ohn Mullen and Kevin Sumption on the SY Ena

John Mullen and Kevin Sumption on the SY Ena. Photograph by James Brickwood/Fairfax Syndication.

Long before he was made Chair of the Australian National Maritime Foundation (ANMF), John Mullen had been quietly making a real difference to Australia’s knowledge of maritime history and archaeology. Mullen, through the Silentworld Foundation, has led and funded numerous maritime archaeological expeditions including to the Coral Sea and Kenn Reef. It is through Mullen’s support that maritime archaeologists at the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) are able to explore the depths of our oceans to sites of maritime significance. Such support has included providing vessels, staff, equipment and divers to make these voyages possible.

Mullen has also generously given his own time and even donated a historically significant vessel to the Museum through the ANMF — the beautiful Edwardian Steam Yacht, Ena.

A Stunning  Gift with a Wartime History

Ena is the Museum’s most valuable acquisition in the last 10 years,” says ANMM Director, Kevin Sumption, of this latest addition to the Museum’s fleet of vessels.

Appearances can be deceiving as the gilded and Gatsby-esque SY Ena has quite literally been in the wars. Built in 1900 as a private vessel, she served as HMAS Sleuth in WWI and was used to patrol the Torres Strait for armed Germans. She was then refitted and used for patrol work on the east coast as far north as Cooktown. Later she was used for naval training work as a tender to the ship Tingira.

Ena then steamed around Australia with her various owners, hosting high society Sydney harbour day trips before becoming a coveted jewel in the Australian National Maritime Museum’s collection.

The collection now comprises more than 146,000 objects. Fundraising for the collection is the core function of the ANMF and is also a priority for the Museum. “Donations for this priority will help the Museum to conserve precious objects and add important new material to the collection,” says Mullen.

A Strong Partnership

John Mullen

John Mullen: “I have loved the ocean since I was a young boy, and it gives me great pleasure to know that we are playing a part in helping others understand and connect with the sea, too.”

Sumption was recently awarded a Public Service Medal for his work as Director of the Museum, and in particular for his commitment to educating the public about Australia’s Indigenous maritime history. With his wealth of knowledge and experience in museum management and Mullen’s business acumen and adventurous spirit as a maritime explorer, the ANMF is well-placed to thrive and achieve its long-term goals.

The Museum’s principal vision is to strengthen visitors’ connections with our maritime history through new and inspiring experiences, exhibitions and initiatives. Through the Foundation, the Museum is able to acquire artefacts and fund programs that tell the story of our maritime history and bring this vision to life.

Together, Mullen and Sumption have identified three core fundraising priorities for the Foundation: Indigenous education, Australia’s migration story and acquisitions for the Museum’s collection (including maritime archaeological artefacts).

Raising Awareness of Australia’s Unique Indigenous Maritime History

Kevin Sumption believes it is important that Australians acknowledge our Indigenous maritime history.

Kevin Sumption believes it is important that Australians acknowledge our Indigenous maritime history.

One of ANMM’s key plans includes focusing on building up its Indigenous collection and ensuring that the Australian public is aware of the significance of our Indigenous Australian maritime history. Sumption believes it is important that Australians acknowledge our Indigenous terrestrial history and Indigenous maritime history – something which we do not often hear a lot about.

ANMM has an Indigenous Programs department headed up by Indigenous Programs Manager, Donna Carstens. In 2016, Carstens and Sumption travelled to the opening of a prestigious Indigenous Australian maritime art exhibition, Taba Naba – Australia, Oceania, Arts by Peoples of the Sea at the Oceanographic Museum of Monaco, which showcased pieces from ANMM’s collection. Opened by H.S.G Prince Albert II of Monaco and attracting almost 500,000 visitors in six months, the exhibition was a fabulous opportunity to bring our Indigenous maritime history to the world stage.

The Museum also has a permanent Indigenous gallery, the Eora gallery, which features important artefacts from our sea history including traditional watercraft or “nawi” and other rare objects, such as the elaborately carved and painted Pukumani burial poles from the Tiwi people, ceremonial sculptures, handwoven works from Arnhem Land and hollow log coffins decorated with the story of Mäna the shark.

There is evidence that museums can positively contribute to educational outcomes and social cohesion, and through education and community engagement initiatives the Foundation aims to contribute to efforts to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Maritime history

Connecting Indigenous youth with the skills of traditional boat building has been a big success.

