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An Australian Museum of Sport for Canberra

By Edgar Crook - posted Friday, 21 September 2012

Now that the Olympics and Paralympic season is ended where can Australians go to get a better understanding of how and why sport continues to have such meaning for us.

History was seen up until the recent past as the story of ‘great men and events’, but now it seeks to tell a much wider story involving all of the people and how they lived.

Australian museums reflect this concept of social history in their storytelling. The Australian War Memorial does not tell only of Generals and Field Marshals and the National Museum of Australia does not feature only our Prime Ministers and Governors-General. Both institutions seek to show how the average person through history lived through extraordinary and everyday events and in so doing brings in many interpretations. In this way we can further understand and appreciate history and its relation to ourselves.


The story of sport in Australia as told through the media, its few museums and its varied Halls of Fame however has generally not moved from telling a singular story of those men and women who exceeded above all others.

To delve into any public display of sport, historical or not, is to generally only see a depiction of those who won Gold, a trophy, a championship or a cup. As if to say the only people or teams worth mentioning are those who excelled to such an extent that they have become immortal.

It is absolutely right to acknowledge and celebrate excellence. And Australia has a proud history of producing amazing athletes.

However, to tell only their stories is to diminish the more complete and fascinating story of sport in Australia.

It is a cliché to say that Australians love their sport. Sport is such a fundamental part of who we are that it goes beyond love and becomes a part of our national culture and ethos.

It remains a mystery therefore why there is no Australian Museum of Sport in Canberra to sit alongside the other national cultural and collecting institutions. A truly adventurous and well conceived publicly owned sport museum would give Australians a place where sport and what it means to us can be admired, studied, displayed and enjoyed. Sitting it within the nation’s capital would give it the authority and prestige that the subject deserves.


There is currently no sporting museum or collection in Australia that is capable of fully bringing together what sport means. There is no collection that tells of those who coached, refereed or judged. There is no collection that tells of those who volunteered year in and year out for their sport. There is no collection that tells of the great Australian sportswriters or sport inspired art works (not just portraits of great athletes). There is no collection that tells of the lesser supported sports. There is no collection that fully records the sporting achievements of Australians with a disability. There is no collection of those who have stood in the terraces or stands supporting their clubs every season come rain or shine, victory or loss.

There is no museum that tells of how everyday Australians participate in their hundreds of thousands every week in amateur sporting activity, nor is there a museum for those who tried their hardest but came fourth or lower and never got a medal.

Acknowledging and remembering these other sporting Australians is not supporting failure or celebrating mediocrity. It is about valuing sport and all its avenues of participation as the great Australian story.

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About the Author

Edgar Crook is a Senior Librarian at the National Library of Australia and the author of the following: Vegetarianism in Australia : 1788-1948 and Vegetarianism and veganism in Australia : an annotated bibliography.

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