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Aboriginal treasures at the Vatican

Dr Margo Neale, National Museum of Australia, 1 December 2010

MICHAEL PARKER: Ladies and gentlemen good afternoon and welcome once again to another of the talks hosted by the Friends of the National Museum of Australia. This afternoon we are privileged to hear senior curator Margo Neale. Margo has just returned from Rome assisting with the new exhibition of Aboriginal artworks sent from Catholic missions in the north and west of Australia to the Vatican to coincide with the canonisation of Mary McKillop, and Margo will talk about that exhibition. It opened on 15 October last.

Margo has a CV which I find quite astounding. It goes for several pages. I have distilled it to a few paragraphs because I think it is worth while going through some of her achievements. Margo is a senior research fellow at the Centre for Historical Research here at the National Museum of Australia and she’s the senior curator and principal adviser on Indigenous matters at the National Museum. She joined the Museum in 2000 and was inaugural director of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander program.

Margo has previously worked with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art in the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Queensland Art Gallery. She has lived and worked in Arnhem Land in the 1970s and in Christmas Island in the 1980s. Margo is also an adjunct professor in the history program at the Australian Centre for Indigenous History at the Australian National University and has been involved in numerous interdisciplinary projects, including as co-recipient of seven Australian Research Council grants in collaboration with the ANU and Monash University.

Margo is the author, co-author or editor of ten books on topics including the history of Christmas Island artists such as Emily Kngwarreye and Lin Onus, and most notably is co-author to the Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture. Margo has been appointed by successive governments to various advisory and judging panels, which I won’t enumerate. Margo’s recent international exhibition on Emily Kngwarreye in Japan won the Manning Clark House National Cultural Group Award 2008 for the National Museum of Australia. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Margo Neale.

MARGO NEALE: Welcome everybody. This is the right place to be on a wet day.

One of the things that didn’t happen was that you were to get a special abstract which was going to whip you up into a Da Vinci Code kind of drama. So I am going to read you a little bit of what you didn’t get because that will plug you into the beginning of the next bit.

First of all I want to acknowledge the traditional custodians, Ngambri and Ngunnawal peoples, and also to thank the Friends for giving me this opportunity to speak here today and for you mob for coming out. I thought there might be somewhat reduced numbers.

I have called it ‘A mystery revealed: The Museum uncovers Australian treasures in the Vatican vaults’. The world associates the treasures of the Vatican with the works of Michelangelo, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci or ancient Roman tablets but not generally Australian Aboriginal material. Who would have thought that amongst the treasures lying in the vaults of the Vatican are century-old Aboriginal objects. How did they get there? Who knew they were there? What’s being done about it? Well, enter the National Museum of Australia.

How did one of the oldest and most visited museums in the world with millions of visitors a year get involved with one of the youngest museums in the world, and one from the Antipodes to boot. The answers to these questions may have some affinity to with Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code or the Vatican-based Angels and Demons.

If you hadn’t cracked the code by today, which you won’t because you didn’t get this - part of the mystery - either the world would have been blown up by an anti-matter bomb and four cardinals will have been murdered or Opus Dei will have taken over the world, for the final clue may be entombed in your coffee mug awaiting its discovery at 1500 hours in the Friends lounge.

Well, clearly none of that happened. Moving right along - how many of you have read Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons? So you will know what I mean by Opus Dei and anti-matter but you don’t have to know it to get the sense.

This story is played out over many sites. There’s the Vatican and the NMA. [Images shown] Those of you who know Rome can see where the Vatican City is in relation to the rest of Rome, and this is where the museums are within the Vatican. For those who read Dan Brown the helipad is right over here somewhere. There’s St Peter’s Piazza. There are the Vatican Museums. This is me trotting off to work every day, quite different from our red glitzy tunnel. I am just giving you the atmosphere of the great trek in up the stairs, long passageways, up elevators and having a rest on the way. How is this for a scene to be chatting to your colleagues every other day?

These are the multiple sites that are part of the story of where these objects have been. New Norcia is one of the sites on this mystery trail we are about to undertake. The objects had a short residency in the Lateran Palace in Rome, similarly at the Palace of San Callisto in Trastevere, as well as the Propaganda Fide in Rome where the documentation is still stored and not fully retrievable yet.