“Sadly, there are significant differences in school attendance, literacy and numeracy, and educational attainment between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. And attitudes about immigration and cultural diversity vary across the generations and throughout Australia. One of our plans is to employ an Indigenous educator to design a new program to share the national maritime story with Indigenous school students throughout Australia to contribute to better educational outcomes. For this program to be effective, it needs to be developed in close consultation with Indigenous communities,” says Sumption.

The Foundation is committed to implementing initiatives that will contribute to better educational outcomes for Indigenous Australians. One such program includes reconnecting Indigenous youth with the skills of traditional boat building, which has been a great success with demand for this activity greater than the Museum can currently service.

One of the Museum’s most recent acquisitions through the Foundation was an incredible bronze sculpture by Torres Strait Islander artist Alick Tipoti of a dugong, Kissay Dhangal, which was put on display in time for NAIDOC week. Through its intricately carved symbols and words, the sculpture tells the story of the breeding and feeding habits of the dugong in Torres Strait, along with the environmental impacts that are currently affecting this precious species. Torres Strait Islanders have a strong affinity with the dugong and the patterns on the sculpture represent their cultural knowledge of the animal and its habitat.

maritime history

Sculpture by Torres Strait Islander artist Alick Tipoti of a dugong, Kissay Dhangal.

It was through two of the Foundation’s most honoured ambassadors, Christine Sadler and her late husband, Sid Faithfull, who founded Australia’s largest privately-owned shipping company, Sea Swift, that this significant piece was added to the Museum’s collection. Over the years the couple has donated funds for the acquisition of important objects from Indigenous artists in the Torres Strait Islands and far north Queensland – a region with which they had a long association.

Other Indigenous acquisitions through the Foundation include artworks from the East Coast Encounter exhibition, an initiative that asked Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists to re-imagine Aboriginal peoples’ encounter with Lt James Cook and his crew in 1770. Those artworks include three sculptures by Garth Lena and Gail Mabo’s (daughter of Eddie Mabo) Constellation and Constellation II, which depict ancestral spirit figures before the “coming of the boats”.

“We are committed to sharing the stories and interpretations of our First Nations people through the work of the Foundation. We can learn so much through these Indigenous artworks and collections about our history, our environment and even our future. I have loved the ocean since I was a young boy, and it gives me great pleasure to know that we are playing a part in helping others understand and connect with the sea, too,” Mullen says. 

Working with community, donors and talented artists, the Foundation is well on its way to reaching its goal of strengthening the public’s knowledge of (and connection with) our unique Indigenous maritime history.

Telling Australia’s Migration Story

The second priority of the Foundation is Australia’s migration story, which has been a longstanding focus of the Museum through permanent and temporary exhibitions, multicultural festivals and programs and the award-winning Waves of Migration rooftop projection.

Australian National Maritime Museum's Welcome Wall

Pritika Desai finds her name on the Australian National Maritime Museum’s Welcome Wall.

The Welcome Wall, on which the names of almost 30,000 migrants to Australia are inscribed, is one of the Museum’s most prominent attractions. On their own: Britain’s child migrants is the most popular exhibition in the ANMM’s history, attracting more than 850,000 visitors to nine venues over a six-year period. It tells an important migration story, about which the public would like to learn more.

“The Scanlon Foundation’s 2015 survey on mapping social cohesion found that almost 70 per cent of Australians believe we should do more to learn about the customs and heritage of different ethnic and cultural groups in Australia. And the Museum is very well-placed to respond to this community need,” says Sumption.

“I would like to see a major overhaul of the presentation of Australia’s migration story. I want every visitor to be educated, inspired and delighted by our approach to this topic. We have almost run out of space on our Welcome Wall and its presentation is in need of renewal. I would like to work with the traditional owners of the land and waters on which the museum is built to create a public place in Australia where everyone feels welcome.”

The Foundation is seeking financial support to refresh its exhibitions, build up its collection, and enhance engagement with Australia’s ethnic communities and Indigenous communities. These are big projects which will be implemented over the coming years and under the leadership of philanthropic powerhouses Kevin Sumption and John Mullen.

The Australian National Maritime Foundation is a Tax Concession Charity and holds Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) Category 1 status.