This year the prestigious International Council of Museums (ICOM) Australia Award for a discreet project has recognised an innovative exhibition titled With Secrecy and Despatch developed by the dynamic Campbelltown Arts Centre based on international collaboration between First Nation curators and artists in Australia and Canada.

To coincide with 2017 edition of International Museum Day (Thursday 18 May) this national award is made annually to an institution that has organised what is viewed as a most significant exhibition, with social and cultural impact, presented in the previous year.  

Key contributors to the With Secrecy and Despatch project include UNSW Art & Design’s Director of Indigenous Programs and lead curator, Tess Allas, and co-curator and Associate Professor at the University of Regina in Canada, David Garneau.   

Six Aboriginal Australian artists, Tony Albert, Vernon Ah Kee, Julie Gough, Genevieve Grieves, Dale Harding, and Frances Belle Parker, and four First Nations Canadian artists, Jordan Bennett, Cheryl L'Hirondelle, Marianne Nicolson, and Adrian Stimson, were invited to produce new work. Historic works from Aboriginal Australian artists complemented these new commissions.

The title of the exhibition directly references the orders that early nineteenth century New South Wales Governor Lachlan Macquarie gave to his military commanders and their troops to undertake the massacre of Indigenous people “with secrecy and despatch” in the Nepean region south of Sydney.

April 17, 2016 marked the 200th anniversary of the Appin Massacre, when at least 14 people were killed by shooting and others were driven to jump to their deaths into a rocky gorge near Broughton Pass. To commemorate this significant event, Campbelltown Arts Centre partnered with the Canada Council for the Arts, the Dharawal community and First Nation curators Tess Allas (representing Australia) and David Garneau (representing Canada) to produce the exhibition With Secrecy and Despatch.

With Secrecy and Despatch traces the parallel colonial histories of Australia and Canada. The artists featured in the project explored themes that dealt directly with the Appin Massacre or with colonial brutality and themes of culture, identity, conflict, dispossession, and community memory.

International Museum Day is global celebration of the importance of museums in the preservation of culture and the development of a sense of a shared future among peoples of the world.  In 2017 the theme Museums and contested histories: Saying the unspeakable in museums is the banner under which more than 30,000 museums worldwide have organized activities in more than 120 countries, from North America to Africa, Australia, Europe, and Asia.

By choosing to say the unspeakable in museums, all those who work in museums and all those who attend museum events explore the incomprehensible aspects of the contested histories inherent to the human race. This subject – saying the unspeakable – also encourages museums to play an active role in peacefully addressing traumatic histories through mediation and multiple points of view.

As part of the global event this year UNSW Galleries welcomes visitors to two major exhibitions:

Still In My Mind: Gurindji Location, Experience, and Visuality is a landmark project curated by Brenda Croft, inspired by the words of revered Indigenous leader Vincent Lingiari, who said, ‘that land ... I still got it on my mind’.  The exhibition considers the ongoing impact of the Gurindji Walk-Off, a seminal event in Australian history that continues to resonate today. The Walk-Off, a nine-year act of self-determination that began in 1966 and sparked the national land rights movement, was led by Lingiari and countrymen and women working at Wave Hill Station (Jinparrak) in the Northern Territory. 

A Working Model of the World broadly explores the ways models are used to create and share knowledge and experience.  From dioramas to dolls' houses, atomic models to cloud-chambers, mandalas to maquettes – A working model of the world gathers together significant, unusual, and charismatic objects created to help human beings understand the world and contribute to its betterment.