ICOM Australia Chair Alec Coles


Terrible news from Brazil

It is with much sadness that I consigned my message for this newsletter to the metaphorical bin this morning. It was full of justifiable optimism about ICOM Australia’s future, another successful presence at the MGA Annual Conference and, congratulations to our annual prize winners and the members of our new slimmed down Executive Board. With due deference to all of the above, and offering my thanks to all those who have worked so hard over the previous year, particularly to make the Conference a success, you will understand why, this morning, my thoughts turn to Rio de Janeiro.

The terrible news of the devastating fire that consumed the National Museum of Brazil has stunned and saddened the international museum community. The facts are there before us – Brazil’s oldest and most distinguished museum, situated in the former Imperial palace of São Cristóvão, destroyed along with its extraordinary and unique collections of some 20 million specimens and artefacts.

In a tragic irony, the Museum was, this year, celebrating its 200 year anniversary.

It is literally, every museum worker’s worst nightmare. Many of us will have participated in ‘Disaster Planning’ sessions; many, like me, will have the Museum’s Emergency and Crisis Management plans on our shelves at home, hoping that we never get the call to have to use them; and most, thank goodness, will never have to experience the kind of trauma that our Brazilian colleagues are experiencing now.

This is, of course, an object lesson in some respects: you will have read the recriminations over the serial lack of investment in the Museum for many years in favour of other projects: there have even been riots in the streets about it. Whatever the truth, now is surely not the time for rancour: it is a time to support our international colleagues and the people of Brazil, a country that has, as a result of this fire has lost, not only an integral part of its heritage and identity, but something of it soul.

Alec Coles
ICOM Australia

September 2018


More information on Brazilian fire