Category Archives: Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Cultures

International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

Today we acknowledge International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Did you know there are 370 million Indigenous peoples belonging to 5000 different cultures across 90 countries with over 7000 languages spoken?  Indigenous peoples, also known as First peoples, Aboriginal peoples or Native peoples, are ethnic groups who are the original settlers of a given region, in contrast to groups that have settled, occupied or colonized the area more recently. Queensland Museum holds Indigenous collections belonging to Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and the Pacific peoples.

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Shell Pendant – Pictured with the raw materials used to make the artefact, this ochre decorated Windowpane Oyster (Placuna placenta) pendant was designed and made in 2018 by Umpila, Yirrganydji/Djabugay artist Bernard Lee Singleton. The pendant is an early experimental artwork created as part of an artistic process to learn and adapt traditional techniques.

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Dance Headdress – This Torres Strait Islander headdress, made by Audi Gibuma is known as a dhari or dhoeri, is a distinctive traditional dance and ceremonial adornment.

We also hold a World Cultures collection with artefacts from Indigenous cultures from North and South America, Africa and Asia. Pictured below are some amazing artefacts from that collection.

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Native American Blanket –  Gifted to Queensland Museum Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Consultative Committee by W. Richard West, Director of the Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, USA, at a public lecture at the Queensland Museum in 2006.

Inuit Dog Sled Whip and Sled Reins Toggles- The 12 metre long whip is a traditionally crafted device that reflects knowledge and culture that values the husky dog as partner in the important community tasks of hunting and transportation.

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Kalahari San Collection  – Recently donated to the museum, these artefacts belong to First Nation peoples of Southern Africa. Known as Kalahari Bushmen, this Indigenous community have been severely impacted by loss of culture and traditional lands, due to enforced government mandated programs.

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African Maasai Sandals – These handcrafted sandals made from recycled motorcycle tyres, were owned and worn by a Maasai Warrior our very own QM staff member, who walked out of his home village of Kiserian, Tanzania and immigrated to Brisbane in 2009, wearing these sandals.

Carved Ivory Tusk –  Crafted in an African village for the tourist market, this artefact was acquired by the museum in 1985 as part of a customs seizure. Due to external pressures and loss of traditional cultural lifestyle, often African communities seek alternative methods of income to sustain their families and communities. The trade in elephant ivory has led to the decline of elephant populations in many countries and the trade is now banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species commonly referred to as CITIES.

NAIDOC WEEK

This blog post is part of an ongoing series titled Connecting with Collections. The series offers readers a peek inside collections at the Museum of Tropical Queensland, highlighting objects and their stories.

The 7-14 July marks the 2019 NAIDOC Week. Each year, NAIDOC Week celebrates the culture, history and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. NAIDOC Week is commemorated by both Indigenous communities and all other Australians. Annual NAIDOC events and activities are held across Australia to encourage people to participate in the celebrations, and support local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.[1]

Understanding NAIDOC Week

Some might not know, but the boycott of Australia Day – often now referred to as Invasion Day – is not a new event, and connects directly to the origins of NAIDOC Week.[2]

Aboriginal rights groups have been boycotting Australia Day since the beginning of the 20th century. By the 1920s, many of these groups were becoming more active and organised, protesting the day in an effort to highlight the mistreatment of Aboriginal people in Australia. The Australian Aborigines Progressive Association (AAPA) and the Australian Aborigines League (AAL) rallied hard throughout the 1920s-1930s to make the broader population aware of these boycotts and the reasons behind them, however their efforts went almost entirely unnoticed.

By the late 1930s, the situation had not changed. Protests continued, so much so that after a large demonstration in Sydney’s CBD on Australia Day, 1938, the anniversary became known as the Day of Mourning. This event in particular is recognised as one of the first major civil rights gatherings in the world.  At the time, William Cooper, founder of the AAL, proposed the concept of a national policy for Aboriginal people to then Prime Minister Joseph Lyons. Unfortunately, the proposal was rejected, as the Australian Government did not at this time hold constitutional powers when it came to Aboriginal people, a fact that would not change until the 1967 Referendum in Australia.[3]

The impact of the 1938 demonstration was felt around the country, and the Day of Mourning became an annual event. Between 1940 and 1955, the Day of Mourning was held every Sunday before Australia Day, known as Aborigines’ Day. The date of Aborigines’ Day was moved to the first Sunday in July in 1955, in an effort to use the day as both a day of protest, and also a day which promoted the celebration of Aboriginal culture and heritage.[4]

National Aborigines Day Poster, 1972.
National Aborigines Day Poster, 1972.