Some of the characters in the plot are Father Mapelli, who is the director of the Vatican Ethnological Museum, Katherine Aigner who was a broker between the two, and some of his staff. Here he is infiltrating our apartment, acting suspiciously and pretending to be reading up on contemporary Aboriginal art - that’s what the cover says but who knows what’s inside - maybe nothing. Here’s a cluster of other characters in the plot, this cluster of white trench-coated restorers, as they call themselves. They are spying on all our movements and keeping notes assiduously as they do. This one is pretending to be an object in a case but it didn’t work. Even lurking in the high walls and crevices you will find characters flitting hither and thither.

There’s a bit of secret men’s business on the side line with Tim Fischer and Father Mapelli [image shown]. You see women are not included here, but we soon sorted that out. Down she comes [Margo] and intrudes herself until she’s fully included. You know what men are like sometimes. [image shown] These are Mapelli’s hench women: Nadia on your left and Paolo on the right. There’s that famous spiral staircase. Here’s a real cheeky character - that’s me drinking from a water spout. Here I’ve been caught by the paparazzi in the dark of night suspiciously taking of the sacred waters.

Pope Pius XI had something to do with the objects, as we will find out. Pope John Paul II is another character who delivered that rather momentous speech in Alice Springs in about 1986. He adorns one side of the entry into the gallery. The koala is a bit twee but they love it. And of course the current Pope Benedictine XVI also had some interesting things to say about Aboriginal elders. Other characters are not as obvious but one that is lurking on the walls is Raphael.

Let’s just see what all the plotting and planning was about. All the objects that you will see were cleared for exhibition by communities. There was no secret sacred material that shouldn’t have been displayed nor human remains.

As I said earlier, the Vatican is associated mainly with people like Raphael, Roman tablets, Michelangelo and Leonardo, but the fact that they are co-fellows with Aboriginal work is of particular interest.

I will go back a bit to a general statement: museums in the twenty-first century can no longer ignore Indigenous peoples and their rights and cultural responsibility to their objects. How do museums discharge their responsibilities to us as Indigenous people, our histories, our values and our voices within the dominant culture’s knowledge system and collecting practices? How do Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, previously captive to the anthropological gaze and unequal power relations, not only interrogate the histories that define them as other and lesser, but also how do we regain our voice and agency over cultural objects that reside in collections around the world?

The Vatican’s ethnological collection is a perfect case study. Under the new directorship of this energetic, young and visionary priest, Father Mapelli, the Vatican Ethnological Museum has set a new course towards acknowledging their responsibility to the cultural owners of this 100 year old Australian material, by exploring ways in which they can give value back to contemporary Indigenous communities and recognising that, while this collection is in the custody of the Vatican, it remains the cultural legacy of Indigenous people. By inviting me as an Indigenous curator to assess and display the collection, the Director, Father Mapelli, has started the cultural reconnection process and is ‘breathing life back into the objects’, as he describes it.

Secondly, as a representative of the Vatican, he has made the effort on our invitation to visit the source communities of this collection in remote areas of the Top End of Australia. It’s the first of a number of journeys back and there are other plans in the mix. He visited the Tiwi Islands, the Kalumburu community and here he is playing ‘Crocodile Dundee’ [image shown]. When I showed this to him at the forum - for this exhibition opening but as part of the canonisation - evidently the cardinals weren’t very impressed because he got called out and ticked off for not wearing his proper gear and for showing his legs. That was very funny – a bit humourless, some of them.

These steps that were taken by the Vatican are quite remarkable given that other museums of the world have yet to do this with the same commitment and tenacity. This community connection is the first step. The days of working with Indigenous collections and not with communities are well and truly over. It was in this art centre in the Tiwi Islands that Father Mapelli found a little bit of a surprise that was somewhat familiar to him. This is the art centre in the Tiwi Islands that is modelled on the barrel vaults of the Vatican. It surprised me too, I have to admit.

The question that’s most often asked is: how did the collection get to the Vatican? In the 1920s Indigenous Catholics from around the world responded to a call from Pope Pius XI - thus his appearance - inviting them to send objects that they thought best represented their culture and their spirituality to the Vatican for collection to be used in an exhibition he was mounting in 1925. Material was sent from missions in Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania, which included 300 objects from the northern and western parts of Australia. The result was an arresting spectacle of over 100,000 pieces displayed across 24 rooms within the Vatican. After the exhibition 40,000 pieces were retained, which form the core of what became known as the Museum’s missionary ethnological collection, and today it has been built up back to 100,000 objects.

