The First 25 Years of PNG’s National Museum & Art Gallery

[This is an excerpt and scanned images from the book, ‘The National Museum & Art Gallery”, copyright: Trustees of the National Museum & Art Gallery 1980]

Pic by Alan Colodey. Who would know now that we have an amphitheatre at the National Museum that can accmodate 700 people?

The function of a musuem is not a new idea in Papua New Guinea. In traditional times all communities had cultural and spiritual centres. These may have been, for example, small rituals areas beyond the settlement or special structures such as a haus tambaran within the village.

The need to establish a National Musuem was recignised by two early governors. They were Sir William McGregor and Sir Hubert Murray. This awareness resulted in the enactment of the Antiquities Ordinance in 1913. Although this legislation showed a clear appreciation of Papua New Guinea’s cultural heritage and desire to store such treasures for future generations, it was only in 1954 that the Legislative Assembly passed an Act which provided for the establishment if Public Museums and Art Galleries. Our 25th anniversary dates back to the enactment of this legislation and subsequent founding of this museum.

The first National Musuem was housed under the House of Assembly in Port Moresby town. It was largely through the efforts of Sir Alan Mann, who was appointed President of the National Museum Board of Trustees in 1959, and his fellow trustees, that a National Museum was established.

Sir Alan Mann, (right), was appointed President of the Museum's Board of Trustees in 1959 and held the post until his death in 1970. On left, Mr. Roy Mackay, first Preparator-in-Charge of the Musuem's collections.

In 1966, the J.K. McCarthy Musuem, the first branch of the National Musuem was established at Goroka in the Eastern Highlands Province.

In 1969 the first Papua New Guinean, Mr. Lepani Watson, was appointed to serve on the Board of Trustees. Mr. Michael Somare was elected President of the National Musuem’s Board of Trustees in 1971. Four years later, Mr. G.N. Mosuwadoga became the first Papua New Guinean appointed as Director of the National Musuem & Art Gallery.

The present building was funded by a substantial Australian government grant as well as national funds. The building was designed by the Public Works Department and Mr. Martin Fowler was the Project Architect. Morobe Constructions commenced work on the new Musuem building in 1975. The builkding was completed in 1977 and was officially opened by the Prime Minister, Mr. Michael Somare.

In 1979 the Musuem became officially known as the National Museum and Art Gallery of Papua New Guinea.

The National Museum & Art Gallery is a place not only for the past, but for our present and future generations. It houses the cultural and natual heritage of Papua New Guinea. To carry out this task the National Museum has the following scientific and technical departments:

Archaeology: This department is responsible for keeping the national file of traditional and archaeological finds, arranging displays on prehistory and carrying out research into the prehistory of Papua New Guinea.

Art & Design: The design staff are responsible for the art and layout work necessary for producing displays and publications.

Conservation: This department is responsible for the general care, preservation and restoration of the artifacts in the national collection, as well as supervision of their storage and display.

Education: School visits to the National Musuem, educational publications and the screening of films in our theatrette for students and the general public are organised by the Education Department.

Ethnology: The curating of the natioanl collection is their responsibility. Fieldwork is undertaken with the aim of adding documented artifacts to the collection and providing source materials for exhibition and publications. The staff of this department are also charged with the implementation of the National Cultural Property (Preservation) Act. This entails the issuing of export permits, keeping a register of Natioanl Cultural Property and making investigations of possible beaches of the Act.

Library: The National Musuem Library is a staff resoure centre

Marine Biology: The staff of this department collect and identify seashells of Papua New Guinea. Sealife of the local mangrove forests is being collected for display and study.

Administration: This section is responsible for the financial management of the National Musuem as well as the grounds, maintenance and security services.

Contemporary History: This is the centre for the restoration and display of many items from PNG’s recent past, especially World War II relics.

J.K. McCarthy Museum: Four wings with interconnecting galleries display PNG artifacts. These are mainly from the Highlands region. Historiacl Highlands photographs are displayed in the Leahy Wing.

Click on the Image to See Larger Version

6 thoughts on “The First 25 Years of PNG’s National Museum & Art Gallery

  1. I’ve always been interested in the History of PNG and how the new generation of Papua New Guineans are linked to their ancestors who were a great part of building this great nation…Eg..Charles Lepani, PNG’s High Commissioner to Australia the son of Lepani Watson…

    The National Museum & Art Gallery is a priceless asset…..

    Keep up the good work Masalai !!!!

  2. Manu,

    Brilliant write up. The chronology is most interesting especially when we think about what has happened since 1979 (32 years) – how far have we gone/come with this institution. Thank you for writing this.


  3. Great to see this information on-line. Brings back many great memories of working together to research and install the Land and Life exhibit 1978-1980. All the best to everyone who was there during those exciting snd challenging years!

    Al Colodey
    Vancouver BC

    Instagram: alaninbc

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