Soon after, the National Aborigines’ Day Observance Committee (NADOC) was formed, and in 1975, the Committee decided to extend the event to cover an entire week, from the first Sunday of July – Aborigines’ Day – to the second Sunday of July, a day that also became a commemorative day of remembrance for Aboriginal people.[5]

In the early 1990s, NADOC recognised the inclusion of Torres Strait Islander people in the Committee, changing their name to the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observation Committee (NAIDOC).[6]

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1990 National NAIDOC Poster.

Every year, the NAIDOC week theme is chosen to reflect a significant issue or event that is relevant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This year’s theme – Voice Treaty Truth – recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s place in Australian history and society, and promotes the reforms outlined in the Uluru Statement of the Heart.[7]

The Uluru Statement represents the unified position of Australia’s First Nations people. The Statement was developed as a result of the First Nations National Constitutional Convention, which ran over four days in May, 2017. The Convention brought together over 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders to Uluru (on the lands of the Anangu people), to discuss constitutional reforms, and agree on how to approach the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution.[8]

Reforms highlighted in the Statement involve enshrining a First Nations Voice to Parliament in the Constitution to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and a Makarrata Commission to supervise treaty processes and truth-telling about the history of Australia and colonisation, and its continuing effects (Makarrata is from the language of the Yolngu people in Arnhem Land; the word means ‘coming together after a struggle’. Makarrata encapsulates concepts of conflict resolution and peacemaking, and seeks to acknowledge and right past wrongs).[9]

2019 National NAIDOC Poster.
2019 National NAIDOC Poster.

The 2019 National NAIDOC Poster was designed by Charmaine Mumbulla, a Kaurna/Narungga woman. The artwork is titled ‘Awaken’. Charmaine depicts in her artwork the early dawn light rising over Uluru, which symbolises the unbroken connection between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the land. The circles at the base of Uluru are representative of the historic gathering in 2017 which resulted in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Of the work, Charmaine wrote: “Our message, developed through generations, is echoed throughout the land: hear our voice and recognise our truth. We call for a new beginning, marked by a formal process of agreement and truth-telling, that will allow us to move forward together”.[10]

NAIDOC in the collections

There are certain objects within our collection at the Museum of Tropical Queensland that link directly to NAIDOC Week.

Tshirt

This t-shirt is from NAIDOC Week 1998, and promotes the 1998 theme ‘Bringing them home’. The theme reflected on the report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families (April, 1997).[11]

The report addressed the wrongs done to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through the removal of Aboriginal children from their homes and families, and contained recommendations for redressing these wrongs. One of the key recommendations in the ‘Bringing them home’ report focused on an official acknowledgment of, and apology for, the removal of the Stolen Generations – those Aboriginal children who were forced from their families and communities by governments and churches to be raised in institutions, or fostered by white families.[12]

The impact of the ‘Bringing them home’ report resulted in all State and Territory Parliaments officially apologising to the Stolen Generations, their families and communities between the years 1997-1999. National Sorry Day was established in 1998, and is celebrated every year on May 26.[13]

This t-shirt was acquired by a Queensland Museum curator in October 1998, to add to the State Collection held at the Museum of Tropical Queensland. The item is a significant object within the collections, and is representative of the ongoing NAIDOC Week celebrations, and the nature in which the Week is celebrated with a range of activities and events for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians to participate in.

These two objects are children’s toys, woven from blades of coconut leaves. They were made by Kate James at the Museum of Tropical Queensland during NAIDOC week in 2000. Kate is a Murray (Mer) Islander woman from the Margaram people. She was born and raised on Mer and came to Townsville in the 1960s.

Scarf

This scarf was made and donated to the Museum of Tropical Queensland in 2012, by 14-year-old artist Chern’ee Sutton. Titled, ‘History of Australia: Ajarku Muruu’, Sutton created this hand-painted scarf as an interpretation of Ajarku Muruu, which means ‘All One Country’ in Kalkadoon language.

