Indigenous Cultures

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Indigenous Cultures

We work closely with Indigenous peoples to undertake research, to develop collections and to curate exhibitions relating primarily to Indigenous peoples of Australia and the Pacific region.

Biodiversity Month

Author
by Rosemary Wrench
Publish date
18 September 2014
Comments
Comments (1)

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.

Visiting Arnhem Weavers

Author
by Matthew Navaretti
Publish date
26 May 2014
Comments
Comments (0)

Matthew is our Outreach Program Manager.

Earlier this year, Melbourne Museum was honoured to host a visit of the Arnhem Weavers, a group of Yolŋu women from Mäpuru in northeast Arnhem Land. Their visit to Melbourne was facilitated by the Friends of Mäpuru who are a Melbourne based group who have visited the community of Mäpuru. By staying in the homes of members of Friends of Mäpuru, each were able to share their daily lives and activities.

The visit to Melbourne Museum started with the Arnhem Weavers being taken on a tour of First Peoples by Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre's Project Officer Kimberley Moulton. The women connected with the culture of Koorie Victoria, especially with the stories of Bunjil and Waa having similar creation stories of Eagle and Crow ancestors from their country. The women also saw objects in Many Nations that were from their country up north, that they were very proud to see.

The museum visit was a chance for the elders to explain and share culture with the younger generations of women, museum staff and Friends of Mäpuru, connecting two ways of learning, learning about the past and seeing and understanding ‘the other way.’ The experience, which was the first visit to a museum for most of the students, creates links with their school curriculum and will be shared back home in Mäpuru.

After the tour of First Peoples the group had a back of house collections tour of Arnhem Land objects and photographs with Senior Curator of Northern Australia, Lindy Allen. This was exceptionally moving for the group to be able to connect with their cultural material made by their ancestors. The group also had the opportunity to view photographs from the Donald Thomson Collection and this was particularly special as there were many family members in the images including one of Roslyn Malŋumba’s grandfather, Wuruwul. After the Arnhem Weavers day at Melbourne Museum, Roslyn was very moved by her experience and as a gift of thanks donated a basket made by her mother and fibre artist, Linda Marathuwarr.

Women with basket Roslyn Malŋumba presenting a basket made by her mother, fibre artist Linda Marathuwarr, to Meg in the Discovery Centre.
Image: Loredana Ducco
Source: Friends of Mäpuru
 

Together FoM and the Mäpuru community are planning to sustain these cultural exchanges into the future, to give the opportunity for others from Mäpuru to share time in the city, including connecting with Yolŋu cultural artifacts at the museum.

One-sixty

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
9 March 2014
Comments
Comments (1)

Harry Telford bought Phar Lap at auction for 160 guineas, back when Big Red was known only as "Good Walker, Great Shoulder, Very Strong Made Colt".

horse auction catalogue The page from the Annual New Zealand Thoroughbred Yearling Sales on 24 Jan 1928, with hand-written notes about Harry Telford's purchase. (HT 8465)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

There were 160 tradesmen working in the Engineering Workshops of the Kodak factory complex in Coburg.

Photo of Kodak workshop Men operating machinery in the Kodak Engineering Workshop, Coburg, circa 1963. (MM 95964)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Harry Johns drove his famous boxing troupe around in a bright red, customised International AR 160 Series truck.

Harry Johns' boxing truck Harry Johns' boxing troupe truck. (SH 961969)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

This centuries-old English penny in our Numismatics Collection was given the registration number NU 160.

Edward 1 penny Penny, Edward I, England, 1280-1281 (NU 160)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

And today, Museum Victoria is 160 years old! On 9 March 1854, the Assay Office in La Trobe Street opened to the public. Surveyor-General Andrew Clarke arranged for two rooms on the first floor of the Assay Office to be aside for the new Museum of Natural History and its collections.

This letter from the Public Records Office of Victoria records the formal permission granted the newborn museum by Assay Master Dr Edward Davy. (We assume Clarke had taken the liberty of moving a few specimens in before the official word arrived.)

