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Corner of the World: Daryl Karp

Emma Macdonald

There is a voyeur in all of us. Come inside the private spaces and places of some of Canberra’s most interesting people.

Daryl Karp, Director of the Museum of Australian Democracy, media and cultural industry veteran. is a Sydney-sider living and working in Canberra for the past five years.

Daryl Karp has an enviable CV, having been the CEO and Managing Director of Film Australia, Head of Television Factual Programs at the ABC, and a consultant for organisations as diverse as the University of NSW Australian School of Business, National Geographic Television, BBC in the UK, PBS in the United States, Screen NSW and a range of independent media companies.

But she swears, hand on heart, that she currently holds down the best job in the country.

As director of the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House, she can focus her considerable intellect on “the spirit of Australian democracy” repositioning the museum as a new kind of town square, based on the democratic principles of equality, freedom, justice, and representation. It’s quite a job. And she does it from a city that has quietly stolen her affections.

“I say I live in Canberra but my husband (Brendan Higgins, executive coach) says he lives in Sydney. It is quite clear we view our circumstances very differently as we live together here in Canberra but travel to Sydney frequently.”

Sydney is where the family home is, filled with artwork and furniture which has significant meaning for Daryl. She has brought a few pieces down to Canberra and takes a curated approach to her habitat. Since her appointment to the museum, she has taken up residence in a quiet corner of Turner in an apartment that also allows her access to a shady garden and a favourite tree under which she assumes the thinking position with the dog at her feet.

Daryl professes to regularly seeking down-time to strategise and digest ideas.

“I require some quiet and some space at home, and I am one of those people who constantly chases the light, so you will always find me where the natural light shines brightest.”

An old dresser from her grandfather takes pride of place,  along with a handcrafted glass vase and a buffalo horn Indigenous sculpture (farewell gifts from staff) that travel with her.

Daryl has hung special works of art in the living space –  John Olsen’s “Sticking Your Neck Out” and works from her artist friends and family. Maintaining a bi-city lifestyle means returning to Sydney once every three weeks (Brendan returns more frequently – hence his insistence he ‘lives’ there) where Daryl delights in two grown children and a large family which may congregate 20 or more at a time around the dinner table on a Friday night.

“I will admit I miss the beach, which is perhaps the greatest stress reliever of all when you stand at the edge of the water and sink your toes into the sand.”

But she has become a staunch convert to Canberra for its intellectual citizens, cosmopolitan pursuits, and abundance of galleries and national institutions. “Canberra, you know, it just gets to you.”

“What I love most is the light, that clarity of light, you can’t find it anywhere else.”

Five years of residency have passed in a flash and Daryl has elevated the presence and relevance of the museum considerably (she recently won the ACT Telstra Business Women’s award in the public sector and academia category). She has no plans to leave.

“I will gladly stay another five or more.”

Photography: Thorson Photography

This article originally appeared as part of our Corner of the World article in Magazine: Home for Autumn 2018, available for free while stocks last. Find out more about Magazine here







Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author

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