29 September 2003

Rewriting history could leave museum looking past it

The National Museum of Australia risked becoming a political plaything if it attempted to sanitise Australian history, according to the former head of Washington's Smithsonian Institution.

Professor Frank Talbot made his warning in a submission to the controversial inquiry into the National Museum's review of exhibitions and public programs.

The review's findings, released in July, found the institution was not politically biased but recommended more emphasis on early European migration.

Talbot's letter is among more than 100 written submissions posted on the museum's website.

'A museum that follows the political line of whatever group happens to be in power is not a museum. It is a disaster, and becomes part of public propaganda,' the submission says.

'One is reminded of museums, art and science being deformed in communist Russia. We do not want our museums to be playthings in the political arena.'

Talbot, director emeritus of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, is a former director of the Australian Museum and a member of the Pigott committee that led to the establishment of the museum.

Seems to me that the History Wars should be resolved by debate. This effort to rework the NMA is getting dangerously close to history by fiat.

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