Letter from Assay Master Dr Edward Davy Copy of letter to Surveyor-General Andrew Clark from Assay Master Dr Edward Davy, 1854.
Source: PROV

Transcript:
Government Assay Office
Melbourne 28th Apr 1854
Sir,
In reply to your letter of 22nd inst enquiring what accommodation can be given at the Assay Office for receiving Specimens which may, from time to time, be forwarded to the intended Museum of Natural History, I have the honor to state that there are at present, two rooms on the first floor of the building disposable for the purpose referred to.
I have the honor to be, Sir, Your most Obdt Servant,
E. Davy
Assay Master

 

Now we just need to figure out how to fit 160 candles on a birthday cake... I think we're going to need two cakes.

Boy with two cakes Boy with two cakes on his third birthday, Prahran, 1942. (MM 110629)
Source: Museum Victoria

Indigenous Pathways placement

Author
by Mitch Mahoney
Publish date
18 November 2013
Comments
Comments (9)

MV's Indigenous Pathways program provides Indigenous students with the opportunity to experience life behind the scenes at Melbourne Museum. Recently Mitch Mahoney, a year 10 student from Linuwel School in East Maitland, NSW, spent a week at the museum as part of the program. Mitch impressed everyone with his enthusiasm, inquisitive nature and eagerness to learn. Most of all he impressed us with his possum skin cloak.

My name is Mitch Mahoney. I am Barkindji on my father’s side and Boonwurrung and Yorta Yorta on my mother’s.

My week at Melbourne Museum was amazing. It was fantastic to learn about all the different jobs in the museum and how the different departments of work join together to run such a wonderful place. I was shown around various areas, but my favourites were the Indigenous collections. John Duggan showed me traditional tools, weapons, shields and stone tips. Kimberley Moulton gave me a tour of the First Peoples exhibition pointing out many things that I found interesting, and explaining the huge amount of work that has gone into this exhibition. It tells an amazing story of Aboriginal people. During my time at the museum I was also given the opportunity to show my possum skin cloak that I made for my year ten major work.

Detail of possum skin cloak Detail of the painted and burnt designs of Mitch's possum skin cloak
Image: Tiffany Garvie
Source: Museum Victoria/Mitch Mahoney

I am passionate about my art, the art of my people – Boonwurrung, Yorta Yorta and Barkindji people. As a young child I would always draw Aboriginal style animals and landscapes, but as I grew up I stopped. It was rare that I would draw in Aboriginal style until year ten when I had to decide what to make for my end of year major works. I decided to make a traditional possum skin cloak that would tell a story of my life and my family.  

The cloak is made of 35 possum skins stitched together with a waxy string and on the pelt side I burnt on patterns and drawings of animals.

People looking at possum skin cloak Mitch explaining the symbols on his cloak to his family, including artist Maree Clark, and museum staff.
Image: Tiffany Garvie
Source: Museum Victoria

One of the pieces on my cloak is a sun. The sun is, in my eyes, the greatest power that sustains life. It’s a symbol of hope for me as every day the sun will rise and every night it will set, but you can always be sure it will rise again. In saying that, I do believe that Aboriginal people have risen and over time they did set, but you can be sure that, like the sun they will and are starting to rise again. We are strong people and now we are being recognised for what we are. In making my cloak I am showing people that I am a strong Aboriginal and I am proud of my heritage. I do believe that all Aboriginal people should be proud and strong and show the world who they are and who their people are.

People looking at possum skin cloak Mitch showing his possum skin cloak to museum staff during his visit.
Image: Tiffany Garvie
Source: Museum Victoria / Mitch Mahoney
 

Hand prints of family members are pressed onto the cloak using ochre and wattle sap mixed to make a paint-like substance. Everyone has something personally significant on the skin.

Detail of possum skin cloak Detail of Mitch's cloak showing the owl, a symbol significant to his mother.
Image: Tiffany Garvie
Source: Museum Victoria / Mitch Mahoney
 

Like my mother's owl. The owl is a warning bird, warning of details overlooked in life. The owl sees all. She knows all and she helps remind you to be aware of your surroundings and the people in your life. She reminds you to pay attention to what you do and think of the consequences of your actions. Like a mother, she helps you; she teaches you to think before you act and to know when you have done wrong and to accept the consequences of your actions.

