A very long time ago on land roughly bordered by Bundjalung and Kamilaroi Country in the north, Paakantyi and Barkindji Country in the west and by Yuin and Wiradjuri Country in the south, people celebrated life and shared their cultural bounty across mob and tribe and kin.

Around campfires they carved and painted, creating the ubiquitous and the sacred and consummating these objects with meaning through ceremony. They were makers, collectors and curators of their own story, destiny and identity.

It was on this land that NSW squatted down and spawned new stories; some of them birthed quickly—stories of bloodshed, bushrangers, and of boom and bust. Others unfolded over time, weaving connections between people, objects and place. In turn this became history, the products of which were kept and cared for by the mindful, stored in trunks, in drawers, on walls, and as keepsakes in memory.

This collateral—some of it old, some of it valuable, some of it quixotic—can be seen today in an array of museums, galleries, Aboriginal keeping places and historic sites across the state.

Inspired magazine and the stories within it are drawn from all sorts of places. Borrowing from the concept of an Aboriginal keeping place and expanding on the idea of a traditional museum, NSW cultural activity addresses the deep human desire to invest in culture, and for this we are indebted to the impassioned artists, curators and those who collect and conserve.

We hope you enjoy this compilation and that you are inspired to seek and find cultural richness within NSW.

There's something in the air in regional NSW. The Murray Art Museum Albury, just opened and affectionately named MAMA, is the newest in a long line of regional cultural institutions to offer quality exhibitions and collections to locals and tourists alike. This is not a new trend. The oldest regional gallery in NSW, the Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery, was established more than one hundred years ago. Nor is this trend confined to the visual arts: social history museums also provide a similarly diverse array of exhibitions, programs and events of national standard.

But key to the fresh air of regional centres is home-grown quality product. Innovative exhibitions, drawn from cultural artefacts held or created in the regions themselves, provide unique insights for visitors while enhancing and challenging our ideas about regional history and identity.

With the centenary of the Gallipoli landings dominating the national psyche, interpretations of the Anzac story have featured in many cultural institutions’ exhibition programs. A highlight from the range of large scale projects is The Spirit of Anzac Centenary Experience which will visit 23 cities and regional centres between September 2015 and April 2017. The Anzac narratives have focused largely on the experiences of Australian service personnel abroad. As a result the pilgrimage to the Turkish and European battlefields has become a significant rite of passage for many Australians. But three recent exhibitions in regional NSW challenge us to look within.

In relation to our First World War heritage, regional cultural institutions have encouraged us to look closer to home. Using historic photographs and archival material gathered by the volunteer project team the After Anzac exhibition tells the stories of 30 of the 671 men who enlisted from Hay and surrounds. Presented by The Hay War Memorial High School Museum, much of this material was sourced from private family collections and supplemented with contemporary photographs of each soldier’s living relatives, creating tangible and highly personal links between past and present. With a loss of 133 men from a population of only 3000, WWI had a profound impact on the Hay community as it did on small towns across Australia.

Key to the fresh air of regional centres is home-grown quality product

Partnerships between kindred organisations are often used to enhance regional exhibitions. Wagga Wagga Art Gallery’s Loss, reverence and longing: Anzac stories from the home front was a collaboration between the gallery, the Pioneer Women’s Hut at Tumbarumba and Charles Sturt University. Historic material from the Pioneer Women’s Hut collection was used to inspire 16 artists working in range of media to create the core of the exhibition. The Wagga Wagga Chapter of the Embroiderer’s Guild added two artworks to the show. Loss, reverence and longing, like After Anzac, used regional stories gleaned from personal artefacts and everyday items to enhance notions of the Anzac narrative. By telling these stories using material with both local and present day connections, visitors feel the full impact of WWI on the home front.

In 2014, the aptly named Identity project gave six museums in the Murray region the opportunity to showcase their unique collections. Under the stewardship of Albury LibraryMuseum, five volunteer run museums—Corowa Federation Museum, Jindera Pioneer Museum, Holbrook Submarine Museum, Yarrawonga-Mulwala Pioneer Museum, and the Headlie Taylor Header Museum at Henty—worked together to identify unique themes and objects in each of their rich collections. These objects were incorporated into new displays, culminating in a weekend bus tour to each of the six sites.

Like their metropolitan counterparts, regional museums have a lot to offer visitors. Centres like Wagga, Hay, Albury, and countless other towns are more than quaint places to stop while travelling between our state capitals. Our regional centres are vibrant places in their own right and inform and challenge our notions of regional and national identity.

Having long erased the image of being modest, provincial outposts of large metropolitan art institutions, regional art galleries and museums hold significant portions of Australian art history and offer broad access to the country's greatest artists.

