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The Australian Frontier in the Museum


Historians have suggested that in Australia we now live in a "memorial culture" in which a public consciousness of history is stronger than ever. If this is so, how much is it visible in relation to the history of the colonial frontier? When the new National Museum of Australia opened in 2001 at the height of the History Wars debates, the controversy it attracted around questions of national history and identity indicated the kinds of constraints that still seem to exist for national museums in representing contested histories. It could be argued that regional museums are not encumbered in the same way by expectations of a unified story of national identity. This essay will consider the place of frontier history in the contemporary Australian museum; in particular, it will look at some examples of regional museums established in the decade of the history wars which engage a localized story of early European settlement, in order to ask how much they challenge the national historical orthodoxy of a "great Australian silence" on the history of frontier conflict and Aboriginal dispossession.

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