With the making of my possum skin cloak I realise that I have been missing out on the magic of this creative process. Now that I'm starting to become involved with the art again, I have come up with enough ideas on what I would like to make to last me the next few years. I was hoping to make a living in the arts, be involved with my people and bring Aboriginal art to new places in a new way. There are so many mediums to work with inside the “boundaries” of Aboriginal art.

I think that my possum skin cloak is only the beginning of my journey into making Aboriginal art. I thank my family and the people at Melbourne Museum for helping me to see that and I hope that my life will involve my art in a big way.

Making of the First Peoples ad

Author
by Jareen
Publish date
11 September 2013
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Comments (5)

One cold August morning at 5am, a team of us were outside along Birrarung Marr ‘on set’ shooting a commercial for the new First Peoples exhibition. Here are just a few behind the scenes photos of the shoot.

Aunty Fay Carter and Dharna on set. "... Hear our stories, know the joy in our hearts..." Aunty Fay Carter and Dharna on set.
Image: Matthew McCarthy
Source: Clear Design
 

Everyone on set. Final touch up before we begin shooting. Aunty Fay Carter (slightly hidden), Uncle Jack Charles, Dharna Nicholson-Bux and Marbee Williams with the make up artist.
Image: Matthew McCarthy
Source: Clear Design

Marbee and Uncle Jack Charles on set Marbee Williams and Uncle Jack Charles on set with the Melbourne skyline in the background.
Image: Matthew McCarthy
Source: Clear Design
 

The advertising for the First Peoples exhibition is centred around the word Wominjeka. The word means welcome in the local Koorie languages for Melbourne, Boonwurrung and Woi wurrung. You can find out about Victorian Aboriginal languages in the exhibition or our online map.

In the campaign, we feature four Victorian Aboriginal people: Aunty Fay Carter (Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung), Uncle Jack Charles (Boonwurrung and Wiradjeri), Marbee Williams (Boonwurrung and Wiradjuri) and Dharna Nicholson-Bux (Wurundjeri and Yorta Yorta).

Dharna with Aunty Fay Dharna with Aunty Fay onset during the First Peoples commercial shoot at Birrarung Marr. August 2013.
Image: Scottie Cameron
Source: Museum Victoria

Uncle Jack Charles Uncle Jack Charles onset during the First Peoples commercial shoot.
Image: Scottie Cameron
Source: Museum Victoria

Marbee Williams. Marbee Williams onset for the First Peoples commercial shoot.
Image: Scottie Cameron
Source: Museum Victoria.
 

If you live in Melbourne, hopefully you will have started seeing the word Wominjeka around town. If you see our posters, ads, brochures, flags or video, snap a photo and use #wominjeka if you're sharing it on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. We'd love to see it!

Example of advertising for First Peoples. Examples of the advertising featuring Marbee Williams and Dharna Nicholson-Bux.
Image: Clear Design
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The campaign development was highly collaborative, taking inspiration from the First Peoples Yulendj (knowledge) Group of Elders and representatives of Aboriginal communities from across Victoria, the First Peoples exhibition and Bunjilaka teams, and taking into consideration the feedback from recent focus group sessions with non-Aboriginal museum visitors.

Huge thanks to everyone who has helped with the development of the campaign!

 

Bunjil's wings

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
9 August 2013
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Comments (8)

Outside, you see the vast nest - a thick tangle of branches and feathers - of Bunjil, Kulin creator being and Wedge-tailed Eagle. Within the nest hangs a marvellous kinetic sculpture that represents Bunjil’s wings, the sinuous curves of the Country he created, and the cycle of creation itself. As it moves and glows, Koorie Elders speak of Bunjil singing the Country, Law and people of the Kulin nation into being.

In this video, members of the First Peoples team talk about the Creation Cinema and Bunjil's Nest, and show you a preview of Bunjil's wings in flight.

 

Bunjil’s Nest and the Creation Cinema were developed under the guidance of the First Peoples Yulendj Group and are a creative collaboration between Glenn Romanis (Wedge-tailed Eagle feathers), Synthesis Design + Build (Bunjil’s Nest), ENESS (concept, design, vision and sound for Bunjil’s wings) and Melbourne Museum (overall concept and design).

First Peoples opens to the public on Saturday 7 September 2013 with an all-day festival celebrating Koorie culture.

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