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Michael Pickering


Name: Dr Michael Pickering

Title: Senior Curatorial Fellow, Research Centre

Qualifications: Bachelor of Arts (Honours), (La Trobe, 1979); Bachelor of Letters (ANU, 1985); Doctor of Philosophy (La Trobe, 1997)


  • repatriation
  • material culture
  • ethics
  • cannibalism
  • settlement patterns
  • political cartoons

Contact details

Dr Michael Pickering
Research Centre
National Museum of Australia
GPO Box 1901

Phone: +61 2 6208 5243

Quick link

Michael Pickering - staff presentations and papers

Mike Pickering

Dr Michael Pickering is a Senior Curatorial Fellow at the National Museum of Australia's Research Centre.

He is an archaeologist and anthropologist who since 2001 has had various roles at the National Museum, including director of the repatriation program, head of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander program and acting head of the Australian Society and History program.

Current projects

Michael is working on articles related to the repatriation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander remains and secret sacred objects. He has also assisted with VIP tours of the Old Masters: Australia's Great Bark Artists exhibition and with the development of a travelling poster package profiling the Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route exhibition.

Michael is a partner investigator in two Australian Research Council funded projects with the Australian National University:

  • Engaging Objects: Indigenous communities, museum collections and the representation of Indigenous histories
  • Return, Reconcile, Renew Project: understanding the history, effects and opportunities of repatriation and building an evidence base for the future.


Following an honours degree from La Trobe University, Michael worked for the Western Australian Aboriginal Sites Department for two years as an archaeologist. He then completed a Bachelor of Letters at the Australian National University while working as a consultant archaeologist and anthropologist. He went on to work as an anthropologist for the Central Land Council and then for the Northern Land Council.

Michael was the regional officer for the Central Australian region of the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority in the Northern Territory while completing his PhD at La Trobe University. He worked as a research officer on native title for Aboriginal Affairs Victoria and then as head curator for the Indigenous Cultures program of Museum Victoria.

Michael moved to the National Museum of Australia as director of the repatriation program in 2001. He took on the role of head of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander program from 2004 to 2011. He then moved to the Research Centre. From 2013 to 2014 he was the acting head of the Australian Society and History program.

Michael has a wide range of research interests and has published more than 40 articles on topics including political cartoons, material culture, cannibalism, settlement patterns, exhibitions, ethics and repatriation.

Professional commitments

Michael is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the National Centre for Indigenous Studies at the Australian National University. He is a member of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS). Michael is on the editorial board of the National Museum of Australia's reCollections journal as well the editorial boards of both Museum Management and Curatorship and Museums and Social Issues.

He has previously been a member of the Collections Council of Australia expert panel on repatriation and was a member of an ethics panel convened by the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York.

He has twice received an Australian Public Service Australia Day achievement medal.


As the head of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander program at the Museum, Michael has been a supervisor, senior curator or coordinating curator on these exhibitions, in addition to permanent gallery management:

  • Bipotaim: Stories from the Torres Strait, 2011–2014 (with the Gab Titui Cultural Centre)
  • Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route, 2010–2013 (with FORM; also travelled to Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting)
  • Travelling the Silk Road, 2012 (with the American Natural History Museum)
  • Off the Walls, 2011–2012 (Senior Curator: Andy Greenslade)
  • From Little Things Big Things Grow, 2009-2012 (Senior Curator: Jay Arthur)
  • A Different Time: The Expedition Photographs of Herbert Basedow, 2008, (Senior Curator: David Kaus)
  • Darwin – Darwin in Australia, 2008–2009 (with the American Natural History Museum)
  • Papunya Painting: Out of the Desert, 2007–2008 (also travelled to China, 2010)
  • Dhari a Krar: Headdresses and Masks from the Torres Strait, 2006 (Senior Curator: Anna Edmundson)

Other exhibitions

  • Development of the Bunjilaka gallery, 1998–2001, Museum Victoria

Select publications

Edited volumes

Fijn, N, Keen, I, Lloyd, C and Pickering, M, Indigenous Participation in Australian Economies II, ANU E-Press, Canberra, 2012.

Turnbull, P and Pickering, M, The Long Way Home: The Meaning and Values of Repatriation, Berghahn Books, New York, 2010.