Magnets for domestic and international tourists alike these institutions are the cultural hubs within local communities. Regional galleries provide space for local artists to exhibit works and children to take art classes. They are a rallying point for community exchange and interaction, and one which provides a cultural vibrancy to lure urbanites from big-city lifestyles and entice some into early sea or tree changes.

This coming of age of regional galleries and heightened public expectations has driven increasingly innovative and diverse approaches to art collection, curating and exhibition. Curated exhibitions encompass the full gamut of cultural product; touring shows, acquisitions from local and professional art collectors, themed exhibitions integrated with public programming, direct artist commissions, artist residencies and local art prizes, and many outstanding models of collection exist.

Orange Regional Gallery in the Central West has a permanent collection featuring Australian modernists such Grace Cossington-Smith, Ian Fairweather, Roland Wakelin and Sidney Nolan, as well as Chroma a recent acquisition of contemporary Australian works gifted by Jim Cobb founder of Chromacryl acrylic paints.

Gallery Director Lisa Loader understands the demand to see the permanent collection—from tourists visiting Orange to see the gallery’s Nolans and Fairweathers, and from locals who want to experience iconic works first hand and in the flesh—and offers permanent collection highlights, selectively curated to support themed exhibitions and touring shows.

Magnets for domestic and international tourists alike these institutions are the cultural hubs within local communities. 

Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, also in the state’s Central West, is one of the oldest regional galleries in NSW. Gallery Director Richard Perram and his team are emblematic of a new approach to collection and curation that dynamically draws upon artist commissions, touring shows, artist residency, local outreach and education, and themed exhibitions.

Working closely with collectors Lisa and Danny Goldberg to curate Stars + Stripes: American Art of 21st century, Perram designed an exhibition of new, contemporary art which will tour nationally until the end of 2016. Equally successful was AES+F: Last Riot and Other Contemporary Works showcasing the renowned Russian arts collective and attracting more than 8000 visitors in six weeks, and according to Perram has helped build new audiences for the gallery.

Bathurst Regional Art Gallery has also commissioned Wiradjuri/Kamilaroi artist Jonathan Jones to produce a project examining Wiradjuri history of Bathurst. Jones’s work will be added to their permanent collection that has historically had very limited representation of Aboriginal art.

Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery, with its strong focus on balancing touring exhibitions with in-house curated shows, often feature nationally significant artists from the Hunter region. This provides critical opportunities to build exposure for local and regional artists, many who share their knowledge and experience in workshops run by the gallery, up-skilling the community in visual literacy and in hands-on art making.

Responding to local desire for access to the permanent collection, the gallery instituted the 'Your Collection’ program last year to regularly feature thematic exhibitions. Aimed at instilling a sense of community ownership and building support for local artists, these events have proved popular.

The gallery has sought to develop a strong permanent collection with a substantial holding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander works on paper. Artists such as Vernon Ah Kee, Jonathan Jones, Jason Wing, Freddie Times, Eubena Nampitjin, Kathleen Paddoon and Ningie Nanala Nangala are represented in the collection. Many of these works have appeared in several exhibitions to date including, most recently Jason Wing’s lithograph Captain James Crook (2013)—a key work in (in)visible: the First Peoples and War exhibition.

Galleries are ever searching for that sweet spot where local content keeps the regulars happy and at the same time new audiences are drawn to newly commissioned works, touring shows and exclusively regional content. They are increasingly hitting the mark.

Australian cultural life is inextricably linked to its stunning environment and most especially to the precious resource of water. Be it childhood holidays at the beach, prawn cocktails on Christmas Day, or throwing a line into a river under the shade of a towering red gum, Aussies celebrate, cultivate and colonise around water.

On the Mid North Coast of NSW, rivers play a powerful role in defining the cultural identity of the region. Four mighty rivers, the Macleay, Manning, Hastings and Camden Haven carve their way through a fertile landscape from the ranges to the coast where freshwater meets saltwater, nourishing and sustaining life along the way—a symphony of biodiversity.

It was the abundant natural resources of this beautiful Biripi and Dunghutti Country that attracted the attention of colonialists seeking to relocate convicts out of Sydney. NSW Surveyor General, John Oxley, led the drive to investigate the river systems as new frontiers and key points of access to timber and fertile soil for cultivation. Following initial settlement, communities sprung up along the waterways to support industry and the rivers became transportation highways.

This story of colonial settlement is told in detail by the Our Rivers, Our History project, a collaborative venture that draws together seven museums from the Manning Valley through to the Macleay River. Each museum reveals its own part of this heritage—deeply rooted in the rivers and waterways, and in maritime history. Showcasing significant relics Our Rivers, Our History can be explored by taking a journey through their online exhibition, or in person.

