Kennedy collection at Museum ‘like Aladdin‘s Cave’

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Jensen and Kennedy at the NMA this morning. Photo: Helen Musa.

“IT’S like Aladdin’s Cave”, National Museum of Australia director Mat Trinca exclaimed this morning (April 20), as he helped unveil the exhibition “Trevor Kennedy Collection: Highlights” showcasing 573 objects from some 5,000 acquired by the Museum’s biggest-ever private acquisition – and it would be the first of many such shows.

Some of the objects are small in scale, like the animal ornaments, while others like items of pre-1820 Australian-made furniture, are large. The gold objects drawn from the Gold Rush are priceless, and the display of 24 emu eggs, inimitable.

“Aladdin’s Cave”. Photo: Helen Musa

The museum, we heard this morning, has been talking to Kennedy, former journalist and right-hand man of Kerry Packer, and business associate of Malcolm Turnbull, since 2010 and now at last, as Trinca told us, it had all come together.

While he later said that the foundation collection had been based on government-owned objects acquired after the National Museum of Australia Act, 1980, “there had never been anything like this”.

Trinca paid tribute to Kennedy‘s wife Christina, noted collector of indigenous art.

“As a couple, they have an amazing vision of Australian history,” he said, adding that to acknowledge their enormous joint contribution, the NMA forecourt bush garden has been named for them.

Curator Sopghie Jenson within the Kennedy exhibition
Curator Dr Sophie Jensen stands beside the “Eucalyptus Blossom” watercolour by Ellis Rowan, featured in the exhibition.

Kennedy himself was on hand to tell those present about his long association with Canberra, to which he had come from his hometown Albany more than 50 years ago to work at “The Canberra Times” when the lake was only half-full.

“Canberra was making history, and when I was walking around Parliament House – I was a bit of a Labor bloke – I got a big smile from Bob Menzies,“ he said.

He described what the museum had done with his collection as “truly outstanding“ and praised curator Sophie Jensen as “a real hero”, before pausing to consider whether that was the politically-correct term for a female curator.

According to Trinca, Kennedy had been collecting Australiana since he was very young and he was still collecting now – “this is a life’s passion”.

The enormous acquisition, he explained, had been made possible through a purchase by the Museum of more than $8 million and a donation by Kennedy valued at about $7 million.

Gold nugget segment bracelet with kangaroo.

Jensen said the present exhibition, only the first of many, was an unusual mix. Ranging from a tiny portrait by a convict artist to the larger objects, the collection, she said provided visitors to the museum with “a little bit of magic”.

And, she said, there wasn’t a single person at the museum who hadn’t had a hand in this project – “the true value of this is nothing to do with money”.

“The Trevor Kennedy Collection: Highlights” National Museum of Australia, Acton, April 21 until October 10. A new book about Trevor Kennedy has been completed by “CityNews” writer Robert Macklin, who is now in negotiation for a July publication. 

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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