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Rare Pacific artefacts return to Southern Hemisphere

30 JUNE 2006

Rare artefacts collected on Captain James Cook's Pacific voyages have returned to the Southern Hemisphere for the first time in 220 years and are on show in an exhibition opening today at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

The National Museum is the exclusive Australian venue for Cook's Pacific Encounters, an exhibition of 350 exquisite objects, featuring some of the last Pacific artefacts untouched by European influence.

This is the world's largest identifiable collection of artefacts collected on Cook's voyages and the objects, rich in craftsmanship and spiritual power, were given as gifts or traded by indigenous people from locations including Tonga, Tahiti, New Zealand and Hawaii. Highlights include a feathered chief's helmet, a shell trumpet, a full mourning dress and a boar's tusk bracelet.

These musical instruments, jewellery, clothing, weapons and tools have been held at the Georg-August University of Göttingen in Germany.

Rarely seen by the general public, the collection was shown at the Honolulu Academy of Arts earlier this year. The National Museum exhibition presents additional Cook material held in Australian collections and highlights Cook's role in the wider Pacific.

'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.'

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 or media@nma.gov.au