Three people with a trophy and certificate at an awards ceremony.
WINNERS: Regional Museum Officer Sam Leah, Wiradjuri Elder Aunty Cheryl Penrith, and Museum Education and Public Programs Officer Angus Cawdell-Smith at the IMAGinE Award ceremony on Wednesday night.

Arts & Culture

Museum of the Riverina receives state award for RETURN Symposium

Published: 01 Dec 2023 9:42am

The Museum of the Riverina has been awarded a Museums and Galleries of NSW IMAGinE Award for its symposium RETURN: Reconnecting objects and collections with people and places held in Wagga Wagga in June 2023.

At the awards ceremony held at Sydney Modern, Art Gallery of NSW on Wednesday night, the Museum of the Riverina received the award for the Engagement Programs – Medium Organisations category ahead of other competitive nominations from cultural institutions around the state.

RETURN: Reconnecting objects and collections with people and places was a three-day symposium developed in collaboration with the Australian National University that brought together First Nations community members, academics, museum professionals and members of the public.

It explored the return of objects from around the world to the places and communities where they originated and how the future of these types of returns might take shape.

A table with Australian First Nations artefacts laid out.
RETURNED ITEMS: Some of the Wiradjuri/Wiradyuri items that have been returned to Wagga Wagga and are currently on display at the Museum of the Riverina Botanic Gardens site.

Museum Manager Luke Grealy said this award is testament to the hard work and talent of the Museum of the Riverina team.

“To win the Engagement Programs category is a great thrill and is another major benefit of the museum redevelopment project,” Mr Grealy said.

“The RETURN Symposium brought together Wiradjuri and First Nations people, academics and museum professionals, demonstrating that significant events such as RETURN can be developed and hosted in regional centres.”

RETURN was developed by Museum staff Angus Cawdell-Smith and Sam Leah and was the culmination of a seven-year partnership between the Museum of the Riverina, Australian National University (ANU) and the National Museum of Australia (NMA).

“It demonstrates the importance of relationships between small and large cultural organisations and the impact we can have when we all work together,” Regional Museum Officer Sam Leah said.

In addition to the Engagement Programs award, the Museum of the Riverina received a Highly Commended Award in the Exhibitions Projects Museums and Heritage – Medium organisations category for its semi-permanent exhibitions exploring the social history of Wagga Wagga.

“The Highly Commended award was secured amidst very strong competition and is a credit to the Museum team’s curatorial and exhibition design skills,” Luke Grealy said.

The Museum of the Riverina also received a nomination for an Innovation and Resilience Projects award for the $8.6 million redevelopment of the its Botanic Gardens site, which entailed the new exhibition building including a community learning space and upgraded collections storage facilities.

The interior of a museum with Australian First Nations items in the foreground.
INTERNATIONAL STANDARD: The Museum of Riverina was nominated for its Botanic Gardens site redevelopment.

The Wagga Wagga Art Gallery was also nominated for an Innovation and Resilience Award for its Grace + Ewington Residencies. In 2022, the Art Gallery hosted three, two-week residencies for senior Australian cultural practitioners, Helen Grace and Julie Ewington, as part of its Regional Artists Development program.

This initiative aimed to address the lack of critical attention and professional opportunities for regional creatives with the strategic purpose to critically support the Art Gallery’s development program.

For more details on the Museum of the Riverina, including the two sites, programs, exhibitions and opening hours visit