Mudswitches on the plaza

by Kate C
Publish date
25 July 2012
Comments (3)

Sometimes exhibition development can take a surprising turn. Last week, Aunty Esther Kirby, a Barapaparapa Elder, brought branches of lignum and mud from the banks of the Murray River to demonstrate a traditional Koorie children's toy called a mudswitch. Aunty Esther is a renowned carver of emu eggs but it turns out she is also a phenomenal flinger of mud!

Aunty Esther Kirby Aunty Esther Kirby, champion mudswitcher.
Image: Amanda Reynolds
Source: Museum Victoria

Aunty Esther is a member of the Yulendj group that is guiding and advising the Bunjilaka development team as they work on the new exhibition, First Peoples. Yulendj is a Kulin word for 'knowledge' and the group comprises Koorie Elders from south-eastern Australia. It was formed out of the community consultations held all around Victoria in 2010 and 2011.

Says curator Amanda Reynolds, "If you think about traditional culture, when big meetings and gatherings were held to talk about relationships between groups, or marriages or ceremonies, or teachings, Elders would gather and make decisions and present different views. Yulendj is a modern-day version of an ancient tradition."

Yulendj members spent three days at Melbourne Museum last week in the fourth intensive workshop about the exhibition’s content, tone, and cultural permissions. "It's like asking 20 academics to come and contribute all their knowledge that’s been built up over a lifetime – you can imagine the richness of knowledge and history that’s coming out," says Amanda.

Over the three days, Yulendj members viewed objects selected for display in the new exhibition, provided oral histories, collaborated on designs for the exhibition's texture wall, talked about how certain objects should be displayed, and more. At the end of the workshop, Aunty Esther showed how to use the mudswitches out on the Melbourne Museum Plaza. She proved herself an expert mudswitcher, flinging balls of Murray mud much higher and further than anyone else. "She’s got the best swing," says curator Genevieve Grieves. Stories of childhood mudswitching mischief came out, including recollections of hiding in the reeds to shoot mud at tourists riding in the river's paddle steamers.

People on plaza with mudswitches Yulendj members and Museum Victoria staff on the plaza with mudswitches.
Image: Amanda Reynolds
Source: Museum Victoria

Mudswitches will be part of a section of the exhibition called Toy Stories, which will display a range of toys used by Aboriginal children across Australia. This playful section, with its animations and low-set display cases, will specially cater for very young visitors.

Two women on the Plaza Titta Seacombe (left) and Paola Balla celebrating a successful mudswitching.
Image: Amanda Reynolds
Source: Museum Victoria

Woman playing with mudswitch Vicki Couzens playing with a mudswitch.
Image: Amanda Reynolds
Source: Museum Victoria

John Patten John Patten playing with a mudswitch.
Image: Amanda Reynolds
Source: Museum Victoria


Tangled Lignum

Comments (3)

sort by
Robyn (from Hamilton, New Zealand) 26 March, 2014 20:21
Wow! Thank you,I have so enjoyed reading the stories of the members of Yulendj. I learned many interesting things about your rich culture, history and some of your current understandings of ways forward for your young people. Kind regards,
Bec 25 July, 2012 17:19
Wow this sounds like so much fun and what a great way to connect to very young visitors, like my son who is 3. He LOVES games and LOVES mud. Can't wait to see the new exhibition.
close this reply
Write your reply to Bec's comment All fields are required

We love receiving comments, but can’t always respond.

Liz Suda 25 July, 2012 14:48
What I want to know is what is the relationship between Mudswitches and the metaphorhic term - 'mudslinging'. Hmmn ancient childsplay perhaps?

About this blog

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