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This wooden dish from Broome, pre-1892, was made by Yawuru people, collected by police and later presented by the Commissioner of Police, Colonel Phillips, to the WA Museum. Courtesy of the WA museum

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

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.
Aboriginal elder Major Sumner sits outside Liverpool’s World Museum with a box containing the skull of an Australian indigenous person, taken from Australia between 1902 and 1904. Phil Noble/Reuters

Museums are returning indigenous human remains but progress on repatriating objects is slow

The question of repatriating objects is clearly more complex than returning human remains. It needs more debate, and more creative interventions to move beyond the current impasse.
Detail of Mungurrawuy Yunipingu (Gumatj), Macassan Prau 1946. Berndt Collection, Berndt Museum, The University of Western Australia

Long before Europeans, traders came here from the north and art tells the story

For centuries, fishing fleets from Sulawesi regularly visited Australia in search of trepang. Their visits were recorded orally and have been depicted in detailed artworks.
Shell Necklace, Displayed at the Great Exhibition, London, 1851. Maireener shell and fibre. Oyster Cove, Tasmania, before 1851 © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation is a challenge to review

It hovers uneasily between being a fine-art exhibition showing the diversity and sheer visual and sociocultural potency of contemporary Australian visual art practice, and an older-style ethnographic survey.

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