Australian Museum opens doors to $1.6b exhibition

After losing what would have been a blockbuster Tutankahmum exhibition to Covid in 2021, the Australian Museum is showcasing something even bigger and better in the space that had been purpose built for King Tut.

Kim McKay

The museum will open its doors to the Ramses & the Gold of the Pharaohs exhibition which contains more than 180 three-thousand-year-old antiquities from the time of Ramses II, considered to be Egypt’s greatest Pharaoh.

Valued at more than $1.6 billion, Ramses & the Gold of the Pharaohs is the biggest exhibition hosted by the museum in its 200-year history, Australian Museum director and CEO Kim McKay says.

“We renovated the museum specifically to host Tutankhamun, which we had secured, and then of course covid happened and the exhibition was locked down in London, and the Egyptians recalled it,” she told Government News.

Then came the phone call from egyptologist and former Egyptian antiquities minister Dr Zahi Hawass, who curated the current exhibition.

“Zahi phoned me and said, ‘Kim I have something better for you coming’,” Ms Mckay said.

“I was really honoured to be called and to be able to say yes I want it, I’ll have the space finished and not only will it be finished, I believe it’ll do super well here.”

It’s been a massive undertaking for the museum, Ms McKay says.

The exhibition showcases 182 antiquities including the head of a statue of Ramses II

“The exhibition has been valued in excess of $1.6 billion, so to transport that to Australia involved chartered aircraft, and not everything coming out in the one shipment to ensure the collection’s protected.”

The insurance policy is underwritten by the state and federal governments, with the exhibition receiving funding from the NSW government’s blockbuster grants initiative.

Arts minister John Graham said the exhibition offered a rare opportunity for Australians.

“Exhibitions of this scale don’t come around very often,” he said. “They’re complex undertakings that involve hundreds of people and years of negotiation.”

By all accounts Ramses was a busy man, who as well as fighting numerous battles and signing the world’s first known peace treaty, took eight wives including his favourite Nefertari and fathered what’s believed to have been 100 offspring.

He was also a diplomat, an expert in economics and a prolific builder of temples, pyramids and statues who left a major political and cultural legacy after his death at the age of 92 in 1213 BC.

The exhibition showcasing 182 antiquities including Ramses’ sarcophagus, gold masks, precious jewellery and mummified animals including cats, a lion cub and a crocodile runs at the Australian Museum in Sydney from November 18 until May 19 2024.

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