Sutton detailed that each of the 5 large circles represent approximately 14,000 years of life in Australia, totalling nearly 70,000 years. The red and orange circle represent the beginning of art, the green circle represents the beginning of a country, and the blue circle represents the beginning of a nation. The Southern Cross at the top represents a common unity of two worlds combined, and the small dots represent the spirit trails that link all Australians together through acceptance and understanding of each other. This scarf was painted by Sutton after Rob Messenger, Member for Burnett, commissioned her to paint a tie for him to wear in Parliament House for NAIDOC Week 2012.

Each of these items are representative of the culture and heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia.

Sophie Price, Assistant Curator Anthropology, Museum of Tropical Queensland

National Reconciliation Week

This blog post is part of an ongoing series titled Connecting with Collections. The series offers readers a peek inside collections at the Museum of Tropical Queensland, highlighting objects and their stories.

National Reconciliation Week (27 May – 3 June) celebrates the shared histories, cultures and accomplishments of Aboriginal People and Torres Strait Islanders and the broader Australian community. It urges all Australians to learn how we each can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia. National Reconciliation Week commemorates two significant milestones: the date of the successful 1967 Referendum, and the date of the Mabo decision.

The theme for National Reconciliation Week in 2019 – GROUNDED IN TRUTH – recognises that to strengthen Australia’s race relations, the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and all other Australians must be built on truth. The theme encourages all Australians to come to terms with our shared history, to unify the country and continue to create a culture of respect and understanding.

THE 1967 REFERENDUM

The 27th of May, 1967, marks the date of the Australian Referendum, in which over 90% of Australian voters said ‘YES’ to amending the 1901 Constitution in support of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The overwhelmingly successful vote meant that Aboriginal People and Torres Strait Islanders would now be included in the census, and allowed the Commonwealth, rather than each individual state government, to create laws for them. This addressed the inequalities within the legal system from state to state. The Referendum became a key symbol for the equal rights movement of the 1970s.

THE MABO DECISION

Eddie Koiki Mabo was from Mer (Murray Island) in the Torres Strait. Mabo famously challenged the Australian legal system and won his people’s case for land ownership. The case, Mabo and others v Queensland (No 2) (1992) made its landmark decision on 3 June 1992, granting recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as traditional owners of the land of their ancestors. The Mabo decision was a turning point for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the fight for native title.

The Mabo decision abolished the doctrine of terra nullius, which was put in place by British invaders in 1788, meaning the land belonged to nobody. The Mabo decision identified that terra nullius should never have been applied to Australian land, instead recognising that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had occupied the land for 40 000 – 60 000 years before the British arrived.

In honour of National Reconciliation Week, have a look below at a range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artefacts from the Townsville region, that represent the Aboriginal communities from this part of the state.

Shield

This shield was made by the Rainforest people situated between the Townsville and Mossman Regions. This community is best known for their swords and shields, which distinguish them from other Indigenous language groups. Shields such as this one were shaped and then painted with rich ochre colours, creating abstract designs that represented both animal and plant totems.

Axe

A hafted stone axe, made by Russell Butler in 1998.

Digging Stick

This digging stick was found by the Environmental Protection Agency during field work at Ross Creek, Townsville in 1998.

Necklace

This necklace was made using echidna quills and red sandalwood seeds, threaded onto a nylon line with a gold plated catch. It was made in Townsville by Dot Prior in 1998.

Basket

This woven Pandanus basket was made by Sarah Wapau in 1990. Ms Wapau was born on Thursday Island, and was a prominent member of the Torres Strait Island community in Townsville when this item was purchased by the Museum in 1991.

Sophie Price, Assistant Curator Anthropology, Museum of Tropical Queensland

Celebrating women’s history

This blog post is part of an ongoing series titled Connecting with Collections. The series offers readers a peek inside collections at the Museum of Tropical Queensland, highlighting objects and their stories.

At the Museum of Tropical Queensland, we have a team of incredible women who look after our collections, our research, our visitors, and our galleries. Behind closed doors, much of our collection was also built on the travels and research of women in both the past and present.

This hidden gem has been pulled from the collections to highlight the input of two women who have helped make our collections what they are today, and who are representative of the many women who have made valuable contributions to our collections over the years. In a sense, this object is but one that represents a tribute to women as makers, as creators, as artists, and as collectors.

