Friday essay: 5 museum objects that tell a story of colonialism and its legacy

theconversation.com
6 min read
fairly difficult
A spear-thrower, a shell, a bowl, a vase, a bucket. Five very different items tell us much about the history of collecting, the role of Indigenous experts and the shadow of colonial violence.
Two new Australian museums are emerging from old ones as the year draws to a close.

The new Chau Chak Wing Museum at the University of Sydney assembles rich collections from across the campus, and the WA Museum Boola Bardip (Noongar for "Many Stories") has opened in Perth. Museums remain relevant in a globalised world where stories of objects and collecting connect people, institutions, places and ideas.

Our Collecting the West Project, in collaboration with the Western Australian Museum, the State Library of WA, the Art Gallery of WA and the British Museum, explores the history of collecting in WA since the late 1600s.

We are tracing the role of collecting in histories of empire, exploration and colonisation; the relations between natural history and ethnographic collecting; the role of state instrumentalities and private individuals; and the networks between them.

Here, we highlight five objects, some displayed in Boola Bardip's Treasures Gallery, to reveal how they can provide us with insights into history, values, emotions and power.

c Michael Haluwana Aeroture

1. Everything was contemporary once — Corona Smoking Bucket, 2020

On March 26 2020, the WA government suspended tourist operations on Rottnest Island (Wadjemup) to support the government response to the pandemic. Australian citizens aboard the Vasco de Gama cruise ship were directed to be quarantined on the island from Monday March 30.

Whadjuk monitors Ben Ugle and Brendan Moore were on the island to support conservation works at the heritage site — a prison that once held Aboriginal people from all over WA, where many died.

The two Whadjuk men chose to perform a smoking ceremony for the island's transition to pandemic quarantine facility. Smoking ceremonies are often conducted to cleanse a place spiritually, such as after a death, to welcome people, and as a sign of respect to people including past elders.

Courtesy of Wadjemup Museum Collection.

A metal tin was found for the smoking ceremony…
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