No matter which way the cultural trail is explored it provides the tools to glean how the rivers shaped economic development and defined the cultural identity of the region.

There's an army of dedicated and friendly volunteers who take on the role of cultural custodians to provide a wealth of historical and local knowledge.

The magnificent geography of the Mid North Coast: the golden beaches, rainforests, tall stands of gum trees, waterfalls and ever-flowing rivers breathe life and creative spirit into its inhabitants. Renowned for its talented artists, performers, filmmakers, writers, and craftspeople producing imaginative and award winning examples of their talent, opportunities to engage creatively abound.

Creating a nexus between the ideas of environment, creativity and wellbeing is the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail. The project involves 51 large-scale koala sculptures, each individually designed and hand-painted in dazzling designs by local artists. Dotted right across the region, these sculptures can be found waiting outside shops, picnicking in parklands, lazing by the river or enchanting children. The whimsical genius behind this public sculpture trail was conceived by Arts and Health Australia in recognition of the close ties between creative playfulness and wellbeing, as well as in acknowledgment that the largest Koala population on the east coast of Australia exists here.

Similarly people-focused and playfully creative is Lismore Regional Gallery's Splendour in the Arts. Occurring annually in conjunction with the Splendour in the Grass contemporary music festival, the event gives new and emerging artists an opportunity to engage with experienced mentors from Australia and abroad. The results are dynamic and range across disciplines including live art, dance, sculpture, installations and light-art.

The Mid North Coast is a place where camaraderie and culture collide with imagination and innovation. The locals know this well and are proud of what they have created, sharing it with a graciousness that warms the heart.

It is not enough these days to have a 'build it and they will come' approach—museums and galleries need to capture their audiences and bring them inside with programs and events that are tailored to them. So it should come as no surprise that most exhibitions have associated talks, workshops and tours to engage a core group who are often already loyal and regular visitors.

But what about other audiences? How does a museum find new candidates, engage new interest groups and age groups?

Inviting the community in is key. This simple act reveals rich sources of engagement—local schools, art groups, social services and local businesses—and energises a museum or gallery’s efforts to create something new, often with surprising and long-lasting impact.

Museums and galleries are no longer just about the buildings and their contents—visitors, education, research and events are now core business.

The City of Plenty, a collaborative community project run by Penrith Regional Gallery & The Lewers Bequest, based around the artist Sarah Goffman’s cityscape installation made from donated food and household goods is one such example.

An evolving art installation with a social conscience, City of Plenty relied upon local businesses and individuals to donate packaged food items over the life of the project, while local schools documented construction progress through a blog. The donation of the food to local charities for redistribution concluded the project and represented a major outcome.

Eskbank House & Museum in Lithgow has come up with an innovative way to engage its local community and specifically, the elusive teenage audience. Their Zombies project linked with local high schools and the Halloween14 Block Party organised by Lithgow City Council. Working with professionals to run workshops, and by leveraging the popular contemporary zombie theme, the museum developed a photographic exhibition complete with special effects and film-making sessions and a grand finale zombie fashion parade, making Eskbank House & Museum a destination for young people.

By merging science and art, Hazelhurst Gallery in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire created a ‘walk-in brain’ of knitted neurons installed in the gallery space as part of 2014 Science Week. To teach people about brain health and the important research behind it, 1665 neurons were created in workshops with artists Pat Pillai and Rita Pearce, as well as being sent in from across Australia to make up the final work.

The project continues on the National Science Week website, with patterns and photographic inspirations available, and an active Facebook page associated with the ongoing project, creating yet another connected community.

Sometimes community connections are virtual. DigiVol, the Australian Museum’s citizen science project brings together over 1000 volunteers. It comprises an in-house component where volunteers photograph and scan specimens and their labels in the digitisation lab, and an online component where volunteers capture scientific data by transcribing, geo-referencing and researching text associated the digitised images. This data is then made available to other researchers and institutions in the Australian Museum’s online databases.

Citizen science is a form of crowdsourcing used by many public institutions, relying on decentralisation to enable large portions of data to be worked over by large numbers of volunteers, simultaneously lowering costs and developing a sense of community ownership. According to the Atlas of Living Australia, a collaborative project between the CSIRO, Australia's museums and herbaria, universities, and the Australian Government, the value to both the institution and the volunteers is immense:

"Data and insights gained through the efforts of citizen scientists can be as valuable as those obtained by scientists working in academia, natural history collections, government agencies and business. Harnessing the enthusiasm, interest and efforts of the thousands of people participating in citizen science will continue to enhance the range and depth of data available for analysis and research."

Museums and galleries are no longer just about the buildings and their contents—visitors, education, research and events are now core business. As more and more museums and galleries become lively centres for a whole range of engaging community activities and projects their participation will continue to expand the scope of our public institutions, large and small.

