Locating the ‘museum’ in public pedagogies of indigenous/settler relations: case of the SA museum 

Year: 2013

Author: Hemming, Steve, Hattam, Robert

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The South Australian Museum as a research, tourism and educational institution is an active agent in the contact zone between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The South Australian Museum sits in the middle of Adelaide’s cultural precinct, as a comfortable, privileged position for an institution with a long history of authorising Eurocentric world histories and scientific accounts of cultures and identities.
We are interested in how its location, galleries, publications and resources are activated in this contemporary contact zone. Australia’s south-east, from Adelaide to Sydney, is constructed as part of the settled, white heartland of the Australian nation. The South Australian Museum’s exhibitions contribute to the construction of the south-east as settled and its high-profile involvement in national Indigenous rights debates such as the Hindmarsh Island Bridge controversy, have reinforced its traditional ‘expert’ and ‘Protector’ function in relation to Indigenous cultures (Bell 1998; Simons 2003). The antiquarian Aboriginal Cultures Gallery seemingly masks the contemporary pedagogical relevance and agency of the Museum with ‘de-politicised’ myths of peaceful and completed Australian settlement. These myths provide the backdrop for the interventions of its curators and researchers into broader Australian debates such as the ‘crisis’ in Indigenous affairs and Indigenous culture, the ‘failure’ of Indigenous self-determination and the so-called ‘history wars’. We are also interested in tracing the relationships between the influential constructions of the ‘contact zone’ found in Phillip Jones’ Ochre to Rust. We argue that educators need to examine the politics of knowledge and the public pedagogical and colonising practices of institutions such as the South Australian Museum as part of the reception of its cultural products – its publications, exhibitions and public interventions.
Against the colonising pedagogy of the SA museum, those advocating critical pedagogy need to engage in the public debates and contest the colonising logic of our public institutions that deliberately silence both historical and contemporary Indigenous struggle for an honourable place in the nation state.  Pragmatically this means providing resources to the community including schools for critiquing the colonising pedagogy of institutions such as the SA Museum.