Celebrating 165 Years of the Museum

Director's message

This year, we are celebrating the Museum’s 165th birthday. It might be of surprise to you to know that this makes us older than the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Natural History Museum in London. But it is not just our age that makes us special.

It took New York almost 250 years to found its principal Museum, where the South Australian Museum was created in 1856, just twenty years after the State was founded, and when it was very much still finding its feet. This tells you how important the Museum is to the people of this State– it has always had a close relationship with South Australians.

In the 19th Century, Museum curators and scientists wrote weekly columns in the local papers to highlight what was on show in the Museum, with most plants, animals, insects and even minerals entirely new to visitors. I think of the first Museum Curator, Frederick Waterhouse, coming from England to a place totally beyond his own experience and that of most Europeans in terms of Australia’s unique landscape, flora and fauna.

Now we are a global player. The Museum’s roots are in South Australia, but its branches reach far beyond. We are custodians of the largest, most comprehensive Australian Aboriginal cultural collection in the world, we hold the very best examples of fossils from when complex life began on Earth 550 million years ago - a global phenomena first identified in South Australia. We care for the most comprehensive collection of whales and dolphins in Australia and have the best museum collection of opals in the world. And that is just the beginning.

Like my early predecessor Frederick Waterhouse, I came to the South Australian Museum from the British Museum, one of the greatest museums in the world. Here people often ask me: Why Adelaide? Why the South Australian Museum? I came here because I was used to working amongst the best collections in the world and the South Australian Museum has both pre-eminent collections and pre-eminent research.

Almost every South Australian has visited the Museum at some stage and holds that memory close – rather like how we can all remember our first day at school. But the Museum has so much more to offer than fond childhood memories. That is why we have developed ‘Wonders from the South Australian Museum’ to showcase some of the many treasures in our collection and give South Australians the opportunity to see their Museum in the same light as the great museums around the world.

You do not have to travel to London or New York or Paris or Moscow to see amazing things. You can come here to your Museum and be transported and delighted. In our 165th year, I am inviting everyone to reconnect with and re-evaluate this fantastic museum that South Australians have on North Terrace. We have over five million incredible stories waiting just for you.

‘Wonders from the South Australian Museum’ opens to Members on Friday 9 April and is our birthday present to South Australians – come celebrate with us.

Kind regards,

Brian Oldman
South Australian Museum

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