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2 minutes to read Posted on Thursday April 22, 2021

Updated on Monday November 6, 2023

portrait of Kim McKay

Kim McKay

Director and CEO , Australia Museum

portrait of Marijke Everts

Marijke Everts

Campaign Coordination and Administrative Assistant , Europeana Foundation

portrait of Aleksandra Strzelichowska

Aleksandra Strzelichowska

Senior Adviser Online Marketing & Events , Europeana Foundation

Europeana in conversation with Kim McKay from the Australian Museum

Kim McKay is the first woman Director and CEO of the Australian Museum in its 191 year history. In a special interview for our celebration of Women’s History Month, she discusses highlighting women’s achievements, First Nation communities, and climate change through the Museum’s activities and collections. Watch the interviews!

Photograph of Kim McKay
Kim McKay in Hintze Hall at the Australia Museum. In Copyright.
Michelle Mossop

Every year in March, Europeana celebrates Women’s History with a month-long campaign of editorials, social media games, learning scenarios and partnerships. This year, the Collections Engagement team made a conscious effort to profile a more diverse range of women in our editorials, which you can explore on our Women’s History feature page. We also began a partnership with the Khalili Collections, who have one of the most geographically and culturally diverse collections in the world. They shared a guest editorial on Kimonos and the women behind them, and will be sharing more great content in the future.

Women’s History Month has its roots in Australia, the UK and the US. So to end Europeana’s campaign this year, we thought it appropriate to interview Kim McKay, the first woman Director and CEO of the Australian Museum in its 191-year history. The Australian Museum is the oldest museum in Australia and the fifth oldest natural history museum in the world, holding over 21 million scientific specimens and cultural heritage objects. 

In our discussion, Kim McKay shares some of her favourite highlights of Europeana’s Women’s History month this year, as well as discussing the extensive and important work the Australian Museum has been carrying out for women, First Nation communities and the environment. Watch the interviews below (full transcripts are available at the end of the post).  

Women’s History Month

What were some of Kim McKay’s highlights of Europeana’s Women’s History Month? Which activities struck her as particularly exciting? How has the role of women and First Nations people been written out of history, and how can we educate people about this? Watch the video below to hear the full discussion and answers, and learn more about the Scott Sisters, the first paid women artists in New South Wales!

The Australian Museum’s work on Community

What is the Australian Museum’s approach to being closer to the community? Kim McKay talks about redefining the role of the museum in this context. From the role of the museum as a meeting place to build ties and the importance working respectfully with First Nation and Pacific community objects with often sacred meaning, to the contribution of migrant communities and how to be part of the difficult conversations addressing colonial history, Kim McKay discusses these issues - and more! - in the video below. 

The Australian Museum’s work on climate change

Kim McKay is also an environmentalist, and addressing climate change is one of the museum’s five major goals. How can the institution do this, and work to influence public opinion on climate change? And what role have frogs played in raising awareness? Find out in the video below! 

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Transcript - Women’s History Month

Today, we are talking to Kim McKay from the Australian Museum about our women's history campaign, women empowerment, diversity and climate action with the Australian Museum.

- Hello everyone, I'm Kim McKay. I'm the director and CEO of the Australian Museum. It is the nation's first museum. We're now 190 plus years old, which is incredible because if you think about when Australia had white settlement from 1788 to the present day our museum is one of the oldest in the world. In fact it's the fifth oldest natural history museum in the world. 

We have a collection that is completely extraordinary. It is both a cultural collection from Australia's First Nations people and First Nations people from across the Pacific. As well as quite an eclectic world collection too. And then a collection of our natural fauna, the animals of Australia and the fish and the birds which is second to none. It's got over 21.9 million objects and specimens in that collection. So it's the largest in the southern hemisphere. 

And so we are both a natural science and culture museum and a research institute where we research the collections and we have over a hundred scientists working for us full time. So we have around 300 people at the museum, all incredibly experienced. And I have the great honor of leading that team. And we've just set up a whole new direction for the future which embraces climate change, First Nations agencies, so our Indigenous people of Australia have a much greater voice in the museum, which is incredibly important. 

