On the Spot: Margo Neale

‘Curating is a powerful form of history-telling.’

The National Museum of Australia, photographed in 2013. Wiki Commons/Nick-D.

Why are you a historian and curator of Indigenous Australian art?

Indigenous history and art are interchangeable. Curating is a powerful form of history-telling.

What’s the most important lesson history has taught you? 

That the division between past, present and future is a western construction: ‘When you look behind, you see the future in your footprints.’

Which history book has had greatest influence on you?

Country is our preferred book, our history is written in the land. Orality is our medium for passing on knowledge.

What book in your field should everyone read?

Songlines: The Power and Promise.

Which moment would you most like to go back to?

Australia before 1788. More than 60,000 years of history was in train before the arrival of the British.

Which historian has had the greatest influence on you?

Henry Reynolds.

Which person in history would you most like to have met? 

David Unaipon, the Ngarrindjeri preacher, inventor and author.

How many languages do you have? 

Australian English and Aboriginal English.

What is the most common misconception about your field? 

That we don’t have history, only myths and legends. 

What historical topic have you changed your mind on?

Almost everything.  

Which genre of history do you like least?

Military history.

What’s the most exciting field in history today?

The history of art.

Is there an important historical text you have not read? 

Yes, most of them.

What’s your favourite archive?

The ‘Third Archive’; that is the fusion of western and Indigenous knowledge systems.

What’s the best museum?

The National Museum of Australia, Canberra. 

What technology has changed the world the most? 

The boomerang, which informs the design principle of the modern aeroplane wing.

The Mediterranean or the Indian Ocean?

Indian Ocean.

Historical drama or documentary?

Historical dream.

The Parthenon or Machu Picchu?

Machu Picchu.

What will future generations judge us most harshly for?

Our refusal to learn from the wisdom and knowledge systems of first peoples, especially regarding sustainability. 


Margo Neale is Senior Research Fellow at the National Museum of Australia and curator of ‘Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters’, which runs at The Box, Plymouth until February 2022.