The National Museum of Australia’s pioneering Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters exhibition will tour to the United Kingdom in 2021. Here’s what I thought of curator Margo Neale’s original show in Canbarra in 2018:

The joint ‘UK/Australia Season’ initiative by the British Council and our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will help support Australia’s major performing arts companies, with the Government to provide $350,000 to support the tour.

The Songlines exhibition is a unique cultural asset and the first of its kind, using Indigenous techniques of passing on knowledge in an exhibition space. And that space in the UK will be at The Box in Plymouth.

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Marise Payne said the ‘UK/Australia Season‘ will consider the theme, Who are we now?, looking at the shared history and culture of both nations. The Australian Government’s support will build on Australia’s cultural reputation, foster international relations and grow cultural understanding. This exhibition will be particularly helpful in maintaining our strong multi-generational ties with Britain, at a time when overseas travel is extremely limited,” Minister Payne said.

The Melbourne Symphony, Australian Chamber Orchestra and Australian World Orchestra will also present innovative productions to showcase the best of Australian artistic innovation, integrity and collaboration. Works for children and young people will be on show via the Sydney Dance Company, circus performances from Circa, and both performance and masterclasses by Queensland Ballet.

Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham said encouraging ties through arts and culture would help to strengthen Australia’s already strong bilateral relationship with the United Kingdom “ especially at a time when a trade deal Is being negotiated with the newly-independent UK.

This is an incredible opportunity for some of Australia’s most outstanding artists, performers and exhibitors to partake and promote Australia as a diverse and talented nation, Minister Birmingham said. The ‘UK/Australia Season’ develops collaboration between our nations which builds upon our commitment to further strengthen our partnership as we continue to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement.

There is a strong interest in Indigenous art overseas and Songlines will help to grow audiences and foster new markets for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, Paul Fletcher added.

The Season will take place in the UK from August to November 2021, and the as-yet-unannounced reciprocal season from Britain in Australia from September 2021 to March 2022.

The theme, ˜Who are we now?’, provides a platform to celebrate the best of our arts and cultural life, with points of connection and collaboration around our shared successes, say the Poms.

I must admit that I was underwhelmed by news that the important ‘Songlines‘ exhibition was heading for The Box in Plymouth “ an unprepossessing title in what I’d always thought of as a marginal city. But then I read: The opening of The Box is the most significant cultural initiative in the UK in 2020. The galleries, collections and archives will bring the world to Plymouth and Plymouth to the world. The original City Museum and Art Gallery has been completely transformed and extended to combine the Edwardian building with the former City Library and St Luke’s church. The Box also features a striking elevated ˜archive in the sky’ with research and learning facilities, along with a major new public square for gigs, performance, theatre and events. 

And the opening this year has allowed Plymouth (and the world) to recall certain events in that city 400 years ago. For The Box is home to the flagship project of the country’s ‘Mayflower 400’ commemorations “ just begun. Impressively, they’ve gone to America to consider what effect that little voyage had on the lands across the Atlantic “ both the Native Americans whose 12,000 year residence was brutally intruded upon, requiring the exhibition to be created in partnership with the Wampanoag Advisory Committee to Plymouth 400 in Massachusetts, and with the help of over 100 museums, libraries and archives across the UK, US and The Netherlands; and a thousand descendants of the Mayflower sailors.

I wonder whether Whitby in Yorkshire has bothered with any 250th anniversary commemorations this year for another nautical venture?

And in further news belatedly released by the National Museum, Songlines will move on from Plymouth to the Humboldt Forum, Berlin at the end of 2021, and then to the Musee du quai Branly in Paris in 2023.

The partnership between the Stiftung Humboldt Forum and the National Museum of Australia on this project is a chance to highlight the continent of Australia, not often enough seen in exhibitions in Europe, said Dr Harmut Dorgerloh, General Director, Humboldt Forum. The exhibition, which innovatively uses technology to preserve and present Indigenous knowledge and history, represents two key issues for the Stiftung Humboldt Forum: digital preservation of cultural heritage and innovative musicological approaches, he added.

I am looking forward to the collaboration with the Martu, the Ngaanyatjarra and the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara peoples. This groundbreaking exhibition will pave a new way for the Ethnology Museum to work with local communities, said Lars-Christian Koch, Director of the Ethnology Museum, Berlin, where the exhibition will be seen.

Songlines will showcase at Musée du quai Branly, Paris, from April 2023 to July 2023. Particularly innovative and spectacular, the exhibition remains, above all, a place for the transmission of knowledge rooted in the rooted in the lore of three deserts of Western Australia (and SA) and emanating from their stellar art forms, said Emmanuel Kasarhérou, President of the Musée du quai Branly.

After Paris, the exhibition will continue its global tour, with planning underway for travel to North America and Asia.

And let’s not forget that Adelaide’s Tarnanthi festival has currently spread its wings to the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rennes, capital of Brittany in NW France. This ‘Kulata Tjuta’ exhibition was to consist of the ‘Many Spears’ of the title, but COVID has denied it the artists needed to install the spears. Instead, 34 APY artists painted furiously, and their canvases are now in France. A tri-lingual catalogue – English/French/Pitjanjatjarra will capture the effort.

And incredibly, unnanounced by the National Museum, ‘Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters’ is about to open in Perth at the new WA Museum Boola Bardip. Some dispute about the opening – maybe 21st November, but more likely 30th November as that’s the date the WA Museum offers.

How marvellous that this important show is having a continuing life!