We're a colonial institution which did a lot of wrongs. And as part of our, our own reconciliation, at the new entrance to the museum, we've just rebuilt a big part of the museum, we talk about the wrongs done to the past to our First Nations people. 

So it, we're really on a new quest, I think, to not just highlight the critical instances of the fauna. Australia has a terrible biodiversity record for our mammals, the worst biodiversity record in the world for extinction. And of course, climate change plays such an impact on our vast country. You would have all heard about in recent years the horrific bush fires we've had here, the floods we've had. It really is akin to a very famous Australian poem by Dorothea MacKellar that said, "I love a sunburnt country, land of sweeping plains of rugged mountain ranges and droughts and flooding rains." And that's exactly our nation and what we're dealing with. 

But at the same time, we're dealing with a lot of social issues with the place and recognition of First Nations people. We're one of the only Commonwealth countries that does not have a treaty with it's First Nations people. So we have a lot of work to do in that regard. And we have a lot of work to do around climate change and protection of our environment further. We're fortunate to live in a beautiful country. And I see the museum as playing a really critical role in all of this. 

The museum is a trusted place. Museums around the world are actually. They're usually the most trusted institutions in any society. And this is an extraordinarily important role that we can play in communicating information that will help influence the society in which we live and improve it. My goal with the Australian Museum in the future is that we should play an integral role in stimulating debate and conversation about the issues of our times. And I think we're starting to do that.

So Kim, we've highlighted what we've done this month for women's history month. Could you tell us something of your favorite elements of our campaign?

Sure, well firstly, I think the celebration in women's history month of women in arts and culture is just a fantastic thing. There is no doubt around the world that women's voices and roles in art and culture are often diminished. I see that in my own country in Australia where historically the history books were written to highlight men and their role in shaping modern Australia. But in fact, every step of the way there has been women. 

I created a gallery, believe it or not at the Australian Museum, our treasures gallery. Where we have more women and more First Nations people highlighted for the roles they've played in shaping our nation than have been on any other list of 100 people. Normally it's a list of men. So we're very much committed to bringing out the stories and the contribution of women right across the arts. 

I think some of the things you've really done is tap into the zeitgeists. I mean, during the COVID period, of course a lot of people have been working from home. So you've enabled people to take onboard the email course for example, delivered to people's inboxes. So it's very easy to participate no matter where they're located. So that I think is a really great initiative. And we're all working differently now and we're all learning differently than ever before. So I think the easier access to this information for the broadest number of people possible is fantastic. So that really did strike me as something being incredible. 

Also the images that you've highlighted, these color images and also the people highlighted, the women artists highlighted through the app puzzle game is a great initiative. I mean, we all like playing with new apps and we all like puzzles. And I think as a learning mechanism it's a great way to engage people and also with a younger audience too. So these sorts of initiatives, I think, really make the whole program really sing in a different way and really connect with people in a contemporary way. 

And I think, you know, there's a lot of connection. We talk about STEM and STEAM. About the arts connected to science and there is a direct connection there. There's a wonderful intersection between art and science and I'm very interested in that intersection. And I think this project by highlighting women artists and scientists and others helps highlight that intersection as well. So the entire program, I mean, it has much more to it than the things I've just noted, but it really does focus on something incredibly important in our times right now. 

There is a lot of discussion globally about the role of women and the agency given to women and also the agency given to women from diverse communities. And this program underscores that I think by highlighting the role women have played in history. Women, as I said, have been written out of history. I know here in Australia they have been completely written out of our history. You would think women never were here in the way it's been described. Or that indeed First Nations people were never here either. So I think the more focus that can be brought to bear so that people understand that, in our particularly male dominated world in which we still live, there's still a long way to go. But we can be inspired, I think by these early trailblazers who are, despite their gender, were able to embark on careers as artists. 

The first female artists in New South Wales, where the Australian Museum is based were two sisters, the Scott sisters, and they were illustrators of natural history of flora and fauna. And they were the first paid women artists in New South Wales back in the mid 1800's. So they were literally scientists, in fact our scientists still use their beautiful illustrations to this day because they were so scientifically accurate. And the sisters' names were Harriet and Helena Scott. And their works are now included in the UNESCO register because they're so extraordinary. And Harriet Scott said ‘how I wish sometimes my name was Harry because I could have then gone to university’. And of course women were precluded attending Sydney University at the time. So it's a very important program that you have to highlight the role that women have played in our history. And for younger women, especially to understand that these are centuries long struggles by women.

