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DISPLAYING POSTS TAGGED: many nations (3)

Biodiversity Month

Author
by Rosemary Wrench
Publish date
18 September 2014
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Rosemary is a Senior Collection Manager. She was Senior Curator of the Many Nations section of First Peoples.

Australian endangered species registers make sobering reading. They list animals and plants that are vulnerable, threatened, endangered and extinct. Each listing includes detailed information such as scientific and common names, habitats, particular threats, estimated numbers and management plans.

Absent from these lists are the Aboriginal language names, cultural knowledge and connections that for thousands of years have been celebrated through song, ceremony, stories and art. All of these animals were named and included in Aboriginal culture prior to being ‘discovered'—and endangered—post-contact.

The Many Nations section of First Peoples provides a unique opportunity to mark this National Biodiversity Month by learning from Aboriginal artists and material culture about their deep connections with over 150 of these animals and birds, including around 20 that appear on the Threatened Species list.

The Animal Creations case contains many endangered animals: Nganamara, Dilmirrur, Kuniya, Ulhelke, Mala, Mewurk or Goodoo, Itjaritjari, Purinina, Garun, and Pokka. There are also several introduced species: the Ngaya, Rapita or Pinytjatanpa, and Camel, whose stories connect to the demise of the Mitika, Wintaru and Mala. Other cases also contain beautiful pieces connected to listed animals and birds including the Gunduy, Gudurrku, Puntukan, Bilby, Rufus Bettong, Black-billed Stork, Stone Curlew and Kakalhalha.

Major Mitchell's Cockatoo Lithograph of Major Mitchell's Cockatoo from Gould's Birds of Australia, 1840-1848, vol 5, pl 2
Image: Artist: John Gould | Lithographer: H.C. Richter
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The latter is a beautiful pink bird that has been given several names since it was ‘discovered’ – firstly Major Mitchell's Cockatoo in honour of explorer Major Sir Thomas Mitchell. It was also named Lophochroa leadbeateri to commemorate the British naturalist Benjamin Leadbeater. To the Arrernte people, this important bird remains known just as it always has been: the Kakalhalha, for the sound it makes. It likes to eat some of the same bush seeds as the Western Arrernte, making it a good indicator of the harvest season, telling the community when it is time to collect the seeds for damper.

Some of the animals on the Threatened Species list include these from the lands of the Pitjantjatjara in Central Australia, the Yorta Yorta in Victoria and the Trawulwuy in Tasmania. Yorta Yorta artist Treahnna Hamm's Mewurk or Goodoo (Murray Cod) artwork highlights the declining health of this magnificent fish and its river habitat.

Treahnna Hamm with her artwork Treahnna Hamm with her Murray Cod artwork, 2013.
Image: Ben Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Most commonly known as the Tasmanian Devil, the Purinina made by Trawulwuy artist Vicki West is made from kelp, another species in decline. Said Vicki in 2012: ‘I like using kelp, a plant fibre from the ocean, the old people used it to create the water carriers; I use it as the metaphor of survival… The Devil plays an essential role in the cleaning of and caring for our country through scavenging. I find it ironic that the medium I chose to represent survival has been used to create an animal under threat, itself endangered.’

Vicki West holding her Purinina Trawulwuy artist, Vicki West holding her Purinina (Tasmanian Devil), 2013
Image: Benjamin Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Itjaritjari (marsupial moles) live in the sandy river flats and sand dunes in the desert of inland Australia. They are rarely seen and spend most of their time underground. Aboriginal traditional ecological knowledge is crucial to piranpa (western) science's understanding of this reclusive animal. Virtually all Itjaritjari specimens have been captured by the Traditional Owners of the desert, who play an integral role in Itjaritjari research. The Itjaritjari has great cultural significance also: during the formation of the western face of Uluru, a number of caves and potholes were created by a Totemic Being called Minyma Itjaritjari.

Carving, Australia, Desert Southeast Itjaritjari (Marsupial Mole) made by a Pitjantjatjara artist circa 1920s.
Image: Photographer: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Increasingly, joint management and conservation projects rely on the cultural knowledge and expertise of Aboriginal communities to protect animals at risk.

Installing Many Nations

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
11 July 2013
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The mammoth task of installing over 480 beautiful, rich and significant objects into the Many Nations section of First Peoples has begun. Early this week the very first item – a substantial wooden carving of Bunjil by Mick Harding – went in to its final position as the crowning object of the Animal Creations showcase.

Man installing a sculpture Anthony Abell with the carving of Bunjil by Mick Harding.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Deb Frost is leading the team of exhibition collection managers carefully placing the objects into the Many Nations display. Explains Deb, "the complexity of these cases is that nearly every object requires a custom support, or mount, designed specifically for that object." Mount-makers from Pod Museum and Art Services have spent recent months making fine, precise metal frames that will show each object at its best, while holding them securely in place. Deb points out that the mount holding Bunjil up high is much beefier than most of the others since "that object alone is 16.5 kilograms and so that mount is specifically designed to take that weight."

