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Port Essington, Cobourg Peninsula

Encounters. Indigenous contact and culture: a classroom resource

Caution: This website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

West Arnhem Land

Port Essington, Northern Territory

The Aboriginal people of the Cobourg Peninsula, west Arnhem Land, experienced two failed attempts by the British to establish military outposts in their country. During this time, cultural material and human remains were taken to London. Explore the ways that Cobourg Peninsula Aboriginal people reflect on this time.

  • A map of Australia showing the location of Port Essington, Northern Territory.
    Port Essington, Northern Territory
  • Cobourg Peninsula Aboriginal country
    Setting the scene
  • A long, cyclindrical musical instrument
    Artawirr (didgeridoo)
  • A black and white sketch of people dancing around a small fire.
    'Dance of the Aborigines'
  • A bark painting of a human figure in white pigment on a dark background
    Bark painting
  • Basket made of vegetable fibre. Closely twined with complex painted decoration in white, red and dark green ochre, covering two thirds of basket leaving one section plain
    Marruny (basket)
  • A rectangular shaped basket with a handle made of natural fibres. The handle has other natural fibres beige in colour wound around it.
    Small palm-leaf basket
  • A long rectangular shaped basket with a handle made of natural fibres.
    Large palm-leaf basket


Match the text to the pictures

What do you know about Port Essington?

More activities

Learn about making a water basket

Watch this video of Cobourg Peninsula Aboriginal people making a water basket. 

Activity: This film shows how knowledge and techniques needed to create a basket are passed from generation to generation. Why do you think this so important from a cultural perspective? 

Indigenous human remains

The removal of Indigenous human remains from Australia is an issue of immense significance. Carol Christophersen, Muran woman, 2014:

These objects ... are part of a collection that the British made during their time here at Port Essington ... They also represent for us a time when the human remains were collected, not only from here in Port Essington ... but all around Australia.

Don Christophersen, Muran man, 2014:

There is a yet unspoken connection between the collection of artefacts and the collection of human remains during the English occupation … This is a significant element of the encounters then and the encounters now, between people and institutions and how to move on from the past … [We] do want the whole story to be told, and for this exhibition not to erase from the records … this disturbing aspect of our shared history.

Activity: Discuss some of the reasons why human remains were collected in the first place, and why their return is considered so important for people today.

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