- I really like what you said about kind of connecting the art and sciences, because I know about Scott sisters, I'm personally interested in this kind of botanical drawings, let’s say. But our exhibition that we created about pioneers, so women in history, we feature Maria Sibylla Merian who was a similar person, actually, she was also -

- Yes.

a scientific illustrator and the first person to actually go and research insects and plant life in Latin America. And she had the very same story that she was a single woman in like, you know, traveling, which was totally unseen. And in a way you don't need Indiana Jones, you don't need like the fake story, because this women where there, only so little people know about that.

- That's right, and they experienced a lot of hardship doing that as well at the time. And in fact, it's very sad that both Harriet and Helena Scott who tried to make a living out of their artwork both ended their lives in abject poverty.

- Yeah which just also like shows that there was so much resistance. And being a woman in those times was extremely difficult and every step was very difficult and extreme in the world of men.

- And yet it's not that long ago in the scheme time frame of history is, it that these women existed. And it's 150 years ago.

- Yeah, for these ones.

- So we're talking about maybe four generations, three to four generations only. And the change that has occurred in that time, but boy we still have a long way to go.

- So you mentioned a bit about the collections featuring women, are also the curators in your museum, do you have like balance between men and women? Is it something that you focus on?

- Well it is something that we focus on at the museum. I am in fact, the first woman to lead the Australian museum in 190 odd years. Before then it was totally male. Before then the executive team of the museum was entirely male. Now it is 60% female, 40% male in our make up of numbers. 

In our management team, again, it's 68% female. And that is quite a difference from many other cultural institutions and museums, which have traditionally, always had men leading them. There seem to be a thought at some point that only British men could lead museums here in Australia. And so I'm proud to have proved that wrong for the time being at least anyway. 

So we have a very strong female voice within the museum, but also amongst our curators. And this is very important because when you look at who our audience is, it's primarily families often led by women who bring the children into the museum and also among adults, it's tourists. Although through the COVID period we're not getting any tourists at the moment but we're seeing increased numbers of people now come into the museum at the time I'm speaking now, of course, where Australia is pretty much nearly COVID free at the moment. But that's because we've had very closed borders. So in Sydney, for example we have no COVID outbreaks at the moment at all. And we're leading a pretty normal life, which is extraordinary. 

So the museum has re-opened and we've reopened free to allow complete access to everyone no matter what socio-demographic group they come from. So I'm very proud to have been the director who abolished charges at the museum to allow it to be free, so access for all. But women are encouraged. I actually, when I joined the museum sector seven years ago, now, I was surprised at how few women in Australia ran museums. Of the 22 major museums in Australia and New Zealand at the time only two were led by women. And I thought what's wrong with this picture? So with another female museum director we established a mentoring program for senior women in museums across the country. And so far we've had over 80 women go through that program and reported over 70% of them have since been promoted. So it's been, I've always been a great believer in mentoring and lifting women up. And to do it you need, you need to do it. 

One of the great things about being in charge of an institution is I get to make decisions. So I can make decisions that help advance women's careers. I can help make decisions that help advance First Nations people's careers as well. And these are really important things because what I've discovered since being in this role is being the director or CEO gives you enormous power. And why not exercise that power to make effective change?

- Do you have women who inspired you?

- There are many women who I'm inspired by. When I was a little girl, my first true inspiration was Florence Nightingale the British nurse. And I wanted to be a nurse at that time. I used to wrap my dolls and teddy bears up in bandages constantly. Because when I was very little at about age five, I read a book, a Ladybird book about Florence Nightingale. And what I loved about her was that she affected change against all the odds and against her own illness.

She changed the way in which hospitals treated the wounded you know, through the, in war. And she made such a difference to the survival of soldiers. It was extraordinary. And what I always then at age five wanted to be the matron of a hospital. And of course I've ended up as the matron of a museum really except all my candidates inside are dead and stuffed, with our animals and our taxidermy. 