This beautiful cushion cover was collected in the Torres Strait Islands by Pamela Brodie. During mid-1979, Pamela travelled around the Islands, collecting over 180 items such as this for the James Cook University Material Culture unit, which was later donated to the Queensland Museum Network. Some of the objects collected by Brodie are now stored in Brisbane at the Queensland Museum, and the rest are kept here in Townsville, at the Museum of Tropical Queensland.

QE25290 Cushion cover PS

This particular item was collected from Medigee Village on Erub (Darnley) Island, and was made by an artist by the name of Pamela Gela. The cushion cover was displayed at the Museum of Tropical Queensland from 2000-2005. Pamela Gela’s artistic design and innovative use of materials and colour has given us an insight into the diversity of Torres Strait material culture.

The input of both Pamela Gela and Pamela Brodie to the Museum’s collection has assisted us in building a diverse, valuable collection of material culture from the Torres Strait, and helps us to further understand, appreciate and showcase the significant heritage of Torres Strait Islander people through our work at the Museum. These two women represent some of the many incredible contributors that have helped shape the Queensland Museum’s collection today.

Sophie Price, Assistant Curator Anthropology, Museum of Tropical Queensland

International Women’s Day: women in Australian history

Today is International Women’s Day and we’re highlighting some of our favourite females in Australian history, shared through the lens of the incredible women who are part of the Queensland Museum Network team. Our collections are full of amazing stories and we’re thrilled to be able to share them with you to celebrate this special day. 

Jennifer Wilson, Senior Curator, Transport Energy and Science
Favourite piece of history: Lores Bonney, who is featured in the Anzac Legacy Gallery at Queensland Museum, was a pioneering aviatrix who dodged death on a number of record-breaking solo flights across the globe during the First World War. During her aviation career, Lores completed the longest one-day flight by an airwoman (Brisbane to Wangaratta), was the first woman to circumnavigate Australia by air, the first woman to fly from Australia to England, and the first to fly from Australia to South Africa. She was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in 1991. The Bonney Trophy, which she presented in England, is still awarded annually to an outstanding female British pilot.

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Lores Bonney during her flight from Australia to South Africa, 1937.
Image courtesy of National Library of Australia. 
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Pith helmet worn by Lores Bonney during her flight to South Africa in the 1930s, on display at the Anzac Legacy Gallery at Queensland Museum.

Geraldine Mate, Principal Curator, History, Industry and Technology
Favourite piece of history:  This microscope belonged to Professor Dorothy Hill, renowned palaeontologist and geologist from Taringa, Brisbane. Her approach to scientific inquiry, particularly her research on fossil corals, led to a long and successful career. In one of many firsts, she was the first woman to be elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science. Dorothy became Australia’s first female professor in 1959 when she became Professor of Geology at the University of Queensland. She also became the first Australian woman Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science (1956), the Royal Society of London (1965), and the first female president of the Australian Academy of Science (1970). The Dorothy Hill Medal honours her contributions to Australian Earth science and her work in opening up tertiary science education to women.

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Dorothy Hill in academic dress. Image courtesy of Fryer Library, University of Queensland.
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Carl Zeiss Jena Photographic Stereo Microscope. Image courtesy of Fryer Library, University of Queensland.

Judith Hickson, Curator, Social History
Favourite piece of history: In 2017 it was the 50 year anniversary of the 1967 referendum, which saw Australians uniting to vote 90.77% ‘yes’ to changing the constitution to include Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islanders in the population count. Commissioned by Australia Post to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the historic date, a commemorative stamp was launched in Canberra on 24 May 2017 by then Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion. The commissioning and unveiling of the stamp was a historic occasion, bring together representatives of younger generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, surviving campaigners, their families and Government representatives. The chosen stamp design was by Rachael Sarra, a Goreng Goreng woman, artist and designer at Brisbane-based creative agency Gilimbaa

“… without the courage and determination of the original campaigners, all our lives could have been so different” – Rachael Sarra

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Designer Rachael Sarra with the with the artistic display of the commemorative stamp.

