First Peoples exhibition

Bunjilaka is the Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Melbourne Museum. It consists of a permanent exhibition space showcasing some of the Indigenous collections of Museum Victoria, as well as two galleries for temporary exhibitions. The First Peoples exhibition was developed 2009 to 2013. Museum Victoria recognised the importance of involving Victorian Aboriginal Community members in this project, as outlined in our Strategic Plan and Community Engagement Framework and our continued association with the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Advisory Committee (ACHAC). Community consultations were established to exchange information and enhance the conservation treatment of Indigenous cultural material by incorporating cultural considerations into the care and preservation of Museum Victoria’s (MV) collections. In addition the Yulendj reference group, consisting of fourteen elders from throughout Victoria, was established to co-curate the exhibition.

Floating Boorun’s canoe February 2012 Image: Samantha Hamilton Source: Museum Victoria

During various workshops conservation ethics and practices were discussed with the Yulendj elders. During subsequent meetings we discussed the preparation, display and treatment of the many selected Victorian objects. The elders provided important insight into the many intangible aspects helpful for conservators to consider, highlighting that an object represents spiritual connections to their makers, ancestors and laws. When choosing conservation treatment the most important consideration therefore was not to cause irreversible changes. 

 Removing lard after floating Steaphan Paton and Samantha Hamilton Image: Monica Zetlin Source: Museum Victoria

During the exhibition acquisition process we met and worked with the artists who contributed their art works. Information about the history and manufacture of these works was gathered and used to develop conservation plans based on the artist’s intention with respect to the natural deterioration, aesthetic, maintenance and future care and treatment of their objects. 

One example involved Boorun’s canoe, a project led by Gunai artist Steaphan Paton in collaboration with Gippsland photographic artist Cameron Cope. Steaphan sought to learn cultural knowledge from his grandfather senior Gunai/Kurnai elder Albert Mullett and to continue the long practiced skill of canoe-making. The Museum acquired the canoe in February 2012 just prior to the canoe floating on Cherry Tree Creek near Lake Tyres in Gippsland, Victoria. It was exciting as well as nerve racking to be the conservator on site witnessing the floating and the modifications that occurred to make it waterproof.

Taking objects back to country Image: Samantha Hamilton Source: Museum VictoriaFeaturing throughout the First Peoples exhibition are many multimedia components showcasing Victorian Aboriginal community members. The filming of the multimedia component of the Darti koko woortongi barnin segment gave rise to the chance to take three historic objects from the Museum back to country. The film was based on scenes from the famous Blandowski illustrations of Victorian Aboriginal people handing down cultural traditions through story, song, dance and ceremony. The objects were taken to a bush setting along the Murray River in the Gunbower State Park near Koondrook, Victoria and were used by three generations of members from the Baraba Baraba and Wemba Wemba communities. It was fantastic to witness a young man initially nervous about handling a highly significant shield turn into a warrior of the past as he realised the shield was robust and could withstand him using it for the purpose of the film.

Samantha Hamilton, Objects Conservator, Museum Victoria

August 2013

Read more about the project?

The Museum Victoria project blog

The Northen Times also covered this project