Museums and galleries play a lead role in modelling sustainable practice to the wider community. They themselves have become attractions for people with an appreciation of architectural, cultural and environmental innovation.

According to Museums Australia, sustainability means:

'… using, developing and protecting resources at a rate and in a manner that enables people to meet their current needs and also provides that future generations can meet their own needs. Sustainability requires simultaneously meeting environmental, economic and community needs.'

The grand sandstone homestead at Bundanon, once home to Arthur Boyd, has been presiding over the Shoalhaven River for almost 150 years. It has witnessed epic floods, bushfires and family tragedies alongside its history of iconic Australian art. Managed by Bundanon Trust, Arthur Boyd’s gift to the nation covers 1100 hectares of bushland and former grazing pasture. Its farming heritage has left its mark in the form of invasive weeds. Although the property fronts 12 kilometres of river, it is only accessible at two points. Lantana is so thick in places, it creeps five metres into the indigenous canopy.

The property however, continues to evolve in the spirit of Boyd’s legacy and is undergoing massive regeneration as part of a joint project with Landcare Australia, South East Local Land Services, Jacobs Group and Greening Australia. Over $1.8 million has been invested in the Landcare Living Landscapes project since 2012, enabling the clearing of over 100 hectares of noxious weeds and the planting of 45,000 native plant species.

The challenge for Bundanon Trust is to honour the artistic, social and environmental history of the property, whilst simultaneously protecting its future. Property Manager Henry Goodall describes the approach as ‘industrial environmentalism’. The scale of the Landcare Living Landscapes project and the size of the property provide a unique opportunity to offset carbon trade and generate another income stream for the site by biobanking and carbon farming.

Treelines Track is a legacy project by artist Janet Laurence to acknowledge the transformation of Bundanon through the Living Landscapes project. Stretching three kilometres, the linear passage of trees represents the evolution of the site from homestead garden to hybrid, indigenous and regenerated treescapes. Stopping points are dotted with stones scripted with interpretative text. This living artwork will reach maturity next generation and stands as a monument to the future. It embodies all the potential creative possibilities that arise from partnerships between arts institutions and environmental bodies.

Museums and galleries play a lead role in modelling sustainable practice to the wider community.

Sustainable practices aren’t confined to the outdoors. Just an hour to the north and an easy day trip from Sydney, Wollongong or Canberra, lies the Berrima District Museum, a tiny community organisation punching way above its weight in sustainability stakes.

The Berrima community, led by a team of 17 volunteers, recently rallied in support of a museum building project, raising $35,000 in cash donations, in addition to $350,000 in goods and services from 60 companies. With this money, and supplemented by eight government grants and two community trust grants, the construction of a new gallery and associated improvements has been achieved.

The new gallery is the Southern Highland’s only display space for exhibitions from interstate and international institutions. This broadens capacity to engage a much wider target group, and provides a new revenue source that will financially support local collections, storytelling and research well into the future.

The Museum now opens an additional 156 days a year and visitation rates have doubled, attracting a new wave of volunteers and local supporters who bring with them a wealth of expertise and personal networks.

Regional cultural institutions reflect the values, commitment and expertise of the people who manage them at a local level. The South Coast and Southern Highlands boasts some of the best examples of innovative sustainable practice in museums and galleries, complementing the regions’ stunning natural beauty and sophisticated hospitality.

Final words

These articles have been sourced through the Museums & Galleries of NSW Roving Reporter program, in association with the 2015 IMAGinE industry Awards. 

If you would like to know more about this publication or what we do, see: mgnsw.org.au

To learn more about the IMAGinE Awards and check out this year's winner see: mgnsw.org.au/imagine2015

Editor: Carole Best  
Social Media and Online Content Coordinator, M&G NSW     

Concept and design: Emily Priddel
Communications Officer, M&G NSW


Introduction: View over the Shoalhaven River. Photo: David Land.

Chapter one: Timber working tools on display at Port Macquarie Museum. Photo: Marguerite Gamble.

Chapter two: Work in progress, Joshua Yeldham: Surrender exhibited at Manly Art Gallery & Museum.

Chapter three: View north from Flagstaff Hill, adjacent the Mid North Coast Maritime Museum. Photo: Marguerite Gamble.

Chapter four: Crowds gather during an At Night event at Hazelhurst Regional Gallery & Arts Centre.

Chapter five: View over the grounds at Bundanon, as managed by Bundanon Trust. Photo: David Lamb.


Museums & Galleries of NSW support and promote volunteer, artist-run and professionally-staffed public museums and galleries, and Aboriginal cultural centres, throughout NSW.

Museums & Galleries of NSW is supported by the NSW Government through Arts NSW.

Museums & Galleries of NSW is assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.