Re-connect with Geelong’s land, culture and heritage at the National Wool Museum’s new exhibition

Re-connect with Geelong’s land, culture and heritage at the National Wool Museum’s new exhibition

The National Wool Museum has opened its core gallery exhibition ‘On the Land: Our Story Retold’.

You only have to walk through the front door of the National Wool Museum to realise what an amazing asset the gallery is to both Geelong and Victoria.

Housed in a beautifully restored 1872 bluestone wool store close to the vibrant new Waterfront Geelong, the museum has been busy in the last year, showcasing the likes of the world-renowned Wildlife Photographer of the Year 56 exhibition, We The Makers Design Festival – Designer’s Showcase, the How Cities Work interactive family exhibition, alongside launching a series of free online fashion courses and craft tutorials during the height of Victoria’s lockdown.

With so much going on, you’d excuse the curators for taking it easy, but of course, that’s not the case.

The closure of the museum combined with the extra time on curators’ hands served as a catalyst for the National Wool Museum to look at changing their core gallery exhibition for the first time in more than 30 years.

‘On The Land: Our Story Retold’ is the first major exhibition on Australian wool since a 1994 exhibition at Sydney’s Living Museum and presents a renewed Australian story with a contemporary look and feel, updated interactives and culturally relevant stories, ideal for children, tourists, wool-enthusiasts and locals alike.

This exhibition replaces one of the two permanent galleries in the museum, ‘Wool Harvest’, which has been part of the permanent collection since it was officially opened at the museum by HRH Queen Elizabeth II in 1988.

“It was 30 years since the exhibition has been upgraded, so some of the ideas that the local community had been out of date. It wasn’t timely, it wasn’t contemporary, and it wasn’t telling stories that are relevant to us today, and I think we’ve corrected that now,” explains Andrea Bruce, the Communications and Partnerships Officer at the National Wool Museum.

While previously the exhibition looked solely at sheep farming and wool production, this reimagined gallery focuses more on change, particularly on the people and places and our impact on the land.

Introducing audiences, both young and old, to a new, contemporary way of thinking, ‘On The Land’ tells stories through a creative lens and interactive features which offers guests a deeper cultural and environmental understanding of the Australian wool story. It explores ten culturally relevant themes including a history of farming, land management practice and innovations in the industry.

Upon entry to the gallery, you’re transported to ‘Wadawurrung Country’ with a brand-new installation, highlighting the importance and significance of the Wadawurrung Peoples, the Traditional Owners of the Geelong region, their culture and the impact of agricultural practice and the wool industry on their land.

Created by Wadawurrung woman Corrina Eccles, elder Bryon Powell and Wadawurrung artist Deanne Gilson through extensive consultation and collaboration, Wadawurrung Country includes stories from traditional owners, traditional language and artistic motifs – all stories which have previously been a really big emission from the museum for some time.

From there, visitors are taken through all facets of Geelong’s heritage, the wool industry and the environmental perspectives with parts of the Museum’s extensive collection on display. There’s everything from tools of the trade from the early nineteenth century up until the present day; the history of the wool industry; blowfly strikes and a focus on Geelong-based inventions; to more contemporary issues surrounding women in the industry, life in Australian woolsheds, environmental practices and regenerative practices.

“This type of content wasn’t included at all in the past,” Andrea explains. “The previous exhibition was really just looking at European settlement in Geelong, and now we’ve really branched out and looking at the Wadawurrung Peoples, looking at the damage we did to the land when we came, the wool production, and then doing that full circle and looking at environmental practices of how do we fix that damage and what does it all look like into the future.

“There’s a real conservation perspective to this whole museum.”

Highlights from the previous exhibition are also retained in this new gallery, including the much-loved taxidermy sheep and the recreated shearers hut, albeit refreshed with superficial upgrades, new video footage and new imagery to suit a more modern audience. Extraordinarily, much of it is never-before-seen footage and imagery, utilised perfectly in this exhibition to further visitors’ connections to the land, the lives and the achievements of generations of those who live on these lands, wool growers, textile manufacturers, craftspeople, artists and innovators.

While offering a deeper cultural and environmental understanding of the Australian Wool Industry, ‘On The Land: Our Story Retold’ also looks to the inspired creative industry in our hometown, featuring contributions from leading Geelong artists and heritage researchers.

You’ll find a new Vegan taxidermy sculpture by Mary-Jane Walker, immersive sound installation from Vicki Hallet, Wadawurrung art from Deanne Gilson, photography from Nicole Marie and Pete James and Andrew Chapman as well as a painting by Richard Weatherly. Even the taxidermy sheep have had a makeover courtesy of Melbourne illustrator Ashley Ronning.

Inspired by a collective history, the land and this place we call Geelong, the museum’s gallery ‘On The Land’ is a stunning collection of stories, with a renewed focus on change, the human impact of wool production over generations and stunning artistic responses. With scope and ambition beyond anything Geelong has ever seen before, ‘On The Land’ and all its modern and compelling storytelling promises to be a vital part of our future from here on out.

Once you’ve made your way through the exhibition, keen makers and creators are encouraged to continue through to the second core gallery to experience the timeless Australian story of wool, fibre and textile, while photography enthusiasts should explore the revered Wildlife Photographer of the Year 56 exhibition, on loan from the Natural History Museum in London.

‘On The Land’ is on show now at the National Wool Musuem, 26 Moorabool Street Geelong. Admission is $10 Adults, $8 Concession, $6 Child, and $30 Family, which grants you access to all other exhibitions on show. Find out more information here.