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Exhibitions and attractions

A major attraction during this reporting period was Encounters 2020. This umbrella program, five years in the planning, was designed to commemorate Cook’s first Pacific voyage and to give equal weight to the stories from both the ship and the shore. It included exhibitions (Ship and Shore, Cook and the Pacific, HERE: Kupe to Cook, Paradise Lost – Daniel Solander’s legacy, Defying Empire, Seascapes and a new permanent exhibition, Under Southern Skies) and a range of other initiatives, such as a documentary film, Looky Looky Here Comes Cooky, an online game, Cook’s Voyages – Views from the Shore and a national education project. The Encounters 2020 program originally included voyaging HMB Endeavour to 38 ports around the country alongside a travelling exhibition. Unfortunately, this major element had to be suspended due to COVID-19.

Exhibitions featuring Indigenous cultures and histories were a focus this year. They were presented both in support of our Encounters 2020 program and as part of our commitment to concentrate on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and First Peoples cultures from around Oceania as part of our Reconciliation Action Plan. Highlights included Koori Art Expressions, displaying work from Sydney school students, Kanalaritja: an unbroken string, with beautiful shellwork from Tasmania, and Undiscovered: Photographic works by Michael Cook. Broader stories from around Oceania featured in HERE: Kupe to Cook, Cook and the Pacific and Massim Canoes from Papua New Guinea.

Monsters have been big this year, with our phenomenally successful exhibition Sea Monsters – Prehistoric ocean predators, which helped drive our best January ever. Outside we had The Return and Earn Kraken – made from approximately 4,000 plastic bottles – which highlighted the importance of recycling and encouraged people to recycle their bottles and keep our oceans clean. We continue to do our bit with our Seabin and our commitment to recycling materials and exhibition furniture. Environmental conservation also featured in our photography exhibitions Elysium Arctic and our perennial favourite Wildlife Photographer of the Year, which this year got even bigger and brighter with a new display technique using light panels.

Capturing the home front and Dark Victory featured as part of our ongoing War and Peace in the Pacific 75 program, which was funded by the USA Bicentennial Gift Fund. The program asked students from the USA, Japan and America to investigate ‘secrets and spies’ during World War II around the Pacific and produce documentaries on their research.

Some of our permanent galleries had an overhaul. In the Navy Gallery, we replaced the Westland Wessex Mk 31B helicopter with a ‘new’ S-70B Seahawk with an eye-catching tiger-striped tail. Our Navigators gallery had some small updates in 2019 to highlight the contributions of Islamic navigators from Indonesia. Then, during the COVID-19 closure in 2020, the whole gallery was re-curated to include more stories from navigators around Asia and Oceania in the permanent exhibition Under Southern Skies.

Across five decades – photographs by Richard Bennett

Dramatic photographs of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race over the past five decades, through the eyes of committed photographer Richard Bennett. Yots cafe, 22 December 2019–28 January 2020

Aquatic Imaginarium

Indoor play and discovery space where children encountered a wonderland of giant inflatables, evocative sensory installations, object storytelling and hands-on art-making activities. South Gallery, 1 July–2 October 2019

The Art of Navy

Internationally recognised Australian artist Ralph Kerle was commissioned by the Royal Australian Navy in early 2019 to apply his innovative digital photographic technique to capture images of ships of the fleet in the waters of Sydney Harbour. Tasman Light Gallery, 4 October–17 November 2019

Au Karem Ira Lamar Lu – Ghost Nets of the Ocean

Ghost Nets of the Ocean was created by Indigenous artists from Erub Arts, Darnley Island, and non-Indigenous collaborating artists. It shares their concerns for the loss of marine life and environmental damage caused by discarded fishing nets, highlights the irreparable harm that they cause, and provokes reflection on how humans are affecting the world’s oceans. Museum foyer, 8 September 2018–24 March 2020, then from 15 June 2020 ongoing

Australian Sailing Hall of Fame

Featuring the stories of Australian Sailing Hall of Fame honourees who have produced some of Australia’s greatest sporting moments – in the America’s Cup, the Olympics, bluewater racing and world sailing. Updated for 2019 honourees. Wharf 7, 18 October 2019–24 March 2020 and 15 June–October 2020

Bligh – Hero or Villain?

Bligh – Hero or Villain? challenged the popular narrative, looking beyond the Bounty mutiny to explore the many sides of this most infamous of maritime figures. Visitors judged for themselves – with pretty even results! Lower Gallery, 25 July 2019–2 February 2020

Capturing the home front

Photographs by Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake and Australian wartime photographers. Produced in association with the Museum of Contemporary Photography Columbia College Chicago and Toyo Miyatake Studio. Supported by the USA Bicentennial Gift Fund. Tall Gallery, 30 October 2019–16 February 2020

Cook and the Pacific

Visitors were introduced to James Cook’s three remarkable Pacific voyages and explored this spectacular region through the eyes of the British voyagers and the First Peoples they met. This exhibition was based on a larger show produced by the National Library of Australia. Tasman Light Gallery, 31 March–October 2020

