The Koorie Heritage Trust: An interview with Tom Mosby

By Meg Hill

The Koorie Heritage Trust (KHT) was established in 1985. Over four decades, it has been through some major transformations.

Tom Mosby, who became CEO of the KHT in 2012, spoke to CBD News about its history and future. 

“When I started in the role, we were located in King St, but it wasn’t an ideal location simply because we were right at the top of the street and didn’t get passing traffic,” Mr Mosby told CBD News.

He said by the time he started it was clear KHT needed a more central location.

“The board made the decision to sell the building in King St and find new premises and at that time the Yarra building at Federation Square came up as a possibility.”

“There were other options – we discussed Fitzroy and maybe Docklands – but we very much wanted to be at the centre of the city.”

“It was a reflection that Aboriginal people and communities shouldn’t be on the fringe. We needed to be right in the centre – to show the importance of Aboriginal people to a metropolitan city like Melbourne.”

The new home launched in September 2015, in time for the KHT’s 30th birthday.

Mr Mosby said he came to the role of CEO from a somewhat eclectic career background – in art and in law.

“I’m originally from the Torres Strait, I moved to Melbourne in 1989,” he said.

“My first job was actually as an arts conservator with the Art Gallery of Western Australia and I was offered a job after that in Melbourne.”

“I worked as an arts restorer and then went back to university and studied law. I practiced as a lawyer for about 10 years in Melbourne, moved to Brisbane for five years, and moved back to Melbourne when I took up the CEO role in 2012.”

It was one in a number of location changes for the Trust – which started in the Museum of Victoria when it was housed in the State Library building. The KHT another home-to-be burnt down in an arson attack.

Mr Mosby is now seeing the organisation through another major period of learning and changing.

When the KHT moved into the Yarra Building at Federation Square it took over two floors of the building, which had its third floor occupied by the Melbourne Festival.

After a few years, Apple came looking for a home for a flagship Melbourne store.

Koorie Heritage Trust, Yarra Building, Fed Square, Photo credit: Nicole Cleary

“They had their eyes on the building that we’re in, so at one stage we were looking at moving across into the building where ACMI and SBS is, there was a floor we were looking at taking over,” Mr Mosby said.

“Obviously Apple’s move fell through, and the Melbourne Festival vacated their floor. This presented to us an opportunity to take over the entire building.” 

“It was our big ambition – the Koorie Heritage Trust as its own stand-alone building, being the third cultural pillar at Federation Square, along with ACMI and the National Gallery of Victoria.”

And despite a year interrupted by a global pandemic, with the Trust closing its doors physically – Mr Mosby said that ambition was well on its way to fruition.

While working toward that goal the Trust also pivoted to online programming to remain engaged and relevant.

“The close-down happened while we had a major exhibition that we had scheduled, so we went ahead with it as a virtual exhibition,” Mr Mosby said.

“We also created Koorie Heritage Trust Online and a whole online program. An important part of it is Koorie Heritage Trust Voices.”

“Basically, when we closed down it became apparent to us very quickly that we were hearing the stories of the general community, the non-Indigenous community, and what was happening to them.”

“We said we needed to capture the Indigenous experience. It’s a very unique time in our global history, and if we don’t capture Indigenous stories during this time in 50 years’ time there won’t be any record of how they coped.”

You can visit the Trust online here: koorieheritagetrust.com.au/whats-on/kht-online/

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