The Australian Indigenous objects in the British Museum’s collection came from a diverse range of encounters between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and British explorers, officials and settlers. These encounters began in 1770 and took place in locations across the continent. The Encounters exhibition highlighted a selection of these encounters.
Move your mouse over the map below and click on the red dots to view more information about the location, the people, and the objects – old and new – on display in Encounters.
Murlapaka (shield):collected by Samuel Hexter in the 1840s, 103 x 22 cm.
Nothing ... shall affect or be construed to affect the rights of any Aboriginal Natives of the said Province to the actual occupation or enjoyment in their own Persons or in the Persons of their Descendants of any Lands therein now actually occupied or enjoyed by such Natives.
Extract from 'Letters Patent under the Great Seal of the United Kingdom
erecting and establishing the Province of South Australia and fixing the
boundaries thereof', 1836.
Shield:collected in the Cairns region by Derwent Vallance before 1903, 89.5 x 33 x 9 cm.
It would be interesting to get into the mind of those people, those collectors, in terms of why they collected. What kind of feelings did they have to the object? ... What do these objects mean to them as opposed to what do these objects mean to us, the Aboriginal community?
Stone scraper:collected from Mount Ainslie, Canberra, by William Kinsela in 1932–33, 4.6 cm long.
Among the hills near Mt Ainslie, at Canberra, [I] collected a few ... flaked implements, showing careful workmanship of secondary finish – Perhaps after six hours careful hunting on one site the reward might only be twelve artifacts.
Bark engraving:collected from Fernyhurst by John Hunter Kerr before 1855, 67 x 31 x 13 cm.
I'd like the rest of the world to know that Dja Dja Wurrung people still exist. We are still here as a people. We are proud and value our culture. We honour our ancestors, and everything that we do, we are doing on behalf of our ancestors who didn't have the voice that we have today.
Bati (ceremonial spears):collected from Makasar by Carl Alfred Bock in 1879.
Long time ago, when the north-east wind blew, the Mangatharra [Makasar] would travel from their place up north in Indonesia to Arnhem Land. They came in Macassan boats called praus. They planted tamarind trees and traded with Aboriginal people. The Aboriginal people, they traded the trepang ... and the Mangatharra traded knives and material.
Artawirr (didgeridoo):collected from Port Essington before 1844, 99 x 3 cm.
Today we are lucky we are getting this material back to look at, but you have to listen to both versions, the Indigenous version of our history and the non-Indigenous version. They are both telling the truth but they are not
the same story.
Dulloom (dillybag):collected from Richmond River by Mary Bundock in the 1870s, 33 x 43 x 2 cm.
I don't think [Mary Bundock] particularly thought that she was collecting for a museum. In a sense she was collecting to look after the stories of the people that she loved. I think that was a terrific thing, and we should be
really proud of that.
Shield:collected from Rockingham Bay by John Ewen Davidson in 1866–68, 99.8 x 42.5 cm.
There was like guerilla warfare that was going on along the coast here and the islands ... but not many people know about 'em ... They think it's in the past, you know, like 150 years is a long time ... It's nothing, 150 years.
Tunga (bark container):collected by William Dawson in 1912, 67.4 x 50.7 cm x 40.5 cm (diameter).
It's a very good thing that we know where all our stuff is around the world. And we need someone to go and explain the story to these people. Like the tunga, you need someone to go and explain to them what they used for ceremony purposes. People need to understand what these symbols are for.
Burranditj (feather skirt):collected by Augustus Strong, probably from St Marys, Warrnambool, in 1842–44, 27 x 95 cm.
When I go on country I'm looking for a small window in time, to let us look into the past, to see what it may have looked like once. That makes me happy. When I see these old artefacts I feel the same. I get a glimpse of something. Of the past.
Spear:donated by Craven Harry Ord in the late 1890s, 152 x 3.1 x 1.5 cm.
I had managed to accumulate a quantity of native weapons and thought they might be of value or interest to the museum … In any case, the weapons are genuine native weapons of the type taken by police from native camps.
CH Ord, letter to the British Museum, 6 October 1899