Queensland Museum part of landmark National Research Centre

12 September 2016

Queensland Museum curators and archaeologists will take part in a seven-year research quest to investigate the beginning of Australia’s unique biodiversity and Indigenous heritage, while inspiring Australian children to engage with science.

Lead by The University of Wollongong (UOW), the Australia Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage will bring together 20 institutions and museums worldwide to unlock the history of Australia, Papua New Guinea and eastern Indonesia from 130,000 years ago until the time of European arrival.

Premier and Minister for the Arts, Annastacia Palaszczuk commended Queensland Museum on their involvement in the landmark research partnership.

“The National Research Centre is a great opportunity for our state’s flagship scientific research institution, the Queensland Museum, to play a critical role in discovering more about Australia’s distinctive natural and cultural environments,” said the Premier.

Queensland Museum CEO and Director, Professor Suzanne Miller said the new centre, which will open in 2017, was just one of many projects the Queensland Museum Network was proud to be involved with.

“The Queensland Museum Network is a strong supporter of Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and the Arts (STEAM), and welcome projects that nurture these subject; this is not only through our exhibitions and galleries, but our research, public programming and events such as the World Science Festival Brisbane,” she said.

“We pride ourselves on being a leader in delivering STEAM driven projects and programming, which is why I am thrilled our team are part of the Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, which is the first of its kind in the world.”

The Centre will encourage budding young scientists through a unique outreach program at schools and museums throughout Australia, and will focus on nurturing the careers of Indigenous and female researchers.

Queensland Museum’s Head of Cultures and Histories Program Chantal Knowles and archaeologist Dr Brit Asmussen are partner investigators on the project and will work alongside leading researchers from around the globe.

Ms Knowles said her team would be participating through collections research as well as participating in archaeological fieldwork.

“Queensland Museum will be at the forefront of bringing Archaeology, Science, and new discoveries to the public through programming and exhibitions,” she said.

“As part of the Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, we will be at the forefront of demystifying the science of archaeology for the public and encouraging future generations of archaeologists.”

Some of the ways the Queensland Museum will connect with the public will be through discussion panels, debates, outreach programs, education kits and questioning current narratives to enable a greater understanding of place and shared histories.

Centre Director, Distinguished Professor Richard (Bert) Roberts, an ARC Laureate Fellow and the Director of UOW’s Centre for Archaeological Science, said Australia’s environmental history and Indigenous heritage are fundamental to understanding the story of human dispersals, adaptions to changing environments and interactions with the past landscapes and ecosystems.

“Australia boasts an array of fauna and flora that exists nowhere else on Earth,” said Professor Roberts.

“It has some of the world’s most ancient landscapes and deeply weathered and depleted soils, and is home to Indigenous peoples whose genetic and cultural history extends back tens of millennia".

“But we still do not have answers to some of the most fundamental questions about this continent or its inhabitants, such as when people arrived in Australia, their routes of colonisation and subsequent dispersal, the timing and extent of major changes in climate and fire regimes, or how landscapes, plants and animals responded to the altered conditions.”

The Centre, which will open in 2017 and run for seven years, will be funded by a $33.75 million grant from the ARC, $1 million from the NSW Government, and $11 million from participating universities, museums, and organisations.

Queensland Museum is just one of several Australian universities and leading organisations in public education and engagement who are participating in the program including UOW, James Cook University, the University of New South Wales, the Australian National University, the University of Adelaide, Monash University and the University of Tasmania, Australian Museum, South Australian Museum and the State Library of New South Wales.

The Centre represents a unique integration of multidisciplinary expertise, bringing together researchers from science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines – including Earth and climate sciences, ecology and genetics – with scholars from humanities and social sciences, such as archaeology, and Indigenous and museum studies.

The funds will support around 40 new research positions and more than 50 new research students over the life of the Centre.

Media enquiries: Christine Robertson, 0417 741 710 media@qm.qld.gov.au