Book reviews by Michael Pickering

Roque, R, Headhunting and Colonialism: Anthropology and the Circulation of Human Skulls in the Portuguese Empire, 1870–1930 in The Journal of Pacific History, Routledge, London, 2011.

Vrdoljak, AF, International Law, Museums and the Return of Cultural Objects, Cambridge University Press, 2008 in reCollections, vol. 4, no. 1, 2008.

‘Antipodean views of Darwin’s theory and its philosophical evolution’, reviews of McCalman, I, Darwin’s Armada: How Four Voyagers to Australasia Won the Battle for Evolution and Changed the World, Viking, 2009 and of Frame, T, Evolution in the Antipodes: Charles Darwin and Australia, UNSW Press, 2009 in The Canberra Times;  11 April 2009, pp. 16–17.

Merriman, N (ed), Making Early Histories in Museums by Merriman, N (ed), Leicester University Press, London, 1999 in Museum National, 2000.4.

Mulvaney, J and Kamminga, J, Prehistory of Australia, Allen and Unwin, 1999 in Journal of Intercultural Studies, 2000.


Marstine, J, Greenspan, E, Pickering, M and Williams, PH, ‘Ethics and the 9/11 Museum Complex: A response to Colwell-Chanhaphonh ‘The disappeared’’, Anthropology Today, vol. 27, no. 3, 2011.

Marstine, J, Greenspan, E, Pickering, M and Williams, PH, ‘Power over the dead in the aftermath of 9/11’, Anthropology Today, vol. 27, no. 4, August 2011.

Pickering, M and Gordon, P, ‘Repatriation: The End of the Beginning’ in D Griffin and L Paroissien (eds), Understanding Museums: Australian Museums and Museology, National Museum of Australia, Canberra, 2011.

Articles or chapters by Michael Pickering

‘Rewards and Frustrations: Repatriation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ancestral remains by the National Museum of Australia’ in McCarthy, C (ed.), Museum Practice: Critical debates in the museum sector, Blackwell series, International Handbook of Museum Studies, 2015.

‘Picturing an exhibition’ in La Fontaine, M and  Carty, J, Ngurra Kuju Walyja: One Country One People: Stories from the Canning Stock Route, Macmillan Publishers, Melbourne, Victoria, pp. 213-217, 2011.

‘Chapter 16. Dance through the minefield: the development of practical ethics for repatriation’ in Marstine, J (ed.), Routledge Companion to Museum Ethics, Routledge, pp. 256-274, 2011.

‘Chapter 12. Despatches From The Front Line? Museum Experiences in Applied Repatriation’ in Turnbull, P and Pickering, M (eds),The Long Way Home: The Meaning and Values of Repatriation, Berghahn Books, New York, pp. 163-174, 2010.

‘Introduction: We do things differently here’ in Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route, National Museum of Australia Press, pp x-xiii, 2010.

‘Yiwarra Kuju: The Canning Stock Route’ (PDF 2mb) in Friends Magazine, National Museum of Australia, vol. 21, no.2, pp. 4-5, June 2010.

‘Where are the Stories?’ in The Public Historian, vol. 32, no. 1, pp. 79-95, University of California Press, February 2010.

‘Darwin in Australia’ in Australian Heritage, Autumn 2009, pp. 9-12, 2009.

‘Darwin and Australia’, invited paper in Unleashed, ABC, 2009.

‘Lost in Translation’ (PDF 210kb) in Borderlands, vol. 7, no. 2, 2008 (E-journal).

‘Introduction’ in Simpkin, J (ed.), Charles Darwin: An Australian Selection, National Museum of Australia Press, Canberra, pp. vii-xi, 2008.

‘Introduction: Sand, seed, hair and paint’ in Johnson, V (ed.), Papunya Painting, National Museum of Australia, pp. 1-2, 2007.

‘Where to from here? Repatriation of Indigenous Human remains and ‘The Museum’’ in Knell, S, MacLeod, S and Watson, S (eds), Museum Revolutions: How museums change and are changed, Routledge, Oxon, UK, pp. 250-259, 2007.

‘Policy and research issues affecting human remains in Australian Museum collections’ in Lohman, J and Goodnow, K (eds), Human Remains and Museum Practice: Ethics, Research, Policy and Display, UNESCO Publishing/Museum of London, pp. 42-47, 2006.

