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Director's overview

This annual report is structured to provide a transparent and comprehensive overview of the museum’s performance against the targets in the 2018–19 Portfolio Budget Statements, the 2018–22 Corporate Plan and deliverables in the museum’s Statement of Intent for the year. The reports and analyses in the Annual Performance Statement and Financial Statements are complemented by the description of the activities undertaken in the delivery of our statutory functions.

I am delighted to report that, once again, we have had a record-breaking year at the Australian National Maritime Museum. In 2018–19 we met or exceeded almost all key performance indicators and were successful in delivering against the Government’s cultural and broader strategic priorities for the Arts Portfolio, such as inclusiveness (ie access), protecting and celebrating Australian arts and culture, and fostering a sustainable and innovative sector. Our exhibitions, programs and activities have again helped to encourage creativity and promote innovation across the community.

This year’s results are somewhat bittersweet because, after nine years as Chairman of the Council of the Australian National Maritime Museum, Mr Peter Dexter AM retired on 17 August 2019. To no small degree, this year’s results, and indeed the year-on-year growth we have experienced in recent years, are attributable to Peter’s exceptional leadership of the Council that governs the museum and sets our strategic direction. In September 2019, the museum formally farewelled Peter at a gathering of staff, volunteers, honorary life members, supporters and Councillors. He was made an Honorary Fellow of the museum, the third in this institution’s history, in recognition of his extraordinary contribution. A special section of this report, The Dexter Years , provides an overview of highlights and achievements while Peter was Chairman of the museum.

The museum’s finances, funding and expenditure, as well as risk management, are key foci of Council. In 2018–19, total expenses were $41.8M, which was 5.5% higher than budgeted, primarily due to the commencement of Encounters 2020 and the related Endeavour voyaging program. Total revenue was $40.4M, of which $18.9M (45% excluding one-offs) was self-generated. The revenue results for admissions ($3.7M), leasing ($2.7M) and sponsorship ($1.9M) are particularly strong.

As previously reported, supplementary funding from the Australian Government of $13.9M over three years under the Public Service Modernisation Fund has been essential to address various compliance, safety and sustainability issues throughout the museum. Over the last two years, these funds have been used to make the main museum building, theatre, foyer and bathrooms compliant and accessible, to introduce numerous energy-saving measures and to reduce the frequency and cost of docking HMAS Onslow and HMAS Vampire.

In the next year, further sustainability projects and a new permanent gallery called Shaped by the Sea will be completed, but we hope this is not the end of capital upgrades of the museum. Indeed, we have flagged with the Department of Communications and the Arts that despite growth in self-generated revenue, significant additional investment is necessary to meet visitor expectations and be financially sustainable in a market where competition is especially strong and where the harsh marine environment quickly degrades our assets.

As with other national cultural institutions, staffing-related costs are a major expense. I am delighted to report that a new People and Culture Strategic Plan was approved this year and is being implemented, including executive leadership and staff development programs, more flexibility in working arrangements, enhanced communication and the establishment of a staff social club called MConnect. Staff participation in the annual APS Census was 73% (up from 51% last year) and 89% of staff say they are proud to work at the museum (up from 81%).

The delivery of authentic, immersive, surprising and personalised exhibitions and programs is the museum’s core business and highest priority as we rebrand. This year’s record-breaking visitation results indicate that onsite and offsite, we are offering products that resonate with our visitors in Sydney, throughout Australia and abroad. Total visitation to the museum, onsite and offsite, was more than 2.1M in 2018–19. This was 26.5% ahead of target and the best year on record. The key contributor to this result was very strong onsite and offsite visitation arising from several years of strategic planning and investment in diverse exhibitions and programs.

This year I will highlight three areas in which we have excelled and that we will continue to prioritise – Indigenous maritime heritage, migration, and ocean science and technology.

Indigenous maritime heritage

2018–19 was the culmination of many years of hard work by the museum’s Indigenous Programs Team.

The museum’s first Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) was launched in March 2019 by Aboriginal leader Dr Jackie Huggins AM FAHA. This two-year strategic plan formalises the museum’s commitment to advancing reconciliation, with 16 actions in four categories. The RAP also provides an invaluable summary of our reconciliation journey to date and highlights the way in which we have prioritised Indigenous programs. An RAP working party has been established to drive implementation of our commitments.

This year the Council established its first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Committee. Chaired by Councillor Alison Page, this committee will provide expert advice on the collection, interpretation and exhibition of historical material in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; on policies, programs, publications and events of significance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; and on other matters referred to it. A key issue for the committee is the museum’s approach to Encounters 2020.

The museum’s collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander objects has been growing steadily over the last five years. This year a further 20 objects were acquired, valued at $36,000.