These objects were therefore created and donated by Aboriginal Catholics for their ‘Papa’ in Rome and are invested with a strong devotional dimension. This is evident in the quality of the workmanship and some works reveal as well an intriguing personal contribution which is unique to this collection. [image shown] You might imagine this was from the 1970s tourist art - no, it was from the 1920s.

Unlike many collections of this period, these works were not collected by ethnologists motivated by a ‘salvage mentality’ - a belief that the culture was dying out - but rather as the signs of a thriving and dynamic culture. They are valued for their significant spiritual, artistic and ceremonial qualities. As I said before, notably there are no human remains - most unlike that period - nor is there secret sacred material that was not intended to be displayed by their makers.

When I was asked to curate the collection and be a spokesperson for it, I agreed to do so for a number of reasons but I certainly was more encouraged by the fact it did not have these tainted origins, and because Father Mapelli and I actually wanted the same thing. What we wanted to do was to avoid the old ethnological approach which would display them as disembodied objects divorced from their makers and culture - sort of mummified in time and tagged like body bags with their vital statistics, types, dates, media and dimensions. Our intention was to transform this cultural material from what [Michel] Foucault [French historian and philosopher] would describe as ‘decontextualised traces of history’ into active agents.

We would work towards this by bringing them out of the dark into the light and out of the past into the present through a new contemporary display and through reconnection with descendant communities. It seemed more appropriate for me as an Indigenous curator to display the collection from a cultural perspective; that is, to take more of a story telling angle, more consistent with Indigenous practice.

The story of discovery really started on 24 May this year only. This is what I saw - descending the stairs into the vast and darkened spaces of the museum for the first time was like entering Aladdin’s Cave. It’s a museum that had not fully functioned as a public exhibition space for 40 years so had a pervading sense of dormancy, a sense of lives once lived with dark passages, secret enclaves, empty showcases and disused or abandoned structures - think Dan Brown. It was a vast 7500 square metres of space enveloped in darkness with shadowy figures peering out beneath plastic wherever you went. [images shown]

However, on entering the collection store rooms within the museum this dormancy was abruptly shafted by light and activity. There were the illuminated wide surfaces of benches alive with objects under treatment attended to by the buzz of white-clad conservators. This in fact was the only site of life for four decades, and it was there that the treasures of Aladdin’s Cave were revealed. This is another of those funny ones [image shown], these are personal things they made for their ‘Papa’ rather than the more serious artefactual type. I found beautifully preserved objects like this lying dormant in their plastic wraps like cocoons awaiting their restoration, which is a bit of a loaded word in the context of the Vatican. I saw a few eyebrows lift amongst the cardinals in the front row. As each object was transported from the storage shelves out the back to the light in the inspection rooms, the objects seem to pass through a time warp, this past to present sense. As each object emerged from its cocoon of wrappings there was an undeniable sense of rebirth – [image shown of goose balls with ochre]. We drew breath when we saw exquisite markings engraved on wooden woomeras, on finely woven human hair ceremonial skirts from the pukamani ceremony, very large rustic coolamons somewhere like two metres tall. [image shown] That’s like it was done yesterday. It’s beautifully preserved.

The first encounter in the Vatican store rooms can be likened to a ‘storeroom of tales’, which is an expression coined by writer and mythographer Marina Warner in her book The Inner Eye: Art Beyond the Visible written in 1996. She wrote of collections storerooms thus:

A storeroom where stories lie waiting to be rediscovered offering a new creative experience not only for its own characters caught in its own plot lines, it offers magical metamorphosis to the one who opens the door, who passes on what was found in there and to those who hear what the storyteller brings.

I see myself in this context as the first of a new generation of storytellers, which includes of course the descendants of the makers of these objects.

The next chapter is only just beginning. What I found was to some degree what one would expect to find of Australian Aboriginal material culture of the late 1800s and early 1900s. There were tools for living, assorted boomerangs, shields, spear makers, spear points and ceremonial objects associated with the pukamani ceremony from the Tiwi islands or from Kalumburu.

[Map shown] The collection comes mainly from communities at Kalumburu, up in the north Kimberley, from the Tiwi Islands, Melville and Bathurst, at the top off the coast of the Northern Territory, and down near Perth around New Norcia, where they had the Benedictine mission since the 1840s or 1850s.

