Row over Laperouse museum’s roots, Southern Courier On-Line17 APR 12 @ 06:00AM By LEESA SMITH

Tony Gentile in the museum.

Tony Gentile in the museum.

CONTENTION over the prominence of Indigenous and French historical artefacts at the Laperouse Museum has prompted a review to decide its future direction.

The museum was given to Australia as a bicentennial gift by the French government in 1988 but there is now controversy. (Note: The Museum was officially opened by the Hon. R.J. Carr, M.P., Minister for Environment and Planning, on the 23rd February, 1988, the museum was present to the New South Wales Government, in the name of the Laperouse Association, by the French minister Mr Andre Giraud, as President of the Comite Francais pour le Bicentenaire de l’Australie.) over whether the First Australians should feature more than the French explorer Laperouse who arrived at Botany Bay three days after Captain Cook(Note:  Cook arrived in April 1770 and Phillip on the 18th January 1788, 8 days before Laperouse landed).

Environment and Heritage Minister Robyn Parker requested for the National Parks and Wildlife Service to convene a committee, chaired by an independent heritage expert, to make recommendations about improving the exhibitions in the museum to ensure the community’s views were heard.

But Friends of the Laperouse Museum secretary Tony Gentile has concerns that the French influence will be reduced in the review.

“National Parks were heading in a different direction which was a continuing diminution of the French expeditionary part of the museum which we thought it wasn’t in keeping with the bicentennial gift,” he said. “We believe there’s a role and place for every body.”

The museum operated seven days a week for about a decade then dropped down to three days and is now only open on Sundays.

“People don’t realise that the area of La Perouse is one of the key sights(sites) in European maritime exploration across the Pacific,” Mr Gentile said. “The Laperouse expedition provided the link to the Aboriginal communities.”

Maroubra local and history buff Senator Bob Carr, who was recently named a patron of the museum, said it was appropriate to honour both historical periods.

“As the state member for Maroubra for more than 20 years and a lifelong resident of the area, he understands the significance of the museum to the local community and Australia’s national story,” he said.

Rob Kwrites:
Posted on18 Apr 12 at 01:39pm

Thank you for highlighting an important issue. Until I learnt more through the museum and links, I was, like most Australians, unaware of the French influence in this period of Australia’s history. The “coopetition” between the naval powers in the south Pacific is fascinating (look up the history of Vanuatu for more). For that, I believe the museum does an excellent job of spreading knowledge through the community and also the Friends of the Laperouse Museum do a great job. I think the museum should be allowed to continue on the present path and spread the knowledge of the French influence in Australia’s history, with the important support of the local French community which is welcome. We don’t need every museum to be all encompassing and PC, and lose the flavour of the particular story being told.

Brian Shaw President St George Regional Heritage Societywrites:
Posted on18 Apr 12 at 11:35am

There is need for balance in our history. The original grant which bought the museum into existance focused on the place of Laperouse and his journey and influence. I often bring and encourage people to experience this unique museum. I travel to many parts of Sydney and surrounds including Newcastle, Wollongong, Kiama, Nowra, the Blue Mountains and Temora in south west NSW. They each acknowledge and tell their pre Eurpoean story, but also unique special things which are important to them. Laperouse is special to all Australians and deserves the creditable exhibition in this unique museum

Lynda Newnamwrites:
Posted on17 Apr 12 at 06:41pm

Visitors I speak to are very interested in French history and subsequent connections. This is our France Downunder, the most important site in Australia celebrating the relationship. So strong that in World War I there was a proposal to give the headland to France in recognition of the bond forged on the Western Front. After laying a wreath at the monument in 2008, the French Commander of the Pacific Fleet commented that it had been the highlight of his career. There’s a layer of Aboriginal history throughout Australia including all of the Eastern Suburbs! National Parks could team up with Eastern Region Councils and put together a comprehensive walking trail and sponsor aboriginal led guided walks. As far as museum space the best spot is Bare Island. It could have an Aboriginal Cultural Centre, a Dive Shop, a Mission Impossible Cafe, a Snake Show Display, area for Military buffs. National Parks has got this prime site as well as Greycliffe House and other buildings at Vaucluse and then more at Watson’s Bay. Playing off the French and Aboriginal is done in the hope we won’t notice where the real waste occurs.

Posted on17 Apr 12 at 03:10pm

I’ve been to the Laperouse museum and I was extremely disappointed with the lack of Aboriginal stories and artefacts on show. When I think of La Perouse I think of the Indigenous community, not the French. Laperouse was there for a total of 6 weeks – the Aboriginal community have been there for 40,000 years. A reduction in the overbearing French story would be a relief as it will make space for what both I and other visiors expect when we go to La Perouse and that’s to learn about the Aboriginal story of the place! And what does a gift mean? That museum is not small and I’m sure it would cost a mint to run, which the NSW tax payer is funding. Rather than meeting the demands of a minute part of the La Perouse history, the museum should be more inclusive of the Aboriginal history and the stories of the Macquarie Watchtower and Bare Island. Their stories aren’t represented either and they are more interesting than a 6 week ‘camp out’ that the French had once upon a time.

Terry Croninwrites:
Posted on17 Apr 12 at 08:52am

It’s all in the name – the Laperouse Museum should be about Laperouse the man and his voyages. It should include, but not be overshadowed by, places he visited and people he encountered. This museum is important as a reminder of the role non British expeditionaries played in the Europeanisation of Australia. This concept is no more disrespectful of Indigenous Australians than having a museum dedicated to Don Bradman.