Encompassing an enormous diversity of cultural groups, the Pacific Island Ethnographic Collection includes more than 17 600 objects.
The collection comprises stone and bone tools for primary manufacture and maintenance; pottery containers, bags and baskets; various items of clothing; objects used in domestic situations (fire, cooking, house contents); ritual objects; musical instruments; and watercraft.
These collections are significant because of their antiquity and size, the collectors who donated them, and the reliability and extent of their documentation.
The largest part of the collection comes from Papua New Guinea, particularly the eastern part of the island of New Guinea and several off-lying islands including Manus, New Britain, New Ireland and the northern Solomon Islands (Buka and Bougainville).
The Fiji collection contains more than 1000 objects, many rare, and is so significant that Museum Victoria has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Fiji Museum, providing for shared opportunities for collection documentation and development.
The Aotearoa New Zealand Maori collection contains almost 2000 artefacts, including articles of dress (flax, feather and fibre materials), wooden carvings, domestic materials and greenstone artefacts, and is among the most significant in the world.
Samoa, Tonga and Niue are also well represented within the collection.
Other significant collections and items
- The Australian War Museum (Department of Defence) collection, containing rare objects such as ceremonial shields from the Sepik collection.
- Small but highly valuable Malagan collection from New Ireland.
- Other late 19th century collections derived from the Papuan Gulf, including those by B.E. Bevan and the Argus newspaper-supported Royal Geographical Society.
- Approximately 700 objects, including a New Georgia war canoe, collected by Graham Officer who, with support from Baldwin Spencer, spent the first seven months of 1901 in the Solomon Islands.
- The Pitt-Rivers collection from north-western Bismarck Archipelago, offers an early glimpse into a Micronesian outlier.
- Significant objects and photographs from Bronislaw Malinowski, considered by many to be the founder of the structural-functional school of anthropology, from his fieldwork site in the Trobriand Islands.