether in science research and conservation, exhibition design and production or in education and outreach, have done just that with the beautiful new Minerals Gallery, reflecting an important part of the Australian and world story for all to enjoy.
Professor Kristofer Helgen
Chief Scientist & Director, Australian Museum Research Institute
To date, the startling phenomenon we call life is known from only a single point in the universe: our own planet. On Earth, life is astonishingly diverse, representing millions of species, from microbes to great whales. The richness of life on Earth, sometimes ignored and sometimes celebrated, faces many threats. In an age of human impact, natural environments shrink and climates shift.
Since the origins of the Australian Museum, our scientists have studied the Earth Sciences – mineralogy, petrology, palaeontology and more.
Our large collections of rocks, minerals, meteorites and fossils are a testament to the Earth’s composition and its dynamism.
Like life itself, the Earth is diverse, dynamic and relentlessly evolving. Rocks and minerals, which form its makeup, come in a dizzying array of colours, shapes and chemical compositions.
Minerals are forged by pressure and heat and can undergo bewildering transformations. Some are borne deep below the surface of our planet while others have arrived as meteorites, literally geological wanderers from other worlds. Others have even replaced the bones and other tissues of formerly living creatures to become fossils. Many of these processes are far slower than human lifetimes. Thinking in timespans of millions or billions of years can bewilder us until we carefully steady our minds to think across this vastness of ‘deep time’.
Minerals transfix and delight us. Many – like diamonds, emeralds, sapphires, gold and silver – embody rarity, beauty and value. Countless others invoke feelings of beauty and wonder. Our new Minerals Gallery is a brilliant showcase of the full breadth of the Australian Museum’s collections in the Earth Sciences, placing on display thousands of some of the finest examples of rocks and minerals ever collected from across Australia and around the world. They tell the story of our planet in a way that reflects the spirit and knowledge of our Museum’s scientists, past and present. We present these geological examples, selected from our collections and with our staff’s expertise, with great pride, knowing that learning about the Earth’s diversity enriches us all.
President, Australian Museum Trust
The Australian Museum’s mineralogy collection represents every continent on Earth, including Antarctica – one of the most naturally inhospitable regions of the world. The collection exemplifies perseverance, survival in extreme conditions, meticulous patience and a shared goal to study and appreciate the sheer diversity of minerals on Earth – and beyond.
The Australian Museum’s rock and mineral collection is the oldest in Australia and contains the largest mineral component of any Australian collection. Attached to it are famous names like Mawson, Chapman and Somerville, and icons like the Adelie Land meteorite, ‘pineapple’ opals, a jaw-droppingly large sapphire, and the sparkling red urchin-like crocoite.
While these examples are surely impressive, what really touches us is the collection’s suite of extraordinary stories.
They reveal the human condition, the attachment we have to precious things, places and people, the excitement felt when a glittering cave is first opened, the shock when a meteorite stands in stark contrast to a white polar wilderness, or even the relief experienced when recovering a precious azurite stolen by a rogue trucker.
We expect exquisite sapphires, opals and diamonds – the ‘gemmy’ minerals in a collection. But as you see more of the collection, no doubt you’ll gain a greater appreciation for other striking minerals such as calcite, petrified wood, and even copper.
Playing a small part in revealing the marvellous contexts of these specimens is a great honour for myself and my fellow Australian Museum Trustees. Both the new permanent exhibition and this digital publication pay tribute to the hard work of museum professionals over almost 200 years of collecting and displaying the Earth’s treasures for an admiring audience.
How we will use this precious resource in years to come and how the digitisation of the mineral collection will add new meaning to these still, silent specimens that speak volumes about our past and about ourselves, awaits us and will forge another chapter in the AM’s minerals collection
The Hon. Ben Franklin MLC
Minister for Tourism, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Minister for the Arts and Minister for Regional Youth
Governments around the world are facing an unprecedented time in history – one where we find ourselves walking a fine line between technological advancement and the conservation of our planet. Both are critical to life – and to each other.
Critical minerals mined from the earth are vital components in the development and manufacture of a range of products. They’re necessary for low-emissions technologies, such as wind turbines, solar panels and batteries; consumer products like mobile phones, computers, watches, electric cars and sensors; and key defence, medical and aerospace products. They’re even in our toothpaste. In our modern world, they are as vital as the air we breathe. But they can’t come at the cost of it.
The New South Wales Government is finding that important balance. Our approach to driving down emissions while developing new concepts and technologies to promote the exploration of critical minerals sets us apart as a key investment destination for the industries of the future. And our richness in critical minerals such as copper, zirconium, titanium, rare earth elements, cobalt, antimony and scandium has made us a strategically important partner with other State and Commonwealth governments.
I am proud of what the NSW Government and our institutions are achieving to help our Earth become a cleaner, greener place.
The Australian Museum’s Minerals exhibition and this digital publication provides visitors with a contextualised experience of the minerals of our world – as well as their extraordinary beauty.
It will help them gain insight into the complexities that come with using the rich resources beneath our feet.
But the learning doesn’t end there. Through the Museum’s comprehensive curriculum-based earth sciences and geology education programs, the next generation are being inspired to enter careers in emerging STEM industries. And it’s this future we look to – one where we advance our technology, protect our Earth and achieve the delicate balance of both
Bringing together around 1800 mineral specimens for exhibition at the Australian Museum was an enormous undertaking in scientific and historical research, conservation, production, design and content development.
The Australian Museum (AM) would like to thank all the staff and everyone involved who helped produce the Minerals Gallery exhibition at the AM, as well as all the contributors to this online publication.
In particular, the AM Executive Leadership team, Kim McKay AO, Russell Briggs, Jacinta Spurrett, Amanda Farrar, Laura McBride, Prof. Kris Helgen, Heather Harris, Brett Ogier and Maggie Chen.
The AM Exhibition Project team Fran Dorey, Charlie Kingsford, Ross Pogson, Dayna McGeeney, Lorrae Dick, Sheldon Teare, Aaron Maestri, Mark Joseph, Michael Smith, Sophie Phillips, David Bock and Oliver van den Bogaerde.
The AM Digital team Megan Lawrence, Jen Cork, Yvonne Grice and Abram Powell.
Writers Fran Dorey and Ross Pogson.
Photography by Stuart Humpreys, Carl Bento, Ric Bolzan, John Chapman, John Fields, Cate Lowe, Ross Pogson, Abram Powell and Gayle Sutherland.
Website design and development by Interaction Consortium.
The Australian Museum would especially like to thank the New South Wales Government for their ongoing commitment and generous support.