As beautifully crafted as the objects were, it was the unexpected and extraordinary that truly excited me. [image shown] Here’s a series of exquisite paintings with ochre on pieces of slate about the size of bread and butter plates that are not only painted on one side but most unusually on both sides, and it’s entitled the Wandjina song cycle. Some showed dancers performing the krill krill ceremony with dance boards. You can see dancers today performing these ceremonies or similar ceremonies including the string construction ilmas. Note the images of the Wandjina on the wall at the back. These images are ones I have used in the exhibition and in presentations to show how this living culture persists, particularly to international audiences who would not think so generally.

Wandjinas are the major creative beings that emerged from the sea and sky thousands of years ago in the Kimberley region. They are associated with weather and in particular water. Look at these full-figure ones [image shown]. When I was giving this presentation to the forum where there was an interesting mix of people including the cardinals and Aboriginal Catholics, of course I could see the other face in the rock and I made some flippant comment about the miracles of Mary MacKillop – anyway, I survived. They might have had a canonisation and a crucifixion in the same period.

[image shown] This is one of the other ones of the Wandjina slate with a water and cloud image. How contemporary does that look? This is exactly what you will see in a whole range of paintings from the Kimberley across the Western Desert today. In a flight of fancy, I thought that the other side of the slates which I couldn’t see on this first visit might have some reference to the other creator being of significance to Aboriginal Catholics, the Christian God, which would account for why they were painted on both sides. At least in my excitement I believed this was feasible, but now that I have seen the other side it would be hard to substantiate materially at least.

However, this view cannot be entirely discounted as Aboriginal Catholics have often chosen to represent the Christian God through the physical manifestation of symbols more common to their own creator beings. Given that this work like all the others was produced by individuals for their papa in Rome, it is also not unreasonable to assume a degree of synchronisation that would lead one to see in the episodic nature of this Wandjina song cycle the episodic nature of the Stations of the Cross. Whilst there may only be 13 slates currently retrievable, the documentation strongly suggests that there were more - maybe 14 even. Regardless of the number of works produced, whether it is 13, 14 or more, the meaning behind the stages of a song cycle and the Stations of the Cross have substantial conceptual parallels. That is, they both represent a devotional progression accompanied by images representing the events of a journey undertaken by a creator being. The artist could just as easily have painted a single Wandjina figure, as we see in this one on bark [image shown], which is how they usually represent it - but like the other ones they are also painted both sides. You can see the mirror display at the back to show the other side.

This is the first Wandjina song cycle I have encountered. That doesn’t mean they are not out there, but I haven’t encountered any yet so that is something to pursue. However, there seems to be good grounds for this assumption – that is, the relationship to the Stations of the Cross - when one considers this recent painting entitled God was working through the Wandjina by Kimberley artist Margaret Mungululu. She says:

Today we can come together as one, the faces in the blue, the Wandjina, represents what God was doing through them. God gave them providence through the Wandjina. God was working through the Wandjina. Christianity is like a gift that was placed there through the Wandjina.

This element of separability, I believe, is built into this Wandjina song cycle. Ian McIntosh, an anthropologist who worked with Aboriginal people on former missions in Arnhem Land over the past three to four decades, has observed that Aboriginal Christians pose the question: Did God give Aboriginal people the Dreaming or did the Dreaming give them God? Clearly, Aboriginal people for well over a century have had no difficulties whatsoever in seeing the universality of creation and fusing creator beings from different cultures, seeing them all as belonging to the one family and all related through the kinship system, as Margaret Mungululu suggests.

This position is further reinforced when we take into account what we know about the artist of the Wandjina song cycle.

Paul Murion, otherwise known as big Paul because he was very tall, is well known as a devout practising Catholic who appeared to live and work on the mission at what is now known as Kalumburu most of his life. He was a strong ceremonial leader and Catholic leader in his community. He was believed to be born in the late 1800s, which means he painted this as a mid adult and a man with some status through his activities in the church.

