Q&A with former CEO Adam Lindsay

Our First Nations staff put some questions to our former CEO Adam Lindsay about Museums of History NSW, and its relevance and commitment to First Nations people.

What is 'Museums of History NSW' and why should First Nations people care?

Museums of History NSW is the newest cultural institution in Australia. It has history as one of its core mandates and is there to promote the knowledge and enjoyment of our history. We are the custodians of some of the most important and significant historic material in the country. Unlocking this in partnership with First Nations people holds the key to addressing some of our unfinished business. We’re committed to finding a new way, a better way of working with First Nations individuals, community and organisations so that the significant material we’re the custodians of can contribute to a better history.

First Nations stories, voices and perspectives are a key part of everything we do. From my point of view, if we come at this from a human perspective, and make room for perspectives and debates from everybody, we have a plural perspective and at that point we can start to examine what has happened in our past and do so in the present and hopefully make for a better future. 

With sites and collections that mostly reflect the histories of government and white colonists and society, what value and relevance does Museums of History NSW have for First Nations people?

Our buildings and our places and our collections are documentary heritage, and it's absolutely true that they're done from predominantly a white perspective. But these edifices of colonial Australia have relevance to everybody in my opinion because whether you like what happened behind the sandstone, it did impact First Nations communities. To call the State Archives Collection a government archive is true in one sense but also a bit of a misnomer in others because there are such personal documents that sit in the State Archives Collection. Some of them are photographs of First Nations people; a lot are documentation, albeit from white points of view, about things that were decided for and happened to First Nations Australians, about their identities, about their family histories, about their cultural practices. And so whilst we are and have been identified as a colonial institution, we are doing a lot to encourage First Nations perspectives and a lot to explore the material that sits in our properties, in our museums and in our collections for relevance for First Nations people. Whether that's for proof of identity or familial ties, whether that's for recompense for things that have happened, ultimately the collection has enormous relevance and power for every citizen of New South Wales and Australia. 

In so many ways our sites are embedded in community and they are first and foremost community places and spaces. We encourage everyone no matter your background no matter your connection to the site to come and experience the history. When we present and interpret these sites, we do so with full acknowledgment of the colonial history and the impact that had on First Nations people.

What have you done for and with First Nations people and communities so far and what are your plans for the future?

We’ve been working tirelessly to grow our expertise internally and our connections externally with First Nations communities, organisations and individuals. We’ve assembled and have some fantastic First Nation staff, and we benefit greatly from their work as staff members but also their cultural knowledge and passion for delivering services, information and cultural engagement to First Nations communities and individuals. We've just recently launched our first Nations cultural strategy that seeds to 2025 an ambitious set of goals and aspirations for this organisation. We've announced our plans to convert the site of First Government House to a First Nations cultural space. That space will be dedicated to profiling First Nations voices, perspectives, stories, truths and ultimately interplay with that site as a contested meeting point of colonial and First Nations cultures. For 57 years that site was the epicentre of decisions made about First Nations people and it is only fitting that that place be the forefront of our engagement with community going forward. 

We've also worked with creatives, historians and artists to interpret our collections and sites from First Nations points of view. Take Elizabeth Farm for example, Australia's oldest homestead built in 1793 and home to Elizabeth and John McArthur. We worked with Tony Albert to place his artwork called Healing land, remembering country as the first thing that visitors see when they walk through the doors. To have a contemplative space built by a First Nations artist devoted to reflection on Country at the site of the first colonial homestead in NSW is such a strong signal to our visitors that we take our colonial sites as situated on First Nations country to be very, very important. So these are a smattering of things that we have done to profile and elevate First Nations perspectives and voices and we really have only just begun. 

And of course you’ve found your way here to our way here to our first Nations Hub on our brand new MHNSW website. Is going to continue to grow, so keep checking back.