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Rare Pacific objects come from Cook to Canberra

26 MAY 2006

The world's largest identifiable collection of artefacts collected on Captain James Cook's Pacific voyages goes on show at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra on 1 July.

The Museum is the exclusive Australian venue for this exhibition of rare 18th century functional and spiritual objects, renowned among anthropologists but rarely seen by the public.

Comprising 350 ritual and everyday items, the collection has been held at the Georg August University of Göttingen in Germany for more than 200 years and comes to Australia in a major cultural exchange between the two countries. The collection is being seen in the Pacific for the first time since it was acquired - and goes on show in Canberra after debuting at the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

The jewellery, clothing, weapons, tools and musical instruments were collected between 1768 and 1779 and were largely made prior to European contact. They are rich in craftsmanship and spiritual power and were given as gifts or traded by indigenous people from locations including Tonga, Tahiti, New Zealand and Hawaii.

Highlights include a boar's tusk bracelet and feathered chief's helmet from Hawaii, a shell trumpet from the Marquesas, and a mourning dress and shark-skin drum from Tahiti.

'Cook's reputation extends well beyond Australia and was largely based on his experiences in the wider Pacific,' National Museum director Craddock Morton said. 'This exhibition is a chance to deepen our understanding of his extraordinary encounters as an explorer of rich human cultures.'

Cook's Pacific Encounters looks at the concept of science and empire and how Cook's crew interpreted their experiences through journals and works of art; and at the complex distribution of Cook-related material, held by public institutions and private collectors across the world.

This collection was acquired by Cook and his crew members, along with German naturalists Johann Reinhold Forster and his son, Georg. It was assembled at the Georg August University by Enlightenment scholar Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, who used the royal connection between Hanover and the British Crown to acquire the Pacific objects. The Cook-Forster collection will return to Germany after the Canberra showing.

Cook's Pacific Encounters was organised by the Honolulu Academy of Arts in association with the Institute of Cultural and Social Anthropology at the University of Göttingen and Art Exhibitions Australia. The principal exhibition sponsor is Singapore Airlines. The exhibition is also sponsored by Prime Television. Cook's Pacific Encounters was made possible by Art Indemnity Australia, an Australian Government program through which the Commonwealth acts as insurer in case of any loss or damage to an indemnified work of art. Without Art Indemnity Australia, the high cost of commercial insurance would prohibit this major exhibition from touring to Australia.

Cook's Pacific Encounters is on show at the National Museum of Australia's Temporary Exhibition Gallery from 1 July to 10 September. Entry is: $10 adult,
$8 concession, $4 child, $22 family.

For images, interviews or more information please contact Leanda Kitchen on 02 6208 5338, 0438 620 710; Ellen Peterson on 02 6208 5351 or media@nma.gov.au