Chapter 1—Director’s review
Photo: Jennie Groom
The past year was one of significant achievement, particularly in the development of innovative ways to engage with our audiences through outreach, online and school holiday activities and the care of our most important collection item—the Old Parliament House building.
Through a robust strategic planning process we have established priorities that will serve to shape our direction into the future and ensure that we continue to tell the story of the journey of Australian democracy to a far reaching audience whilst conserving and interpreting our heritage building and its collections.
The year in review
The highlight of the year was the exhibition Marnti warajanga—a walk together, which toured to Perth and five remote communities in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. This outreach program was a major commitment over a long period that commenced in 2010 taking time to consult, listen and develop relationships with the communities and our exhibition partners.
While the exhibition’s development was primarily coordinated through the Exhibitions Team it required involvement across the entire organisation to achieve the goals of presenting an adaptable and highly durable exhibition in challenging outdoor venues such as school yards and a mine site in the harsh conditions of the Pilbara together with a program of participatory community events and education workshops.
The tour could not have proceeded without the goodwill and commitment of our exhibition partners Wangka Maya Pilbara Aboriginal Language Centre and photographer Tobias Titz. The generous financial support of BHP Billiton and the Australian Government’s National Collecting Institutions Touring and Outreach Program was also critical to the tour’s success.
We are very proud of this innovative outreach project that has represented a long walk together with the communities and exhibition partners we were privileged to collaborate with.
Marnti warajanga—a walk together, along with the touring version of the 2011 Behind The Lines exhibition, helped the museum to achieve a 132 per cent increase in visitation to our travelling exhibitions. Our total visitation levels rose by 8 per cent, assisted by touring exhibition attendances and a 6 per cent increase in school program attendances. We welcomed more than 81,000 school visitors during the year, a record number that brought our onsite school programs close to capacity.
The development and growth of our online content and activity saw a major increase in our online visitation, which rose by 24 per cent. The museum moved towards a more proactive and spontaneous use of both its website and social media, producing frequent posts on its interactive blog and embracing the use of Facebook and Twitter. We look forward to exploring the potential offered by the development of the National Broadband Network for greater outreach and improved access to our program content and learning activities, particularly among rural and regional audiences.
In addition to our school programs, we also offered a number of popular school holiday programs, including the cartooning workshops highlighted elsewhere in this report, and a range of activities for children and families.
While our programs and activities primarily focus on Australian stories and audiences, I am pleased that two of our senior staff participated in international study tours and conferences during the year. Such international exposure provided excellent opportunities to showcase our museum and benchmark our learning programs with like institutions.
The museum continued to foster research and study, through the Australian Prime Ministers Centre’s fellowships and summer scholars program and through cooperative arrangements with other organisations. One outstanding example was the Women, Leadership and Democracy in Australia conference which we hosted in conjunction with the University of Melbourne.
We take great pride in our heritage-listed building, and make every effort to ensure its ongoing functionality. In 2011–12, among other projects, we continued a multi-year program to upgrade the building’s external render. The extent of the project covers the entire facade of the building. It includes either reattaching or replacing sections of render and replacing the current paint with a breathable product. This approach allows us to meet our heritage obligations in a manner consistent with the vision of the original architect.
I also acknowledge the significant achievement of implementing the first year of our Disability Action Plan, with the aim to improve equitable access to the site and its programs for all visitors. The establishment of a disability reference group to provide ideas, guidance and advice on approaches and technologies will also assist to improve access for people with disabilities.
The past year saw substantial changes in our business development and corporate planning with the implementation of a project management framework that will see all new major initiatives—exhibitions, interpretations and building projects—undertaken with a considered approach aligned to our business processes.
Following a period of consolidation and evaluation of our programs and activities, the organisational structure was reviewed to align it with the delivery of our strategic priorities and resource allocation. A new organisational structure and updated strategic plan which took effect from 1 July 2012 will help ensure that our priorities are effectively implemented.
As a result of machinery of government changes in December 2011 we moved from the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio to the newly formed Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport portfolio. Throughout the year, we continued to perform strongly within our corporate governance framework and delivered a comprehensive range of visitor services and programs within budget. We achieved our PBS forecast of a net break-even position, with a $0.002 million attributable surplus. Once again, an unmodified audit report was received on our financial statements.
I appreciate the continued and valuable effort of staff in contributing to these achievements. The support of the Old Parliament House Advisory Council as advocates for the museum is appreciated. Their views, feedback and suggestions have been of invaluable assistance in shaping our initiatives. I would particularly like to welcome Dr Janette Griffin, who was appointed in August 2011, and to thank the Chair, Mr William McInnes, for his support and involvement, particularly his participation in the Marnti warajanga tour to the community of Yandeyarra.
We could not undertake our programs and activities without the ongoing support of our volunteers. Their efforts in assisting in the provision of visitor services, guided tours and the oral history program.
I would like to pay tribute to two longstanding staff members who retired in 2011–12. Ms Kate Cowie, Deputy Director, Interpretation and Programs, and Mr Michael Richards, Manager of Research and Collection Development. Both had worked within the organisation in a range of capacities since 1997. Among other achievements, they were instrumental in developing and implementing the programs that comprised the 2009 launch of the Museum of Australian Democracy.
At the same time we were pleased to welcome Mr Steven Fox as Kate Cowie’s successor. He joined us from Te Manawa Museums Trust in Palmerston North, New Zealand, where he had been Chief Executive since March 2008. Prior to that, however, he was manager of the Museum Enhancement Program at the National Museum of Australia from 2006 to 2008 and had worked at Old Parliament House from 1998 to 2006.
The outlook for the future
The year ahead is full of opportunity to further explore a wider regional reach for our travelling exhibitions and maximise strategic benefits from partnerships. We will continue to expand our online content and social media projects to reach a wider audience and also enhance our visitor experience to our onsite visitors through the delivery of refreshed exhibitions and newly developed programs.
In particular, we look forward to presenting the Art of Influence, a program exploring the relationship between art, activism and politics, as our contribution to the Centenary of Canberra celebrations in 2013.
We will continue to conserve and preserve the heritage values of Old Parliament House, with particular attention to continuing the external render project over several years and reviewing the Heritage Management Plan and Interpretation Plan in the coming year.
In closing, this is my last Director’s review as I am retiring in October 2012. It has been a privilege to hold the position of Director and I thank staff and the Advisory Council for their support, advice and friendship over the last six years.
11 October 2012