Museums, galleries and societies

Shelves lined with rows of round antique alarm clocks

Museums can collect objects relating to a range of themes, including history, science and technology, culture and art. As well as objects and artefacts, they can also collect books, journals, diaries and artwork.

In Australia, we have the national museum in Canberra as well as museums run by the different states. There are also privately run museums operated by organisations, groups or individuals who want to share their collections with the general public.

A museum can have one focus (natural history) or it can cover many subjects. Whether large or small, they can be an amazing source of information about a topic.

For example, if you're interested in vintage and classic cars, the Fox Classic Car Collection may be a good place for information. If you have an ancestor who was a police officer in Victoria, you may be interested in the Victoria Police Museum. Or if you're researching film, TV and video games, you might like to visit the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.

The exhibits on display in a museum are put together by expert curators and researchers who might be able to help you with your own research. Many museums will answer research questions from the public, particularly if they relate to their collection items, displays or exhibitions.

Some museums also publish fact sheets, activities and photographs of their collection online, which can be great way to learn about a topic. If you can't visit the museum in person, it's well worth checking their website to see if you can find relevant material.

Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of museums found in Australia's states and territories.

Case study

Fumiko is studying fashion and design, and would like to find examples of innovative designs. She finds inspiring material in the digitised collections of several fashion museums worldwide, including:


Visitor in a white-walled gallery reading about an art installation surrounded by floating wire sculptures

Galleries collect artistic works, which can include paintings, sculptures, audio-visual art, fashion and more. There are many different types of galleries, including those run nationally (National Gallery of Australia), by a state (National Gallery of Victoria, Geelong Regional Gallery) and by local councils (the Hawthorn Town Hall Gallery). There are also commercial galleries run privately as a business and galleries operated by personal collectors.

Galleries can be a great source of information about artwork and artists, as well as cultural and historical traditions. Artwork can investigate political issues, evoke emotions and explore confronting ideas. It can also convey the personal beliefs of the artist and their society. For example, a person researching World War I may find both the horror and glorification of war depicted in the art of the time. By bringing this artwork together, galleries can help us better understand the world, both from the past and in the present.

Case Study

Annie is interested in discovering more about her Indigenous heritage. Her ancestors are the Wurundjeri people and she would like to learn more about their cultural practices. She visits the National Gallery of Victoria and finds:

  • artwork by William Barak
  • artwork by other members of the Wurundjeri Tribe
  • articles about Indigenous art in the Art Journal of the National Gallery of Victoria
  • tools and other artefacts
  • an expert (curator) on Indigenous art


Five classic vintage cars parked under trees

A society is a club or organisation devoted to one particular subject. There are many different societies out there, such as historical, genealogical, environmental and more. There is even a society for vintage car enthusiasts! If you can name it, you can probably find a society for it.

Societies often collect in-depth material on a given subject. For example, a local history society might only collect material from or about their local area. Societies can also put you in contact with knowledgeable experts or enthusiasts who can be a great source of information on their topics of expertise.

Case Study

Marcus, his father and his grandfather all grew up in Wangaratta. Marcus would like to learn more about his father's and grandfather's experiences in the town. He contacts the local historical society and finds:

  • historical photographs of the town
  • historical photographs of people
  • local historians who can help him with his research
  • local cemetery indexes
Things to remember
  • Museums collect objects on a range of topics
  • Galleries can provide information on artworks and artists
  • Societies have knowledgeable experts and enthusiasts who can help you find information

Now, let's take a look at the information found in universities and government agencies.


Last modified: Wednesday, 29 March 2017, 2:07 PM