Shaped by the Sea

Stories of deep time Australia

As an island nation, Australia has a unique relationship with the oceans that surround us. Over tens of thousands of years, the sea and our inland waters have shaped this continent and sustained the many peoples who have lived here. Drawing on scientific and First Peoples perspectives, Shaped by the Sea explores this deep time view of the extraordinary forces that created our country.


The exhibition invites us to reconcile different ways of knowing, together reaching a fuller understanding of this ancient continent. From a dugong skeleton to digital installations, Shaped by the Sea shares thousands of objects and stories that circumnavigate our past. Visitors will be immersed in displays of scientific specimens and invited to learn from Aboriginal cultural practices.


‘We reveal our continent’s deep time history through modern science and archaeology, as well as through sharing Indigenous knowledges,’ said Dr Stephen Gapps, co-curator of the exhibition.


‘We invite our visitors to view our continent’s past through these dual perspectives, highlighted by some extraordinary objects from the National Maritime Collection.’


The centrepiece of the exhibition is a commissioned work by the Mulka Project. This stunning contemporary video installation called Dhaŋaŋ Dhukarr (Many Pathways) brings together all the elements of the exhibition (Land, Water and Sky) into an immersive, cyclic reflection on deep time Australia.


Matt Poll, Manager of Indigenous Programs said, ‘Within the heart of the exhibition sits Dhaŋaŋ Dhukarr, by the Mulka Project. This installation foremost acts as the centerpiece of the exhibition, but also represents a philosophical recentering of the museum’s permanent exhibition space.


‘With more than 40 Aboriginal and Torres Strait language regions represented throughout Shaped by the Sea, the exhibition offers a glimpse of remarkable knowledge of country preserved over millennia. Pre-existing protocols, networks, and relationships between First Nations Australian communities has guided the consultation, selection, and placement of an exceptional range of objects, materials, and knowledge.’


Dhaŋaŋ Dhukarr has been commissioned with the assistance of the Sid Faithfull and Christine Sadler Program supporting Contemporary Indigenous Maritime Heritage in Far North Queensland and the Torres Strait Islands through the Australian National Maritime Museum Foundation.



Explore DEEP TIME, the digital experience accompanying Shaped by the Sea.


Image credit: Marinco Kojdanovski