The Kerry Packer Civic Gallery of the Hawke Centre

The Kerry Packer Civic Gallery of the Hawke Centre . . . an inviting garden of thought.

The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre at the University of South Australia, which honours the only South Australian to have become Prime Minister, could easily have been another static, lacklustre and staid institution. But instead, it’s a wonderful garden of thought that challenges Australians to consider ideas and develop solutions for a sustainable society through its public learning program, website and gallery.

The Kerry Packer Civic Gallery especially provides a ‘mindspace’ for reflection on Australian society and is presented as a civic thinking space. In direct relationship to the Hawke Centre public program, the gallery focuses on ideas and actions in a democracy, and promotes the values of responsible citizenship. The four themes the gallery is currently focusing on are: media and human rights, freedom, the environment and governance.

The Kerry Packer Civic Gallery of the Hawke Centre

On entry to the gallery there is a message stick – the Aboriginal greeting – and is clad in red gum and etched with kangaroo tracks, signifying the place of the Red Kangaroo Dreaming of the traditional owners, the Kaurna people. Message sticks were traditionally used by Aboriginal people to share information about gatherings or as a welcoming gift when entering new territories. The indigenous element at the entry point is a practical solution to orientation, but also a statement of affirmation about the first society in Australia, and its place in the country’s history. Near the message stick there is the freedom wall. This is a wall split in two, and communicates the idea of yerra (a Kaurna Aboriginal word) meaning ‘two way thinking’ and symbolically breaking through barriers.

The Kerry Packer Civic Gallery of the Hawke Centre

Nelson Mandela is the international patron of the Hawke Centre and his famed quotes are projected on the Mandela Wall. The gallery also shows thought lightplays: projections of significant images and quotes from the current speaker in the Hawke Centre’s public lecture program. The gallery makes superb use of natural light which helps to digest thought, and at the end of the gallery hangs a peace bird chandelier designed by lighting artist Suzanne Charbonnet.

Guest installation space is given to the University of South Australia to showcase research outcomes that concentrate on sustainability in environmental, economic, social and international terms. The current guest exhibition has been undertaken by the interior design staff of the Louis Laybourne Smith School of Architecture and Design. Entitled A Place at the Table: the Politics of Being Inside, it examines the political meanings and provocations of interior space. External groups are also being invited to use the space to display projects that benefit humankind.


Vox Populi is the gallery’s computer based current issues and opinions log point. The Hawke Centre firmly believes opinion and participation are vital to community health so it captures public viewpoints on key issues to ensure the gallery is dynamic and timely, and presenting the issues and events of the day.

In the words of museologist Elaine Heurmann Gurian, it’s a “safe space for unsafe ideas.” There’s a splendid tension between the plainness of the surfaces, and the strength of the ideas. The gallery projects the sense that it is a neutral canvas on which messages and ideas are placed as either permanent or changing, depending on their universality or their currency.

The gallery strongly encourages a sense of discovery in the visitor. As Elizabeth Ho, the Director of the Hawke Centre says, “the visitor’s eye should be led to explore a set of messages and questions in an intuitive rather than a formal way, and absorb almost osmotically the values that linger in the space – especially the dynamic tension in democracy between individual freedom and social responsibility. There should be clarity for the visitor that they are in a space where respect for ideas is palpable and enveloping.”

Also located within the Hawke Building is the Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art which is currently showing the exhibition Wonderful World. Upcoming exhibitions include Primavera, the Museum of Contemporary Art’s annual exhibition of work by Australian artists under the age of 35, and Penumbra: Contemporary Art from Taiwan. Works from rising stars Kuo I-Chen, Tseng Yu-Chin and Wang Ya-Hui will be shown in Australia for the first time.

[Photographs supplied by the Hawke Centre]

This is the first post from Kristina Dryza as a new contributor to the David Report blog.


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