But look, it is, so I think as a little girl, the first person I remember inspiring me was definitely Florence Nightingale. After that time here in Australia the woman who led the suffragette movement in Australia. Most people don't know that Australia was the second country in the world after New Zealand to give women the vote. And a woman called Mary Lee led that suffragette movement. Yet she's pretty much unknown in Australia. And we don't learn about her at school and we should. She was an extraordinary woman based in South Australia in Adelaide. And she really advocated for women's rights not just through suffrage, but also helping women who were left homeless when they were abandoned by their husband. Who suffered, you know, as they got older and had nowhere to live, she set up homes for them.

So somebody like Mary Lee who, against all the odds, again, really fought to give women their rights is incredibly inspiring. And I've read, when you read her speeches today they're as relevant today as they were at the turn of the century when suffrage was granted here. So that was pretty, she's one who stands out for me. 

And it would be trite to say it, but even my own mother, you know, I have, I live a life that is about 100% different to that of my mother in one generation. My mother left school at age 14, she was a very bright woman, but she was determined that my sister and I had an education. So again, at age five or six if you'd asked me what I was going to be other than a matron I would have said, well, I'm going to university. My mother understood that education was the game changer for women early on. And my father too. And so they really sacrificed everything to ensure that we got a very good education and that we were able to improve our lives through that. 

And you see it everywhere. Every time a woman is educated the difference it can make in a community, in a society. And today we need that. We're having a very deep conversation in Australia at the moment about how we haven't come far enough and how women are being treated even in our federal parliament. And it's somewhat shocking, really when you realize the deep sexism that exists in our culture and why does it still exist in this way? 

So there's a lot of work to be done here and a lot of work for young women to make sure that they don't have to put up with the abuse. And it is abuse, it's the verbal abuse I'm mostly talking about in the workplace. From when I was very young, every single woman I know has stories about this. And let's hope that the dialogue that's happening now can help change that.

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Transcript - The Australian Museum’s work on Community

- Tell us a bit more of some other steps that the museum has taken to be closer to the community.

- Well, the first thing in terms of First Nations agency, I've just appointed a woman, Laura McBride, as the new Director of First Nations for the Australian Museum. So that that's an executive level position. We have a collection of over 20,000 First Nations objects dating back to the beginning of white settlement here. And Laura has established amazing relationships with the local community. In addition to that, we have a collection of over 60,000 Pacific objects. And so, we work closely with Pacific communities as well. If you can imagine here on the East coast of Australia, bordering the Pacific, we have a huge Pacific diaspora living in Sydney and on the East coast. So we have a lot of people from all the islands across the Pacific who are very, very keen to be engaged with their culture, and these objects embody that culture. 

And I guess that's the difference really between a museum like ours, which focuses on culture, on natural science, is that we're talking about ways in which people lived, rather than just looking at something as an artwork that you might do in an art gallery. We are talking about cultural practices, some of which are very secret and sacred to those communities, so having that understanding and respect. So we're trying to embody that right across the museum and an understanding. 

In fact, even at the moment, we've just embarked on having all of our staff go through anti-racism training so that they understand that sometimes in these old colonial institutions, without realising it, there can be systemic racism, and so we want to acknowledge that that could exist and we want to make sure that our staff are well equipped to play a positive role in the future. 

We've also just commissioned, and Laura McBride, our new Director of First Nations is the curator of it, perhaps the most important exhibition we've ever done in our history. It opens in May this year, and it's called Unsettled. And it really does discuss the role of First Nations people in Australia and what happened to them after the columnists first arrived. It started with Captain Cook on the East coast of Australia in 1770. And then of course, in 1788 after the British lost the War of Independence with America, they needed to send their convicts somewhere, and based on the journals of the original visitors on Cook's voyage, they decided the East coast of Australia would be a good dumping ground for convicts. 

And so, that's when the first fleet arrived in 1788. The land was never ceded in any way. There was never a treaty. So, Aboriginal people regard this as an invasion. And today stories have been passed down. Now, we learn a story in school, which is quite different to the story that First Nations peoples hold and that has been passed down from generation to generation. 