John and Ant installing Many Nations display John Duggan and Anthony Abell placing the Bunjil sculpture into its showcase.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

When filled, the showcases will house a stunning array of historical and contemporary objects made by Aboriginal people from all over Australia. Senior Curator Rosemary Wrench looked at over 16,000 historical objects from the museum's collection, selecting ones that have never been on display, while new acquisitions and commissions show continuing and new expressions of culture. Senior Designer Corinne Balaam created a beautiful light filled display to highlight each piece within six cases: Animal Creations, Celebrating Culture, Marking Identity, Keeping Places, Toy Stories and Working Country.

Deb has been working with these objects for many months and has come to know them very well. And which is her favourite? "How do you pick one? They're all amazing," she says. "Bunjil was a treat because that was a commissioned work, but my favourite is in Toy Stories, and that's the doll with the feeding breasts. That's my number one object because I think it's got a wonderful story." This doll will be held in a special mount cast from the hands of Myee Patten. "The childhood stories, that's my soft spot," continues Deb. "All the Elders coming in and speaking about those times - it's wonderful to hear those stores from their childhood some sixty or more years ago, and hearing their memories of learning from their grandparents and Elders."

Deb Frost with drill Deb with the drill rig her team used to drill hundred of precise holes for the custom object mounts in Many Nations.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

As for a favourite showcase, Deb explains, "many of our team love Celebrating Culture because it's all about body adornment, the bracelets and necklaces, which are magnificent, however I love the Marking Identity case with shields that show the colouration and different patterns from state to state. This case packs a punch. It says to me, look how diverse our Indigenous communities are around Australia. The baskets in Keeping Places are gorgeous too; I love the different weaves, the different colours and different types, from the honeypot through to the ceremonial bowl made by Will Patten. It's great to see the new with the old."

Empty showcase The Marking Identity showcase awaiting installation of the shields from around Australia.
Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
 

As the crew finalises the installation, their concerns are protecting the precious objects and managing the logistics. "The tricky bits are the technical aspects like accessing the cases, ensuring the stability of mounts, keeping everything clean and free of dust."

"You address all the conservation and collection management needs for those objects and in the end, once they're finally locked away safely in their showcase and on display for the world to see, then everyone's tickled! That's the highlight of our work."

First Peoples opens at Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Melbourne Museum on 7 September 2013.

Child’s play

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
15 May 2013
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Up in her studio in Melbourne’s CBD, artist and animator Isobel Knowles is working on something wonderful for the First Peoples exhibition. She is turning accounts of the traditional toys and play of Aboriginal children into beautiful animations for our young visitors. 

Isobel Knowles with paper cutouts Isobel Knowles in her studio with some of the paper cutouts she uses in her animations.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Isobel creates her animations with a combination of delicately cut pieces of paper, watercolour washes, photography and digital techniques. For this project, she took scripts that the exhibition curators wrote – mostly in collaboration with members of the First Peoples Yulendj Group – and brought them to life. Each animation shows the playthings in use which, in many cases, emulate the activities of the adults around them, such as nursing mothers and men hunting. Isobel has presented the stories with a deft touch of humour because, as she describes them, “they’re stories of the cheeky things that kids do.”

Paper cutout of paddlesteamer boat Isobel's materials: paper cutouts of a paddlesteamer and vegetation, and her storyboard sketches.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Isobel began with thinking about how she wanted the animations to feel and researching the landscapes of the different areas and the colours that would capture the Australian bush. “It’s been really nice working with Australian bush imagery,” she says. “Usually I’m referencing fairy tales so it’s a European look.” She also carefully considered how the children should appear. “I’ve been trying to research what they would wear but a lot of the reference pictures are during special events,” explains Isobel. Yulendj members helped her get these details right when she showed them the animations last week.

Paddlesteamer illustration Still image from a work-in-progress: Isobel's digital animation of the mudswitch story.
Image: Isobel Knowles
Source: Museum Victoria
 

In the Toy Story case of the Many Nations section, visitors will see the animated stories next to the actual toys. This section, with its animations, will be a key part of the museum's educational programs. The toys are from cultural groups across the country and they haven’t been on display before; many of them aren’t well-known outside their communities of origin.

Isobel says she’s enjoying the work and finding it incredibly interesting. “It’s a really exciting project for me and I feel very honoured to have been asked to do it and to contribute to such an amazing exhibition.”

Links:

Isobel Knowles's website

MV Blog: Modelling Myee's hands

MV Blog: Mudswitches on the plaza

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.

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