South Australian Museum Adelaide, Australia | CruiseBe
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South Australian Museum

History and museums
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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 Museum

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.

Permanent galleries include:

  • Australian Aboriginal Cultures Gallery
  • South Australian Biodiversity Gallery
  • World Mammals Gallery
  • Mawson Gallery
  • Megafauna Gallery
  • Minerals and Meteorites Gallery
  • Fossils Gallery
  • Opal Fossils Gallery
  • Pacific Cultures Gallery
  • Ancient Egyptian Room

The Waterhouse Natural Science Art Prize, the richest prize for natural science art in Australia and named for the museum's first curator, has been awarded annually since 2003.


Management of the Museum is prescribed under the South Australian Museum Act 1976. The Museum is a Division of Arts South Australia within the Department of the Premier and Cabinet which transitioned to the Department of State Development on 1 July 2014. The Museum Board comprises eight people appointed by the Minister. The board functions as a body corporate. As of 1 July 2014, membership is:

  • Hon Dr Jane Lomax-Smith AM (Chair)
  • Prof David Adelson
  • Juliet Brown – appointment commenced August 2013
  • Noelene Buddle
  • Helen Carreker – appointment commenced January 2014
  • Peter Hanlon
  • David Rathman AM PSM

Former board members include:

  • Prof Michael Worton – appointment ended February 2014
  • Natasha Stott Despoja AM – appointment ended November 2013
  • Elizabeth Perry – appointment ended August 2013
  • John Ellice-Flint (Chair 2002-2011)
  • Robert Champion de Crespigny (Chair 1992-2002)


Partnerships help the museum facilitate events, conduct research and develop exhibits. Public sector partners include (but are not limited to) the University of Adelaide, University of South Australia, Flinders University, Department of Education and Childhood Development, the Botanic Gardens of South Australia, CSIRO and SARDI.

Corporate partners have include (but are not limited to):

  • Adelaide Festival
  • Adelaide Festival of Ideas
  • Adelaide Film Festival
  • Australian Geographic
  • BHP Billiton
  • Beach Energy
  • DocWeek
  • Newmont Asia Pacific
  • PepinNini Minerals
  • Santos

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