So in our exhibition Unsettled, we reveal that for the first time for many people. We talk about genocide. We talk about the frontier wars that have occurred, things that have been brushed over in white colonial history. And really, it's going to be a difficult exhibition for a lot of people to see, it's quite confronting, but it's timely. And Australia now is in that conversation about do we have a treaty? Do we have reconciliation? 

For it to occur you have to have truth telling first. So we hope we'll play a role in that truth-telling moment, and I'm pretty moved by what the team, our First Nations team has come up with. We have allowed them full control over the messaging, and it is extraordinary. So I'm pretty excited that the Australia Museum is involved in that, and we're making it free, just as general entry to the museum is free. It's a major exhibition, and it will be free so that every Australian can come and visit it.

I don't, it's so important, every school child should see it if they can. So that's an exciting moment for us, I think, and an example of some of the things we're doing. Because through that, we're very much highlighting women. Women played an extraordinary role in First Nations communities. They were the fisher women here in Sydney, across Sydney Harbor, they were called the Mahn, M-A-H-N, and they fed the families this way. 

So, a really extraordinary role of women apart from bringing up the children. And they also had the skills of weaving, which have been passed down from generation to generation. So for example, we'll be running these wonderful weaving workshops with elders in the community, so that they can impart these skills on on white women in Australia. Really great, because I think the more we understand, and sit down, and have a yarn with people about these issues, the greater understanding, and the ties that are built between us, and that does break down those barriers. You know, it's interesting that we can use a museum as a place, as a meeting place to create that greater understanding.

- That's really fantastic to hear. And I'm just curious for myself, is this exhibition also gonna be online? Because I'd love to see it.

- Yeah. We're putting a lot of it online so that people can share in it that way. And there's a lot written about it. There's a beautiful catalog being produced as well. I think that we are so excited by this, that I think that it will have many other opportunities to be seen, and read about, and heard by people because there's so much depth to it. And so much of history being revealed. 

And our First Nations curators went back to a lot of source documents that were held in British archives to demonstrate what orders were given by the crown at the time. So that, you know, these things did not happen by accident here. There were orders, and most Australians don't know about that. And also, we have a very big migrant population here too, who love being in Australia and want to understand this country and culture in any way. 

So I'm really hoping through this exhibition, too, we can really engage with a wide range of immigrant cultures to Australia, you know, like America, we're an immigrant nation now.

- And so, you are very bold about all these activities in order to be inclusive, get the community involved, but a lot of institutions don't know where to start. If you could give one advice on what would be the first step?

- I think you need to be brave. And I also think don't ask permission, ask for forgiveness. 

I think that we have been able to define, or redefine what the role of our museum is in the last few years as I've gained the confidence, maybe from not just my trustees who administer the museum, our board, but also the government that funds it. So as they've gained more confidence in the work that I lead at the museum and our team is doing, you can do a bit more, you can push the agenda a little bit further than before. And we've been able to get the support of donors, too. So a lot of philanthropists, and corporations too, who believe in what we're doing. And I think if you can just keep progressing. So, you know, and not be afraid to make a mistake. I mean, look, I keep joking and saying, "Well, no one's fired me yet", so I must be doing something right, you know? But, so I know that what we're doing is at a particular time in history, is incredibly important, and don't miss that opportunity. 

So if you're running an institution, and you see an opportunity there and you feel in your soul that you should be doing something more, then do it. Don't let history pass you by, be part of it, and be part of the conversation, and be part of the change, you know, that is happening around you. And that makes institutions relevant. You know, we often have discussions in the museum world about, are museums relevant for the future? You know, or are we just big store houses of historical objects? 

And we have an enormous relevancy for the future, especially in museums like ours, because we have the stories of the past, but we can tell so much about the future too. You know, who would have known when all of those natural science objects and specimens were collected, that today we would have the resources of DNA to pull out the true history and to help us understand the future? And what impacts of climate change may be on different species, for example. 

So there's a lot we don't know yet because we can't predict the future. We don't know what will be invented. So museums really, they're like the arc of humanity. I like to think of them in that way, is that, you know, there's a thought that around the world, all the big natural history museums maybe hold over 90% of everything ever found on the planet, which is extraordinary. 