We achieved significant milestones in terms of exhibiting our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander collection this year. Of particular note were the installation of a new sculpture exhibition, Au Karem ira Lamar Lu – Ghost nets of the ocean by Erub Arts in the museum foyer, and the conclusion of the national tour of our exhibition Undiscovered – Photographic works by Michael Cook at the Western Plains Cultural Centre in Dubbo.

In the 2017–18 annual report, I identified Gapu-Monuk Saltwater – Journey to Sea Country as my personal highlight of the year. This ground-breaking exhibition told how the Yolŋu people of north-east Arnhem Land fought for and won their case for Indigenous sea rights by creating the Yirrkala Bark Paintings of Sea Country. I am very proud to report that this exhibition received international critical acclaim, winning the International Project of the Year (less than £1M) at the 2019 Museums + Heritage Awards in London and the 2018 International Design and Communications Award for Best Scenography.


The story of migration to Australia is not only a fundamental theme in our maritime history, it is also a foundation narrative of modern Australia. Under our Corporate Plan, we have been systematically expanding our focus on Australia’s migration story and developing propositions for a major enhancement in this area.

In 2018–19 we put considerable effort into promoting the museum’s diverse program of work on migration. In particular, we published From Across the Sea – Australia’s National Migration Story and consolidated and enhanced our online migration-themed content in a single, easily accessible location. Visitors to our migration webpage can now access information about our collection, exhibitions and programs, including migration histories, blogs, online exhibitions, the Welcome Wall and our award-winning digital art projections. The museum’s quarterly journal Signals has also continued to be an important platform for sharing the stories of migrants on the Welcome Wall and other aspects of migration history.

Other public-facing activities this year included Threads of Migration, a four-minute animated artwork that took inspiration from the patterns and textures of the museum’s textile collection to illuminate our rooftop with a vivid patchwork of immigrant stories. For Refugee Week, our visitors had the opportunity to work with artists Sayd Abdali and Jane Théau to help make a tapestry rug that the museum plans to acquire next year. The museum’s Learning team launched an online migration portal for teachers this year and I am delighted to report that there has been 100% positive feedback for Australian Migration Stories, our onsite tour and workshop for primary school students.

This year, a new strategy for Immigration Research and Storytelling was approved. Our contribution to migration scholarship continues, with this year’s highlight being a presentation to Metropolis 2019 – the world conference on migration – in Ottawa, Canada. This presentation advanced the proposition that investment in migration museums has many benefits, including positive contributions to social inclusion and community harmony.

Following the attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March 2019, we quickly convened a meeting of Australia’s migration and ethnic/culture-specific museums to discuss what we could do, individually and collectively, to help combat Islamophobia. The museums agreed to form an alliance to collaborate on programs, education and research in the next financial year. We are also working bilaterally with the Islamic Museum of Australia, Multicultural NSW, the Race Discrimination Commissioner and Settlement Services International on a range of complementary projects.

Expanding our efforts requires additional funds and this year the museum’s Foundation launched the Migration Heritage Fund to ensure that our migration stories are told meaningfully and through the widest possible range of media.

Finally, a proposal for the redesign and relocation of the Welcome Wall was completed and forwarded to Property NSW and negotiations over a new, long-term lease are continuing.

Ocean science and technology

The Australian marine environment, and more particularly the history of human interaction with it, is one of the museum’s areas of focus under our enabling legislation. Over the last two years we have broadened our focus on ocean science and technology in response to visitor research.

We had a particularly strong visitor offer in this area. As well as the new installation Au Karem ira Lamar Lu – Ghost nets of the ocean in the museum’s foyer, we staged the temporary exhibitions On Sharks & Humanity, James Cameron: Challenging the Deep, Container: the box that changed the world and their related programs. Our new monthly Ocean Talks series, as well as discrete initiatives such as the Sydney launch of Seabin and our underwater drone program, have offered visitors the opportunity to engage on issues such as ocean conservation and maritime technology.

Our Ocean Science and Technology Curator has prioritised contributions to the National Maritime Collection with acquisitions such as objects connected with Sea Shepherd, as well as the development of partnerships with organisations such as CSIRO.

As I write this report, the museum is gearing up to implement the Encounters 2020 program with a voyage of our Endeavour replica to New Zealand. Marking 250 years since James Cook mapped the east coast of Australia is a unique opportunity for the museum to shed light on a widely misunderstood and controversial part of Australian maritime history and to use our resources to bring to life the vision in our new Reconciliation Action Plan. The Encounters 2020 project is a very complex one, with considerable risks, but one which I hope will encourage listening and deep understanding.

Signature of Kevin Sumption PSM, Director and CEO of the Australian National Maritime Museum

Kevin Sumption PSM
Director and CEO