Dark Victory: Operation Jaywick

To commemorate the 75th anniversary of Operation Jaywick, the museum collaborated with the National Museum of Singapore to produce a wide-screen film about this daring commando raid and a virtual reality experience that will take people ‘on board’ the historic MV Krait. We also installed a graphic exhibition on the roof of Action Stations. Action Stations, 27 September 2018–24 March 2020, then from 22June ongoing

Elysium Arctic

Produced in conjunction with internationally acclaimed photographer Michael Aw, this series of artworks captured the icons of the polar north – majestic icebergs and glaciers, playful wildlife and stunning views of land and sea. Elysium Arctic also recorded the devastating impact of climate change in the earth’s northernmost regions. Outside Wharf 7, 7 August 2019–1 July 2020

HERE: Kupe to Cook

Showcased artworks by 20 leading Aotearoa New Zealand and Australian contemporary artists who investigate the long and varied histories of South Pacific voyaging – from Polynesian navigator Kupe to the arrival of James Cook in 1769. Lower Gallery, 15 June–25 November 2020

Kanalaritja: an unbroken string

Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery’s exhibition Kanalaritja: An unbroken string displayed a variety of beautiful, delicate and rare shell necklaces, created by Tasmanian Aboriginal ancestors in the 1800s, acclaimed makers of today, and a new wave of stringers who had the opportunity to learn the tradition through the luna tunapri (women’s knowledge) cultural revitalisation project. Eora Gallery, 31 August 2019–16 February 2020

Koori Art Expressions

A selection of highly imaginative visual artworks created by Sydney school students from kindergarten to year 12. Based on the 2019 NAIDOC theme ‘Voice. Treaty. Truth.’ and influenced by the ‘Uluru Statement of the Heart’. South Gallery 21 November 2019–28 January 2020

Massim canoes

Large-scale drawings capture the intriguing construction of the Massim canoes of Papua New Guinea (PNG), their sail and rig layout, and the wonderful carving details. A dozen different canoe types were on show and the drawings revealed each canoe's individual characteristics. Also on display at the Alotoa Museum in Papua New Guinea. Tasman Light, 1 August–26 September 2019

Out of Hawaii – surfing goes global

In 1961 a group of 20 Australian surfers flocked to Hawaii for its huge waves and the famed Makaha surfing contest. This display features one of them – a young Bernard ‘Midget’ Farrelly. Tall Gallery, from 14 June 2017 ongoing

The Return and Earn Kraken

Made from plastic bottles and cans, the Kraken descended on the Maritime Museum to highlight the problem of litter and plastics on our environment. Museum entrance, 15–29 January 2020

RSV Nuyina LEGO model

A LEGO model of Australia’s new icebreaker, RSV Nuyina, which will make its maiden voyage to Antarctica in 2020–21. Foyer and South Gallery, 11 April–2 October 2019

Sea Monsters: prehistoric ocean predators

The Sea Monsters exhibition combines real fossils from millions of years ago, gigantic replicas – including a 13-metre-long Elasmosaurus and 9-metre-long Prognathodon – a 180-degree immersive video that puts you right inside the action, hands-on interactives to make your own monster, dress-ups, dino poo and much more! North Gallery, 26 September 2019–24 March 2020 and 15 June–11 October 2020

Seahawk helicopter

The striking S-70B Seahawk is 19.76 metres long and painted with tiger stripes to reflect the 816 Squadron Crest, which depicts the head of a Bengal tiger, with the motto ‘Imitate the action of the tiger’. The helicopter is enriched with a new eight-minute film commissioned from the Royal Australian Navy. Navy Gallery, from 1 July 2019 ongoing

Challenging, thrilling, racing: Sydney to Hobart 75 years

Charting the history of the bluewater classic, with stunning photography by acclaimed photographers Andrea Francolini, Carlo Borlenghi and Richard Bennett, this exhibition comprised an expansive visual timeline and evocative film. Tasman Light Gallery, 30 November 2019–24 March 2020

Under Southern Skies

A rejuvenation of our former Navigators Gallery. This exhibition travels across history, from bark paintings that depict Makassan fishermen trading with Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, to sextants, compasses and telescopes that show the technological advancement in navigational instruments. Under Southern Skies Gallery, from 15 June 2020 ongoing

Undiscovered: Photographic works by Michael Cook

This series of artworks questions who really discovered Australia, while making reference to what was always here, what has been introduced and the effect this has had on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, their culture and country. Eora Gallery, 21 February–24 March 2020

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 54 (2018)

An exhibition of the winning images selected by an international jury. This year’s selection saw three Australians in the final selection: Georgina Steytler, Justin Gilligan and Robert Irwin.Tall Gallery, 7 March–25 August 2019

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 55 (2019)

Internationally acclaimed exhibition Wildlife Photographer of the Year returned to the museum bigger and better than ever in 2020, with the use of backlit panels to give the photographs even more impact. Tall Gallery, 5–24 March 2020 and 15 June 2020–28 January 2021