So they're incredibly important, not just as warehouses or store houses, but as research institutions and also for the public to engage. I mean, museums are often the first places that young people really engage with both art and science at the same time. You know, I love seeing the kids come into the museum on school excursions, and their little faces light up, and you see the spark off of recognition, that light bulb goes off, and that's incredibly exciting. And we can be, therefore, very influential in children's lives and their careers in terms of what they pursue.

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Transcript - The Australian Museum’s work on Climate Change

- Knowing that you are also an environmentalist, what ways have you or the museum integrated environmental preservation, into the museum's mission and goals?

- Well, it's one of our five major goals, is work on climate change. I don't know if you're aware, but Australia has been very slow to the table on climate change regulation. It has a lot to do I think with tyranny of distance, but also we've relied on our fossil fuel industry for a very long time. We've had a very productive coal industry, we are a major exporter of coal around the world, and of course that has made Australia a very wealthy nation. But at the same time, it's put us in a terrible bind, where we're so reliant on that. Renewable energy of course is moving ahead in leaps and bounds because a business wants it, economies of the world know that it's incredibly important. Yet we have no incentives here for example, for electric cars, it's crazy. So one of the things we've done at the museum has made awareness of climate change really important, we've done it in a few different ways. 

One is through a citizen science project called FrogID, where Australia has about 240 different species of frogs, which is, which is a vast number. And frogs are identified by the call they make, not by what they look like. And yet no one knew what was happening to frogs, now, frogs are among the most endangered groups of animals, or species of animals in the world, they're incredibly impacted by changes in climate and biodiversity. 

So our chief herpetologists, Dr. Jodi Rowley, came up with the idea that if we could get citizen scientists, i.e. the public, to count frogs, you know, to listen for them then we could maybe get an idea. So with IBM, we created an app, an amazing app called FrogID. And you record the frog calls, and you record that call and it's uploaded to us, the GPS coordinates are also recorded. 

And so far we've recorded well over, a couple of hundred thousand frogs around Australia. We know exactly what's happening to those frogs, what communities frog species are under threat, what ones are thriving, and believe it or not when those horrendous bushfires struck the East coast of Australia a couple of years ago, what happened to the frogs? Everyone was very worried, well, of course, we had the only, set of data, available on any group of animals that was complete, and so we were able to actually monitor after that all the work we're doing back in the field now about what happened to the frogs. 

Fortunately, there's some good news there, that number of them were able, to burrow into the ground and survive that way, where many other species couldn't, of course. But the reason FrogID is a climate change project, is it’s sort of climate change by stealth. We have hundreds of thousands of people in the community now recording frog calls for us. And yet it's not promoted as a climate change project, but that's exactly what it is. And people love doing it, families love doing it, schools love doing it, and it's a great way to contribute in a very positive way to science and scientific research, so that's just one thing we're doing. 

Another thing we've done is to make sure our own house is in order, of course, which means that our entire sustainability plan and looking at the UN's sustainable development goals as part of that. And we have ensured that everything across our organisation is being pushed to the limits of how we can be even more sustainable each time. So given we’re a very old institution and have a number of heritage buildings, it's always more challenging, but we've been able to install solar panels on parts of the roof to offset our energy, we’re a big user of energy, because of course we have to keep the collections, at a constant temperature all the time. 

So we're always looking for ways to reduce the impact, our environmental footprint there. Just all of our practices, we just built, as I said, we did a big building project recently, a renovation of the museum and 94% of the building materials that in the demolition were diverted from landfill and reused. And that used to make me so excited every day to see the little skips full of, you know, different types of metal and the builders sorted everything. So the days of just shipping it off to landfill are gone, so I'm thrilled to say that  94%, of the materials were diverted from landfill and there was a lot of stuff, and it really makes you think about building renovation, and the amount of embodied carbon in those materials. 

So that's another way we've done it to get our own house in order. But the thing that, I guess I'm most excited about right now is we're launching the Australian Museum Center for Environmental Solutions. We've brought Tim Flannery back into the fold, Tim Flannery is one of the world's leading climate change advocates, he's well-known as writing The Weather Makers over a decade ago. And Tim spent 15 years at the Australian Museum, as head of mammalian biology originally before he became a climate change advocate. 