We found his records, which is really unusual. This is the only work that we have found a name on. It was rare in those days to record the names of individuals and it was equally remarkable we were able to locate his descendants - such is the power of Aboriginal oral history telling. These works also have a claim to being possibly the earliest existing Wandjinas on portable surfaces in the world. Only later it became a practice to do them on small portable surfaces for ethnologists and later scaled up for the art market in the late 1970s and early 1980s, such as this one by Alex Mingelmanganu around 1979-1980. It is nearly two metres tall on bark - no, this one might be on panel - and here’s another one of his [images shown]. I propose to do a Wandjina exhibition in the vein of Emily [Kngwarreye] down the track.

The next discovery of note was a second Wandjina work on bark in mostly white with the red pigment traces of a Wandjina image [image shown]. Viewed in the context of the Vatican, the ghostly tracings that remain on the surface remind one of the Shroud of Turin. Remnants of a second painting on the back evidently suggest a figure of Jesus. I don’t think that one would think of the Shroud of Turin in the same kind of way if it wasn’t in the Vatican in that context. Father Mapelli was urging me in the strongest possible way to actually call it ‘the shroud of the Wandjina’. I said, ‘Geez, I would be crucified twice over if I did that.’ We went as far as saying you can’t help looking at it in that context and thinking of a shroud of some kind, the ghostly tracings.

My brief was quite vague and quite late. An approach was made in December 2009 or January 2010. I saw the collection in May 2010 for a couple of days and we opened on 15 October, but I was here, not there. It was really to get some stuff out and fill a few showcases really, but that is not how I usually do business. The prime audiences for Father Mapelli, the ones that he had to please in the first place, was all the cardinals and the bosses in the Vatican, because they were sick of this young fellow rabbiting on about opening this place after four decades and they didn’t give him much support either.

What were the curatorial issues and how did I deal with them, briefly? I was confronted with a dark 1970s space overdesigned and over-engineered with a huge black metal box smack in the middle two storeys high, and a collection of ethnographic objects that had been tucked away for 40 years at least – they had been there since the 1920s. Though beautifully preserved there was next to no documentation retrievable at this time. The director was a field missionary, not a curator, there was no curatorial staff, bar one in the Asian area, and no exhibitions. The other eight or so were ‘restorers’, as they were called, in a space that has not functioned as an exhibition space since the year it opened and closed in 1973. That is, there was no curatorial staff, no exhibition staff, no publishing area for labels and no infrastructure at all really as we know it.

The Vatican has contracts with a range of people and companies who are the only ones that can be used. So the label maker was really a showcase maker, and the showcase maker was really the flower getter and so on. I should be much more tolerant of it here now because the bureaucracy there is horrific. Father Mapelli was saying - he’s a new kid on the block from the missionaries, which is not considered much of a high order, quite a low order - he had to get ten signatures to get a computer and two more to get it turned on. There are lots of stories like that.

The first job was to get them to paint grey concrete walls white and get some light in there. Security guards were employed for the install. Next in terms of the exhibition that you saw was to people the spaces with images of Aboriginal people from today to show this dynamic, breathing culture. So I got huge images and covered all that box black, put human images right around it and set up a bit of contemporary art kind of exhibition as well as young people and old people - a lot of these images were taken from Heide Smith’s book on the Tiwi Islands [Tiwi: the Life and Art of Australia’s Tiwi People]. This is how it is looking now [image shown]. All around the top storey of this box - it’s two floors high - there are huge images of desert on one side, sea on the other, jungle on one and an aerial view of Serpentine River on the other. We have some Torres Strait Islander people as well, even though the collection is Aboriginal only.

In the same space but adjoining us is some Oceanic material which contextualise it in an international sense with the Oceania concept, which is how they collected this material. But all underwent the treatment. These steps - not exactly these but steps like these - turned into this [images shown]. You can see the transformation that took place. This is as you walk down the steps on the right side you can see the labels Rituals of Life. They are not old world museum-y, it is a very contemporary, white, stark, bold graphic. But I used a lot of images rather than a lot of words to show how ceremonies and current-day events are associated with the objects, like under here the pukamani poles - which isn’t where I wanted them; I wanted them right out the front but I lost that one. I had these screens painted green behind them. If you go to the wrong colours with these things, they look like they belong in a shopping centre mall. They get very twee very quickly. I didn’t want to sanitise them by putting them against white either. There are these fine points. These are the pukamani objects associated with the poles, which I put in black to give a more ritualistic feel, and again contextualised with old images from the time they were collected. That was the pukamani enclave.

