You are in site section: History & ideas

Dieri visit to Open Collections

WARNING: Visitors should be aware that this website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause sadness or distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Dieri visit to Open Collections

15 Oct 2014

By Jeff Theys

From 17 to 19 September, more than 20 members of the Dieri Aboriginal community, a group from the Cooper Basin region of north-east South Australia, visited the National Museum of Australia. The Dieri people arranged the visit so they could view cultural material derived from their country that resides within the Museum.

Some of this material is on display in the Museum's Open Collections section, which is a part of the First Australians Gallery that gives visitors a special 'behind the scenes' glimpse of more than 2000 objects from the Museum's Indigenous collections. Included in these collections are eight objects associated with the Dieri.

Their visit also included a trip to the Museum's repatriation unit in Mitchell to talk to staff members David Kaus and Lee Burgess about ancestral remains and ceremonial objects also derived from the Cooper Basin region.

Members of the Dieri community drove or flew to Canberra from as far away as Quilpie in south-west Queensland, Whyalla and Port Augusta in South Australia, Mildura in Victoria and Broken Hill in New South Wales. When they arrived, the large group was divided into two—one visited the Open Collections section, the other was guided to the Museum's storage units in Mitchell.

As an assistant curator, I was fortunate in being able to show the Dieri through the Museum to Open Collections, which we had temporarily closed to the public for the visit. This allowed the members of the Dieri community private time to engage with their objects. The objects were brought out of their exhibition cases, giving the Dieri a chance to see and handle the objects without having to peer through a glass barrier. Among the Dieri objects were a number of large boomerangs of various types, two small children's boomerangs, digging sticks and a gypsum ball used for playing games.

The Dieri said how pleased they were that the Museum's staff handled their objects with the appropriate care and respect. Some of the Dieri felt comfortable handling the objects while others were content to view them. For many it was an emotional experience and tears were shed by a few. We were assured, however, that these were 'happy tears' that came from a rare opportunity to connect with the objects and those who had made them.

It was fantastic to see the traditional owners of these objects sharing knowledge and stories about how the objects were made, the meaning behind their designs and their function. Even the young ones were excited about connecting with these objects, and weren't shy in posing with them either!

For me it was a privilege to see a community that was so well connected with their cultural material and prepared to share information, not only with other members of their community but also with NMA staff. It was a wonderful visit, and one that really brought these objects to life.

Two mean and a woman examine wooden objects on a table.
Ruby Andrews (left), Glen Andrews (middle) and Willie Dawson (right) examining objects from Dieri country. Photo: Jeff Theys.
A man examines a number of wooden objects behind a display case.
Chris Dodd looks at other objects from the Lake Eyre Basin in Open Collections. Photo: Jeff Theys.

Back to Goree