So he's rejoined us as our climate change fellow, and we're establishing this center, which will highlight all of the technological developments happening. Because we've done a lot of research and worked out that the public, who is still a bit skeptical on the issue of climate change here, if we show them what those new technologies are, and how exciting the space is, and how there are, possibilities to change things in the future, an economic opportunity out of it, we believe will go a long way to changing and influencing public opinion. 

And that was the brief I gave to our team was, I only wanna do things which change the dial, which get more people to understand that not only is climate change real here in Australia, but what the impacts of it are and what our mitigation strategies will be. I mean, being an island nation, we have a coastline of over 37,000 kilometers, which could be hugely impacted by climate change, and given over 88% of our population lives in the coastal zone, you know, incredibly impacted by sea level rise. 

So we really need to be thinking about the future, but the way to do that, I think is to cast it in a positive way, to say, look there are technological solutions, there are steps we can take. We've just opened a new climate change gallery, at the museum, so there's a permanent gallery where people can go and find out the latest information as well, and the impact on our biodiversity, our way of life in general. And we're seeing that, I mean the huge bushfires here, they weren't usual bushfires, it was at an intensity never seen before. 

And we think, well over a trillion animals were lost during that time, and it's because of the insects, you know, the insects of the scaffolding of biodiversity. And the loss of those insects, you know, the loss of birds, the loss of mammals, it is just extraordinary that those impacts and I've been out into many of the bushfire affected areas. And the devastation that was wrought was significant, and we had all the museums of Australia join together and issue a statement about it, to say that, in our research, in our times, we have never seen such destruction. 

So we've got a voice, an advocacy voice, within a museum to play and there many museums now, around the world joining up together to become advocates for climate change. And we hope we're leading the way there and we're sharing our information with museums right around the globe.

- You told us quite a bit about inspiring people to act, could you tell us a bit more about your project, 1 Million Women.

- I'm very fortunate to be an ambassador for 1 Million Women, it was created by a wonderful friend of mine, Natalie Isaacs and Natalie has done a remarkable job to sign up women to climate change action here in Australia, and now in other countries as well. She believed, you know, she was a woman who hadn't thought much about climate change in her life, but when she sort of had her epiphany moment, she thought I'm going to take action. 

And she realised that as women, as the basic consumers in the household, we’re the ones who go out and do the shopping, that we are the ones who could make a really big difference very easily, at a local level. 

So Nat got a group of friends around her, who all supported this concept, and she has really enjoyed a lot of success with the campaign, about inspiring women to make a difference themselves. 

And, you know, for all of us, it's only a decision we make every day about how we live. It's not that hard, and if you make it part of everyday life, you know, whether it's cutting, you know, looking at the ways you get to work, so using more public transport, rather than driving to work, or using less electricity in the home, because you've got solar panels, whatever it might be, whatever those easy things are to do, we can all do them. Of course, we know that if we all became vegetarians, we'd go a long way, to reducing greenhouse gases within the community as well, so, I'm trying to only eat meat a few times a month now. I don't wanna go vegetarian entirely, I don't think I'm quite there yet, but we'll see how we go. But so 1 Million Women is a wonderful campaign about community action making a difference.

- And I know you wrote a series of books, with advice on how to live better, and more in a better way for the environment, and one of them was for children, and how does it communicate this kind of things to children?

- That was so much fun, so we started writing a series of books in 2007 under the True Green banner. And we had True Green home, and True Green life and True Green for kids. And it was tremendous actually, to work with children on the sorts of activities that they could engage with, and we wrote it for both use by schools, but also in the home. 

And as we just saw with COVID, it was so interesting, parents were having to, come up with ways of teaching their kids all the time, and we had a lot of people approach us and say, "Can we use your True Green kids information again?" Because it's timeless, and just lots of ways in which you can, children are very concerned about climate change and the environment, you know they like, what person doesn't love going out in the natural environment, and enjoying it and enjoying the wildlife. 

