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Experts unravel meaning of Cook curiosities

26 JULY 2006

Different perspectives on the cultural significance of artefacts collected on Captain James Cook's Pacific voyages will be discussed at a symposium at the National Museum of Australia this Friday.

Scholars from Australia, New Zealand, the United States and United Kingdom will bring expert insight into Captain Cook, an extraordinary navigator and explorer of human culture; and his encounters with Pacific peoples.

The Discovering Cook's Collections symposium coincides with the National Museum's Cook's Pacific Encounters exhibition, which includes rare 18th century Pacific material collected on Cook's three Pacific voyages. Thousands of people have visited the exhibition, to see the artefacts on their first return to the Southern Hemisphere since they were collected more than 220 years ago.

The artefacts on show are from the Cook-Forster collection, held in Germany as a result of the British Crown's link with Hanover, and are the world's largest identifiable collection of material collected on Cook's voyages.

Leading international scholars including Dr Adrienne Kaeppler from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and Dr Paul Tapsell from the Auckland War Memorial Museum are exploring the significance of these artefacts at the symposium.

Dr Tapsell, a prominent Maori scholar, will reflect on why Maori material in the Cook-Forster collection has yet to be included in a broader trend to return taonga, or treasures, to traditional owners.

Dr Kaeppler will examine the changing popularity of the 'curiosities' collected on Cook's voyages, and how the history around them was reconstructed after many of the treasures lost their initial appeal. Dr Kaeppler will also talk about the importance these artefacts hold today for the descendants of their original makers.

Other expert speakers include Dr Lissant Bolton from the British Museum and Professor Greg Dening from the Australian National University.

The Cook speakers will be available for interview at the National Museum of Australia at 10.30am on Friday, 28 July, 2006. Media are also welcome to attend the symposium.

A free one-hour public forum is also being held at the Museum on Thursday, 27 July.

Discovering Cook's Collections is a collaboration between the National Museum of Australia and the Australian National University's Centre for Cross-Cultural Research. Cook's Pacific Encounters is on show at the National Museum until 10 September.

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