Barbara Baehr, Arachnologist and ABRS Research Fellow
Favourite piece of history:  In 2014, Queensland Museum scientists honoured wildlife warrior and conservation icon Terri Irwin by naming a new species of spider after her. The spider, Leichhardteus terriirwinae, was discovered by Dr Barbara Baehr and senior curator Dr Robert Raven in the Mt Aberdeen region in North East Queensland. The tiny spider is predominantly brown, with white legs and three white stripes…but don’t expect to easily find it as it’s less than seven millimetres long. The tenacity of the small spider was what led Barbara to name it in honour of Terri Irwin.

“We named this specific swift spider after Terri Irwin because Terri is a fast and straight thinking woman and we could not think of a more appropriate name for this slender and fast moving spider” Barbara Baehr

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Terri Irwin holding the Leichhardteus terriirwinae specimen.
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Australia Zoo Owner Terri Irwin, Queensland Museum Scientist Barbara Baehr and Minister for Science, Information Technology, Innovation and the Arts Ian Walker MP.

Candice Badinski, Communications Coordinator
Favourite piece of history: Thancoupie Tapich Gloria Fletcher AO (1937-2011), best known simply as Thancoupie, was a leading figure in the Indigenous ceramic movement in Australia, and one of North Queensland’s foremost contemporary artists. In a career spanning four decades, she held over fifteen solo exhibitions in Australia and internationally, became Australia’s first Indigenous solo ceramic artist, and was the first Indigenous Australian to complete a tertiary degree in the arts.  Today Thancoupie’s sculptures are represented in a number of major institutions across the country, and she is remembered as a pioneer for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. In 2014, Queensland Museum curators purchased The Legends of Albatross Bay (Weipa Story) – a cast aluminium sculpture that narrates the history and legends of the artist’s home at Napranum in Weipa, Western Cape York.  The sculpture was an exciting acquisition, as the work represents not only one of the final chapters in Thancoupie’s career but also offers added depth to the museum’s existing collection of the artist’s work.

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Thancoupie Tapich Gloria Fletcher with some of her artwork in which she used incised lines to convey the history and legends of Weipa.
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Thancoupie Tapich Gloria Fletcher’s sculpture, The Legends of Albatross Bay (Weipa Story), acquired by Queensland Museum in 2014.

Karen Kindt, Collection Manager, Anthropology
Favourite piece of history: Irene Longman, who in 1929 became our first female sitting member in the Queensland Parliament.  Irene was married to one of our very own at the museum, Heber A. Longman, the longest serving Queensland Museum Director (1918 to 1945).  For over thirty years, Irene involved herself in public life, in a professional and voluntary capacity, working on issues relating to the welfare of women and children, town planning and the preservation of flora and fauna. Queensland Museum holds correspondence dated 20 March 1928 from Dr de Rautenfeld in which he gifted two brooches, one for the museum’s collection and one as a personal gift for Irene. On display in Anzac Legacy Gallerywe also have a tablecloth used as a fundraiser for peace that Irene was instrumental in implementing. 

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Irene Longman. Image courtesy of John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.
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Brooch gifted to Irene Longman.

Digi Youth Arts in Queensland Museum

Written by Alethea Beetson, Indigenous Engagement Coordinator, Queensland Museum  and Imelda Miller Curator, Cultures and Histories, Queensland Museum

All year Digi Youth Arts unsettle artists and mentors have been engaging, discovering, interacting, activating, calling out, evaluating, commenting, questioning and creating new artworks inside and outside Queensland Museum. As artists in residence, Digi Youth Arts have been focused on producing new works across six art forms – street art, theater, film, dance, visual art and music. This year alone, artists from four of these art forms have showcased new works developed in collaboration with industry mentors.

Continue reading Digi Youth Arts in Queensland Museum

Dr Robert Raven tells the story of two great spider discoveries in Tasmania

The paruwi spider is a new genus, discovered & named by 13 year old Robert Beeton in north-west Tasmania. Photo courtesy of Bush Blitz

Queensland Museum arachnologist Dr Robert Raven travelled to the Central Highlands of Tasmania in February surveying spiders as part of a Bush Blitz survey. And it was during this survey that uncovered two new species of spiders in one night! Dr Raven tells the story of these great discoveries.

Continue reading Dr Robert Raven tells the story of two great spider discoveries in Tasmania