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Canberra's National Museum of Australia announces major partnership with British Museum

An Indigenous wooden shield Captain James Cook scooped from the shores of Botany Bay when he first landed in 1770 will be among rare artefacts displayed in Canberra as part of a new partnership between the British Museum and National Museum of Australia. 

The Encounters exhibition features more than 150 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artefacts from the London museum's collection and marks the start of a four-year collaboration between the two national institutions announced on Thursday.

National Museum council member, and Indigenous advisory committee chairman, Peter Yu and National Museum director Mathew ...
National Museum council member, and Indigenous advisory committee chairman, Peter Yu and National Museum director Mathew Trinca with 'Yumari' by Uta Uta Tjangala. The canvas will be sent to London for an exhibition at the British Museum in April.  Photo: Jamila Toderas

The exhibition will open at the British Museum in April, with several paintings and objects loaned from the National Museum, before it travels to Canberra in November.

The partnership will also see two further exhibitions from the British Museum go on show in the capital, including the acclaimed A History of the World in 100 Objects in 2016. 

It uses 100 of the museum's artefacts to explore 2 million years of human history. 

A third store of items, likely from the institution's ancient Rome collection, will come to Canberra in 2018. 

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National Museum director Mathew Trinca said Encounters comprised "remarkable treasures", many of which had not been on the continent since they were collected hundreds of years ago. 

"This is an important exhibition for our nation. It includes objects from the very earliest contacts between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in this country right to the present day.

"It's also the culmination of an extraordinary process of consultation with 25 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia over several years." 

Dr Trinca expected the "unprecedented package of works" will draw tourists from throughout the country to Canberra. 

National Museum council member Peter Yu, who is chairman of the Indigenous advisory committee, said exploring the complex history of early encounters between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians was "a crucial component of reconciliation".

"The exhibition also tells a story of the evolution of … Aboriginal history, social life and cultural life.

"They're not just objects, they represent a period in the lives of communities and peoples that still resonate today."

British Museum director Neil MacGregor said the display fitted with the institution's purpose of showcasing the world's great civilisations.

"Taken together, I hope that these exhibitions will not just show the long friendship between the two institutions but above all, the power of objects to animate the extraordinary depth and range of human experience and to illustrate to all of us, our shared global history."

Arts Minister George Brandis welcomed the "significant" collaboration and the opportunity to view objects from the world's oldest national public museum.

"It will also encourage cultural exchange and provide a platform to showcase our rich Australian heritage to audiences overseas."