Museum secrets to be revealed

8 October 2020
Exhibitions to showcase collection items unseen for over 20 years
When the Chau Chak Wing Museum opens in November, many of the extraordinary objects, specimens and works of art on display have never before been seen publicly. Dr Craig Barker describes 7 items coming out of long-term storage.

One of the most exciting aspects of the move to the Chau Chak Wing Museum has been the opportunity to exhibit collection items that have never been publicly displayed before. More than 70 per cent of the objects in the museum’s opening exhibitions have not been displayed publicly for at least 20 years. With the additional space provided by the new museum and its exciting new exhibitions, some truly extraordinary collection items are now available for exhibitions and teaching. From antiquities to art, from natural history specimens to scientific instruments, they are a microcosmic reflection of the Chau Chak Wing Museum itself. Here are just a few of those collection items coming out from the store for our opening.

False tomb door jamb.

Part of a limestone door jamb
Egypt, 26th Dynasty
Nicholson Collection

1. False tomb door 

These fragments of a tomb’s false doorway were excavated at Abydos in Egypt in the 1920s, and donated by the Egyptian Exploration Fund in 1925. The door jamb and lintel are inscribed with funerary prayers in hieroglyphics that name the owners of the tomb, husband and wife Pafherneter and Shepenhor, and are dated to the 26th Dynasty (c. 664-525 BC). They will take a central position in the exhibition Pharaonic Obsessions: Ancient Egypt, an Australian Story.  

Floor fresco from Maru-Aten.

Fragments of floor fresco, NM64.415.2 (left) and NM64.415.3 (right).
Egypt, 1352 BC - 1323 BC
Nicholson Collection

2. Floor fresco from Amarna

Also from Egypt is the stunning fragments of floor fresco from the Maru-Aten sunshade, a sanctuary complex with gardens and pools dedicated to the daughter of the heretical pharaoh Akhenaten in his short-lived capital city Amarna, dated to c. 1347-1322 BC. These delicate fragments, made from a mud plaster coated with a fine white lime plaster and then painted with a colourful display of aquatic plants, were the subject of intensive conservation work over many months in 2017 and 2018. Now the work of Akhenaten’s artists can be viewed clearly again and for the first time in millennia, by museum visitors.

The restored 'Sea Captain' painting.

Curator Dr Ann Stephen and Director David Ellis inspect the newly restored 'Sea Captain' painting. 

3. The Sea Captain

An oil on canvas portrait of a naval officer, affectionately nicknamed the ‘Sea Captain’ by the museum team has recently undergone extensive cleaning and conservation. The portrait was donated by Sir Charles Nicholson in 1865, and attributed to Sir Peter Lely in around 1635. It is now ready to be displayed, for the first time since acquisition, in the exhibition Coastline.

A series of squares showing different coloured earth collected around Sydney.

Alan Sonfist, The Earth of Sydney, 1981
40 soil impressions of natural sand and earth on canvas
University Art Collection

4. The Earth of Sydney

An impressive mixed media work created by Alan Sonfist in 1981 titled The Earth of Sydney featuring 40 soil impressions of natural earth and sand collected from around the city of Sydney. Each section represents the colour and texture of a different part of the city’s land. The work will be featured in the Object/Art/Specimen exhibition.

A scientific apparatus used to teach about wave movement.

Wave motion apparatus
Macleay Collections, SC2009.55

5. Wave motion apparatus

This educational model, made at the University, was used to model transverse and longitudinal wave forms. It is an excellent example of the self-manufacture of demonstration apparatus and reflects the importance of models in pre-digital science education and communication.

Shortfin mako shark.

Isurus oxyrinchus Rafinesque, 1810
Macleay Collections

6. Shortfin mako shark

The increased facilities offered by the Chau Chak Wing Museum is also enabling a far greater public display of items from the natural history collection. Donated by the Macleay family the mounted taxidermy specimen of a shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus Rafinesque) will be displayed in the exhibition Natural Selections following extensive conservation work.

Two spears from the Tiwi Islands.

Two Arawinikiri
Macleay Collections, ET87.13.39 (left),  ET87.13.41 (right)

7. Arawinikiri

Two ceremonial spears that were collected from the Tiwi Islands in the 1920s will be displayed for the first time in Ambassadors, an exhibition highlighting Aboriginal cultural items from around Australia. These two female Arawinikiri are early examples of the ornate and decorative aspects of ceremonial spears. Although more than a century in storage, the ochre is still vibrant and these decorative designs are a marker of  the uniqueness of Tiwi aesthetics. As Tiwi community member Jacinta Tipungwuti enthused during our object consultations on seeing these items for the first time: "they had that strong culture! And they left that for us… generation to generation."


These are just a few of the ‘new’ objects waiting to be seen for the first time ever by Chau Chak Wing Museum visitors. Which of these will join your old favourites as a must-see when you pay us a visit?


Dr Craig Barker is Head, Public Engagement at the Chau Chak Wing Museum.


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