‘From the Devils’ Marbles to Karlukarlu: the life and times of a sacred rock’ in Historic Environment, vol.17, no.3, 2004.

‘Hunter-gatherer settlement patterns in a sub-humid to semi-arid environment’ in Crothers, G, Hunters and Gatherers in Theory and Archaeology, Centre for Archaeological Investigations, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois, 2004.

‘Flannery’s Cannibalism’ in Campus Review, vol. 10, July 2-8, 2003.

‘Modelling hunter-gatherer settlement patterns: an Australian case study’, Archaeopress, Oxford, England.

‘Define success: repatriation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ancestral remains and Sacred Objects’ in Museum National, pp 13-14, February 2003.

‘Repatriation, rhetoric, and reality: The repatriation of Australian Indigenous Human remains and sacred objects’ in Journal of the Australian Registrars Committee, pp. 15-19 and 40-41, June 2002.

‘Consuming Doubts: What some people ate? Or what some people swallowed’ in Goldman, LR (ed.), The Anthropology of Cannibalism, Bergin and Garvey, Connecticut, pp. 51-74, 1999.

‘The message stick: an anecdote’ in Rock Art Research, vol. 14 no.1, p. 59, 1997.

‘Notes on the Aboriginal hunting and butchering of Cattle and Buffalo’ in Australian Archaeology, vol. 40, pp. 17-21, 1995.

‘A Reply to Blake on Sievwright (Continuation of debate over the poor evidence for Aboriginal Cannibalism)’ in The Skeptic, vol. 15 no.3, pp. 48-49, 1995.

‘Cannibalism?’ in The Skeptic, vol.15 no.1, pp. 58-59, 1995.

‘The physical landscape as a social landscape: a Garawa example’ in Archaeology in Oceania , vol. 29 pp. 149-161, 1994.

‘Management of Archaeological Resources in Forest Environments: Results of a Survey in North-western Tasmania’ in Tasforests, pp. 39-43, July 1992.

‘Garawa Methods of Game Hunting, Preparation and Cooking’ in Records of the South Australian Museum, vol.26, no.1, pp. 9-23, 1992

‘Backed Blades from the McArthur River, Borroloola, Northern Territory’, Australian Archaeology, No.31, pp. 83-85, 1990.

‘Food for Thought: An alternative to "Cannibalism in the Neolithic"’, Australian Archaeology, No.28, pp. 35-39, 1989.

‘Notes on a transect survey of Western Australia’, Australian Archaeology, No.26, pp. 46-51, 1988.

‘Non-salvage salvage’ in Smith, M (ed.), Archaeology at ANZAAS, pp. 309-316, 1983.

‘A Technique of Bone Tool Manufacture: From Photographs in the Donald F Thomson Collection, National Museum of Victoria’, The Artefact, vol. 5, nos.1-2, pp. 93-97, 1980.

Select lectures

Invited conference speaker (supported by hosts)

‘Addressing a difficult Legacy: Indigenous Ancestral Remains in German Archives’, Postcolonial Justice International Conference, Potsdam University, Potsdam and Berlin, 29 May–1 June 2014.

‘Developing a Research Network to Advance 21st Century Museum Ethics in Theory and Practice’, Leicester University Museum Studies Department, 2012.

‘Where Culture? Cultural Heritage, Revitalisation and the Renaissance of the Idea of Culture’, German Anthropological Association Annual Conference, Vienna, 2011.

‘From anatomic collections to objects of worship: Conservation and exhibition of human remains in museums’, Musee du Quai Branly, Paris, 2008.

‘The Politics of Human Remains and Museum Practice: Ethics, Research, Policy and Display’, two-day international symposium, Museum of London, 2004.


Talks at the National Museum of Australia

audio_w15 Travelling the Silk Road public conversation, 22 June 2012

audio_w15 Country, memory and art: understanding Indigenous art, with Howard Morphy and John Carty, 8 December 2010

audio_w15 Understanding and representing trauma, 5 October 2010

audio_w15 Evidently not!, Indigenous Participation in Australian Economies conference, 9 November 2009

audio_w15 What is a memory?, Sites of Memory symposium, with Dr Judith Slee, Professor Paul Pickering and Dr Peter Stanley, 26 August 2009.