So there were lots of projects that kids could do in their own backyards, as well as things for them to make, and why is that they could come up with reducing their own footprint, and that was everything. Here in Australia, we don't usually buy our lunch at school, we take our lunch to school with us. So it was about how you take the lunch to school, so that you're not using plastic wrap all the time, that you can use paper wraps that can go into landfill easily and be compostable, or not needing wrapping at all, with different reusable containers. 

Just little things like that but there are lots of ways kids can engage, and it was a really fun project, and I really enjoyed doing the research for that book of working with kids and finding out the sorts of things that they love doing.

- So you've told us some really important things on the ways museums can fight climate change, and the important roles especially with your museum as well, and the work you've done, the work the museum has done, the work some museums around the world are doing as well. But for museums that might not know where to start on and find it important to be part of this change, where do you think or how do you think such museums could take that step?

- We'll they can join with us, so we have a wonderful leader of our climate change programs, Dr. Jenny Newell, who has also got a voice at many international museum forums on this. Jenny was a Pacific expert to begin with, but through that, she started working with First Nations people in the Pacific and discovered that their livelihoods were already being directly impacted by climate change. 

And of course many Pacific nations will lose their countries due to sea level rise, I mean, we already have climate change refugees coming into New Zealand and Australia from the Pacific, so this is something real it's happening now. So for those museums around the world who would like to engage more with climate change they can contact the Australian Museum. 

They can also contact a wonderful virtual museum in New York, it's The Museum of Climate Change, in New York city. And it's not a venue, it's a community of people, and they run different events at different times. But we're all linking up to show that this is an agenda item that is so relevant for museums in this day and age. And so if anyone wants to be part of it they can reach out to the Australian Museum and we can put them in touch with everyone and help.

- Do you think the institutions when working together and across kind of the world, can they make a bigger change? What would be the way for like, you know, different museums across the world to work together on different causes, for example, the climate change?

- Well, I think we already are, I think a number of us are working together now, and yes the more the merrier, the more people, the more organisations who joined together and committed to action around climate change, the stronger we will be. 

I mean, the British Natural History Museum has an extraordinarily good project around climate change, the Natural History Museum in New York does too, and I just think the more of us, who can work together the better. I mean we're seeing now museums of the Anthropocene develop in Europe and also in Brazil, there is an incredible museum along this line, looking at the age in which we live now, dominated by climate change. 

So I think together, we can be quite a strong voice, you know, as I said earlier, we are the most trusted of institutions, Natural History Museums in particular, and that comes out of research in the U.S and in Europe. And that is because I think we grow up visiting museums, we enjoy them as kids, but we trust the information imparted, the only agenda we have as an institution is to tell the truth. 

You know, I'm not interested in people's politics, I'm interested in putting the science out there, the truthful science, and I'm interested putting it out there in a really engaging way for people. And I think we can be very effective at doing that, the more of us who do it together, so I urge everybody if you're in a small museum even, there is a role for you to play. 

Oh, well thank you for having me talk about the Australian Museum and our worth, but also I think the important role that museums play globally in terms of engaging with the public and continuing to be relevant, and I think there's a vast opportunity for us to do that. 

But I think it's also through storytelling and that's exactly what your organisation is helping with, is telling us stories of extraordinary women, out there who are making a difference, whether it's in the world of art or in the world of science or culture. It's fantastic to empower women in that way, but through storytelling and the more we hear these good stories and the more we see the good films, about them and the more we see great exhibitions, the more inspired you can be, and there's nothing better than I said, than seeing a young person with that light bulb go off.

- I think we made a very nice connection between different issues, which are very important now 'cause we spoke about the environment, we spoke about women leadership, which is very different from what we are used to from history, but you inspired us, and hopefully you will inspire the members of our networks, our colleagues, who are also young cultural professionals, and we'd like to make a change, but need to know how and need a little push in it. Is there anything we didn't ask you about, what you'd like to talk about?

- Running an institution like the Australia Museum is an incredible privilege, and I do recognise that, and that I'm at a particular time in history where the decisions I make for the museum, and that my trustees make, will influence, how we can influence others in the future. 

So, you know, recognizing, that you're at that critical juncture in history on a few key issues is incredibly important. And I think the support that I get from the government here, in New South Wales and those around me, really enables our team to blaze a new trail, and that's what we're very committed to doing.