Following an Additional Estimates hearing on 14 February of the Senate Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Committee, Senator Dorinda Cox (Greens, WA) lodged a Question on Notice (Question No. 411). More than three months later, on 31 May, the Memorial provided an answer.

The answer didn't add much to what we knew already (mostly from previous Estimates outings), about slippage in the timing of the Memorial's Frontier Wars coverage but there was more about the reasons and the plan. Here's the question and answer in full, with the key bits in bold.

Senator Dorinda Cox asked:
1. Can the AWM please provide an update on the Frontier Wars exhibition?
2. How is the AWM engaging with families to ensure that they provide their consent for their stories to be told and that they are being presented in a truthful and respectful way?
Frontier wars content will be part of the pre-1914 gallery which is currently scheduled to be developed from late 2025 – 2028. While the Australian War Memorial (the Memorial) will commence some early planning and stakeholder engagement through our Indigenous Liaison Officer and Advisory Group in 2024, the curatorial team will be stood up from late 2025. The date the team commences has moved to late 2025 due to preparatory work being undertaken on policies review and the development of the Memorial's Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP) protocols through 2024.
The process of developing the new galleries will be:
• Mid 2024 – Development of Memorial’s ICIP protocols
• Late 2025 – Gallery development team appointed
• Late 2025 – Content planning stage – including front-end evaluation and community engagement. Exhibition design brief developed based on evaluation findings
• Late 2026 – Design stage – including community engagement and feedback on the proposed evolving design, visitor experience and content
• 2027 – Production also including community engagement on any multimedia development as part of the exhibition interpretation.
• Early 2028 – Installation
• Mid 2028 – Gallery complete
Community engagement will be an integral part of the gallery development including seeking First Nations’ and veteran feedback. The pre-1914 gallery development will follow the same methodology and process as other galleries being delivered in late 2025, including best-practice engagement principles acknowledging First Nations’ communities/families as the custodians/story owners of some of the frontier wars content. The pre-1914 gallery will acknowledge a shared-history of First Nations and white Australians and will consult widely through advisory groups and individuals, to ensure representation is both culturally appropriate and the content interpretation is suitable for all audiences.

So, we still have Frontier Wars content squeezed in with colonial expeditionary forces in a 'pre-1914 gallery'. On the other hand, there are further hints that consultation will be broader than through the Memorial's hand-picked Indigenous Advisory Group. Background.

The answer to the Senator was more useful than the Memorial's reply to an April 2024 FOI claim from Defending Country, where the Memorial claimed to have no documents about impending changes to its business model (see Appendix below). The answer can also be read in conjunction with the remarks of the Memorial's Indigenous Liaison Officer, Michael Bell, in an April radio interview, where he mentioned work being done at the Memorial on the Eumeralla Wars of 1840 to 1860.

There have been other hints that the Memorial intends to focus on particular 'theatres' of frontier conflict, with the focus shifting from theatre to theatre over time. The outcome of Minister Keogh's call for Expressions of Interest to fill vacancies on the Memorial Council should also have a bearing on how the Memorial deals with the Frontier Wars.

Photo credit: Senator Dorinda Cox (2022)/WikimediaCommons/adendagostino/Creative Commons

Appendix: EXTRACT OF ADVICE FROM THE MEMORIAL (DATED 18 APRIL 2024) (emphasis added)

Dear Dr Stephens,

Request under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 for access to documents

1. I refer to your request under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act), in which you sought access to the following:

· Any Memorial Council decision, or Council agenda papers, internal memoranda, or advice to Minister Keogh, relating to the following paragraph in a letter dated 14 September 2023 from the Minister’s Chief of Staff to Dr David Stephens of Honest History and Defending Country:

'As part of the expansion of the galleries the Memorial will be reviewing their business model. In this context, I would also note that gallery space is not the only mechanism to provide access to the National Collection or archival material and a “broader and deeper” depiction of frontier conflict may be multifaceted.'

Authority to make this decision

2. I am the authorised decision-maker for the purposes of section 23 of the FOI Act and this letter gives notice of my decision.

Material taken into account

3. I have taken the following material into account in making my decision:

I. the terms of your request.

II. the documents relevant to the request

III. the FOI Act.

IV. the Guidelines published by the Office of the Information Commissioner under section 93A of the FOI Act (the FOI Guidelines).


4. Having regard to your request and the types of documents that may fall within the scope of your request, I am satisfied that the searches conducted were thorough and all reasonable steps have been taken to locate the documents relevant to your request.

5. In processing your request, I requested the relevant staff to search our corporate information systems and records to identify the documents related to your request. As a result of the searches undertaken, no documents could be found that fell within the scope of your request.


6. Section 24A(1) of the FOI Act provides that the Department may refuse a request for access to a document if all reasonable steps have been taken to find the document and the Department is satisfied that the document does not exist.

7. I am satisfied that the Department has undertaken reasonable searches in relation to your request and that no documents were in possession of the Department as of the date of this decision 18 April 2024.

Jun 15, 2024

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