A canoe replica of Makassar fishermen when they visited the north coast of Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland in the 16th century (foto: Ahmad Syam)
The sky was clear and blue. The bus route Canberra City Centre-National Museum of Australia stopped at the bus stop in front of the Museum. I got off the bus and saw how bright the building of the Museum firstly opened its doors to the public in March 2001. Colours of black, red, and orange were very brilliant under the sunlight.
The Museum, the artwork of architect Howard Raggat, stands out like a theme park complete with what looked like an unfinished roller-coaster track and skateboard rink. I had a good look around the outside of the Museum located on Acton Peninsula on the Lake Burley Griffin. The building is architecturally striking in a variety of elements and shapes. According to many sources, the idea of a jigsaw puzzle and the expression of the many tangled stories that make up Australia’s history inspired the building architecture.
Then I took a brief walk to the huge hole. It looks like a hole from a distance but, actually, it was not. That is the Garden of Australia Dreams’ view from the top.
I came into the Museum through the main entrance. Like the pattern of the exterior building, knotted ropes theme is the basic design of the main entrance and the Hall. The interior of the Hall does not look like a Museum. Not only its rich colour but also its unusual spaces and unpredictable projections and textures.
A young lady, in bright-blacks uniform of the Museum staff at the information desk, said hello to me. She had a cheerful smile on her face. Then she asked me to store my bag in the Cloakroom.
Another staff approached me as soon as I left the Cloakroom. She gave the Museum map to me. “Do you need a help?” she asked and tried to make a generous offer. “Can I take pictures inside the Museum?” I replied with question. “Oh, yes but you have to obey the Museum regulation not to take picture in the focus gallery!” she explained.
The Hall located in the ground level. Temporary exhibition gallery, shop, restaurant and café are also occupied the Hall. The Hall connected to exhibition room such as circa, eternity, our story place, and nation. Those places are fun-filled with learning environment. Some exhibition feature objects and interactives appeal to all ages.
Still in the ground level, there are diprotodons; the largest of all marsupials, giant wombat-like grass eaters, they weighed 1.5 tonnes. There is The Citizen’s Arch; decoration from Australia’s six colonies federated in 1901.
In the First Australia exhibition, visitors will get much information about Aboriginal life before the white settlement. This includes how Aboriginal people made baskets and containers for daily life. Despite their different forms and fabrics, these baskets are all used to carry food, cultural items, and even babies.
Then I had a look at a Makassar canoe from Arnhem Land. Yolngu People of north-east Arnhem Land learned how to make and use dugout canoe through their extensive contact with fishermen from Makassar (now part of Indonesia). They often decorated the outside of their canoes with Yolngu designs in ochre.
As noted in history, some Australia’s earliest visitors, pre-dating European settlement, were fishermen from Makassar. They came to fish for the ‘trepang’ or sea cow for lucrative Chinese markets.
The fishermen of Makassar had been visiting the north coast of Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland from the beginning of the 16th century by canoes. Evidence pertaining to these early visitors can be found in the similarity of certain words in both language of the Makassar and coastal Aborigines. That is why, I think Makassar become one of knotted tales of Australia’s history.
From the ground, the visitor can take a journey to the first level of the building through stairs or lift. At this level, the visitor can enjoy the Garden of Australia Dreams from viewing platform.
The knotted ropes nuances appear in the linking of the ground, the first level, and the lower ground. Those nuances become the symbol of Australia’s stories that, even thought very complex, should be bind together.
The Garden of Australia Dreams is located in the lower ground. The garden has beautiful landscape and very rich with symbols drawn from Australian life. There are two maps that printed on the ground; one showing the traditional lands of Aboriginal people and another is a Standard English map of Australia.
The Garden released me from the claustrophobic atmosphere inside the Museum. A neat and fresh-water pool under the map of Australia stimulated me to plunge into the pool. If there were not warning not to swim in the pool, I would jump and enjoy the pool on that hot day.
Beside the map, the visitor also can visit camera obscura; a metallic room looks like Ned Kelly’s helmet but is actually a primitive camera, dream house; the empty room with no roof as a symbol of Australia’s built environment, and antipodean; a jolly monstrous figure of an ‘antipodean’. In the middle Ages, Europeans imagined mythical figures like antipodeans might live in the ‘Great South Land’.
The Museum now has the world's largest collection of Aboriginal bark paintings, with more than 1,600 works by numerous artists throughout Australia. 95,000 Aboriginal stone artefacts from surface sites found all over Australia can also be seen here.
According to the information desk staffs, the visitors are about 1.000-2.000 a day. Last year, the total visitors were 700.000 and this Museum was awarded Australia’s best major tourist attraction in 2005.
Before leaving the Museum, again I scrutinized non-symmetrical textures of building and said utterly how complex Australia’s history is. (Canberra, 2006)