This is the Wandjina enclave. I sorted it into these enclaves, because there were bits and pieces of the collection all over the place. There was not any sort of collection policy in this case. I made the Wandjina enclave or space here by having a very large blow-up of cave walls heavily populated with the Wandjina so you can see instantly where they come from. That’s the old display, and this is the new one which is by real people now. This is the opening night which basically was a media scrum. You can see how I have put that as a rally near its original source on rock walls. All those shields and things, you can see how I have made them into a contemporary display and used their form to engage people aesthetically and sensorially. There’s lots of information, but I have the labels flat on the case so you don’t see them before the objects. When you go to see the objects then you will see the information. They used a lot of acrylics. You can’t see the mounts. Then there are kind of talking labels. We had these community visits that were done at the Vatican and a Museum rep - Kathryn Aigner who works with me - went. These were all filmed and used in the space.

The day before the opening we had this forum which Tim Fischer, the Ambassador to the Holy See, organised and I had the privilege or not, whatever the case may be, of sharing the stage with Cardinal Pell. It’s a story for another time really how extraordinary that forum was because of the eclectic mix of people in the audience. You heard me say a row of cardinals, there was also a row of 30 to 50 Aboriginal Catholics who were over there, international media, theologians, all the best-heeled people of the Italian diplomatic circle and so on.

So come question time, you are not talking to the usual mob so I gave the microphone often to the Aboriginal Catholics to answer a lot of the questions. These are again people who don’t see a distinction between Catholicism and Aboriginality. It was quite intriguing: some get it and some don’t. One of them, a theologian, said, ‘If the Wandjina is a spiritual being, how come it has no mouth. If it’s got no mouth, how can you hear the word?’ There were these sorts of questions - it was said much more intelligently than that but that’s the guts of it. One of the Aboriginal Catholic women got up – and don’t forget there’s no them and us here, they’re all Catholics; there is no whitefella, blackfella, yellow fella, none of that, they’re all Catholics - and basically said, ‘Well, the word had been spoken by the time the Wandjina was painted so it didn’t need a mouth’ or something to that effect.

After that was the big opening and we had Minister Rudd and [Julie] Bishop and there’s Tim Fischer. We have the Vatican colours and the Aboriginal floret in the front. It was a total media scrum. The restorers were almost holding hands and circling the Wandjina case so nobody bumped it because it was very scrummy.

After the opening there were these fabulous Aboriginal performances up on these terraces where you get this juxtaposition of the golden-lit terrace of ancient – ancient in Western terms - buildings like this, then you see all the blue of the order of St Josephine sitting on a Chinese rug and back lit by St Peter’s Basilica.

The next day at the Vatican is the canonisation day with 150,000-plus people. Fortunately we were a bit of a VIP, and I was that close - I said spitting distance to someone and they didn’t like it - I was within 20 metres of the Pope and opposite us were sitting all these colourful characters in their cardinal outfits. The pageantry and ritual was quite extraordinary. I took a book with me because I really thought I would be bored after four or five hours of this but I wasn’t, I had too many photos to take.

The other thing I want to show you is that we occupied probably 250 square metres of a 7500-square metre space over two floors, so the rest of the place was still in cloaked in that darkness. My husband and I spent half a day cruising through all these spaces and found these kinds of objects there. It’s very dark because clearly the old gallery is just being used for stuff to store. There are some shrines like this - I don’t know what you would call them, those into Asian art and history would know – which are 10 or 20 metres long. We saw these American Indian carved things, which made me think of the entombed warriors, life-sized Japanese figurines, Pacific Island huts and so on. [images shown]

I will just finish with a conclusion. The exhibit of Australian Indigenous material in the museum is, as you can see, much more than a display of interesting objects; it’s a story of reconciliation and education; it’s a story about the journey of Christianity through ethnography as well as a journey of Indigenous spirituality through Christianity. We see a whole new chapter of the century-old story being written, one that connects Kalumburu, the Tiwi islands and New Norcia to Rome and, like a song cycle, the circle turns now adding Canberra and the National Museum of Australia to its new trajectory. This collection also provides a portal through which we can explore the complex impact of Catholicism in Aboriginal Australia and missions more broadly. The lost collection - lost to the source communities in Australia at least - is finding its way back digitally and orally at least, thus completing a 100 year-old circle; thank you.

Date published: 8 February 2011