South Australian Museum, Adelaide, Australia

The South Australian Museum has been committed to making Australia’s natural and cultural heritage accessible, engaging and fun for over 150 years. It is a place where families can learn and grow together.

Today the Museum is one of the most visited museums in Australia and holds collections of national and international significance. It is a leader in remote and regional community engagement, and in Australian Aboriginal heritage and scientific research.

The South Australian Museum is a natural history museum and research institution in Adelaide, South Australia, founded in 1856. It occupies a complex of buildings on North Terrace in the cultural precinct of the Adelaide Parklands.

The South Australian Institute, incorporating a public library and a museum, was established in 1847 in the rented premises of the Library and Mechanics’ Institute in King William Street whilst waiting construction of the Institute building on the corner of North Terrace and Kintore Avenue. Frederick George Waterhouse offered his services as curator of the South Australian Institute Museum in June 1859 in an honorary capacity.

When the Institute building was completed, the Board appointed him as the first curator, a position he held until his retirement in February 1882. He was succeeded by Wilhelm Haacke, who in January 1883 recommended the South Australian Institute Museum be renamed the South Australian Museum, and the position of Curator be changed to Director. Wilhelm was appointed the first of eleven Directors of the South Australian Institute Museum.

In 1939, Haacke’s recommendation was finally realised; legislation was passed that gave the South Australian Museum autonomy from the Art Gallery and Library, and the South Australian Institute Museum was officially renamed the South Australian Museum.

In the late 1990s, championed by Liberal Government Arts Minister, Diana Laidlaw, the SA Museum was funded to develop its ground floor Australian Aboriginal Cultures Gallery. The following decade Premier and Arts Minister, Mike Rann, funded the redevelopment of the Pacific Cultures Gallery and the development of the South Australian Biodiversity Gallery. In 2011 Mr Rann appointed former Adelaide Lord Mayor and Education Minister The Hon Dr Jane Lomax-Smith AM as Chair of the Museum board.

The official role of the museum is:”To increase knowledge and understanding of natural and cultural heritage; to serve the community by acquiring, preserving, interpreting and presenting material evidence concerning people and nature; and to provide opportunities for study, education and enjoyment.”

The current Director, appointed in December 2013, is Brian Oldman.

The museum contains the largest collection of Australian Aboriginal cultural artefacts in the world. The artefact collection is currently being digitised, with the aim of eventually making the catalogue available for on-line access, especially to Aboriginal communities around Australia.

Opal fossils at the South Australian Museum
Opal1: Precious opal replacing calcite of bivalve shells, from Coober Pedy
Ichthyosaur Precious opal replacing Ichthyosaur backbone
Addyman 1: Display panel for the opalised Addyman Plesiosaur fossil from Andamooka
Addyman 2: Display of the opalised Addyman Plesiosaur fossil from Andamooka
Addyman 3: Rear view of the opalised Addyman Plesiosaur fossil from Andamooka