Axe (kodj). Wood, stone, resin. King George Sound, Albany, c. 1830s OC.4768 - © Trustees of the British Museum

Western Australian Museum wins two MAGNA Awards

The Western Australian Museum has won two prestigious awards at the Museums and Galleries National Awards 2017 (MAGNA) held in Brisbane last night, for two outstanding exhibitions developed and co-curated by the Museum.

The two exhibitions are Yurlmun: Mokare Mia Boodja (Returning to Mokare's Home Country), which won the award for Indigenous Project or Keeping Place (Level 2); and Lustre: Pearling & Australia, which won the award for Temporary or Travelling Exhibition (Level 3).

Co-curated by the Albany Heritage Reference Group Aboriginal Corporation, the Yurlmun exhibition describes how relationships between the Menang community and early settlers evolved as Albany developed, as well as addressing the important and current issues of reconciliation. WA Museum CEO Alec Coles said Yurlmun: Mokare Mia Boodja means ‘returning to Mokare’s home Country’ and showcased the significant shared history of Albany’s Menang people and early European settlers through the historic objects on display.

“Yurlmun is an astounding project that forged new ground in relationships between collecting institutions and source communities. The loan of a whole collection of British Museum objects back to Country and community – to their place of origin – is unprecedented, it has never happened before in Australia. We are grateful to the British Museum as well as our colleagues from the National Museum of Australia and, of course, the Menang people,” Mr Coles said.

“It represents a significant step in reconnecting museum collections with people and place, and in reconnecting communities with their cultural heritage. The story of friendship and the sharing of gifts between friends is also something that everyone can relate to and this has increased interest in, and the understanding of, Menang language and knowledge and the importance of our shared cultural history.”

Minister for Culture and the Arts David Templeman said the awards recognised the Museum’s absolute commitment to co-curating content with communities to share their authentic stories in their own voices.

“The Museum does a fantastic job working with communities and bringing shared stories to the people. These rewards are well deserved,” he said.

The objects, including stone axes, spears, spear throwers and knives were collected from the area in the early 1800s by settlers including local surgeon Dr Alexander Collie, who became close friends with significant Menang man Mokare.

Judges referred to the Yurlmun exhibition as an excellent project leading the way in how museums and communities can work together. They said the project was impressive in many ways: arising from the cultural standpoint of Menang Elders and community, developing into an innovative, community-led project that addresses multiple issues of access to collections in distant institutions for source communities, collaboration and capacity building communities.

The Lustre: Pearling & Australia exhibition is currently on tour and on display at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney. It was co-curated by the Broome-based Aboriginal corporation Nyamba Buru Yawuru and developed in close consultation with senior Yawuru, Karajarri, Bardi and Jawi, and Mayala elders from Saltwater Country. It is supported by Visions of Australia.

Mr Coles said Lustre is about more than pearls – it explores the beauty, significance and intrigue of pearls, pearl shell and pearling across time and culture, intertwining ancient Aboriginal trade stories with the more recent industry development that transformed the north of Australia.

Lustre is very much told from an Aboriginal perspective, with the content development led by Broome locals,” he said.

Judges referred to Lustre as an important story and a lustrous exhibition; a text-rich display alleviated by the integration of different interpretive platforms. The incorporation of employment and skills development, consultation and inclusion throughout the project is powerful and authentic/genuine practice of enmeshing multiple cultures, voices, genders, ages in the stories told throughout the exhibition. Co-creation between communities and organisation is strong. Blending history, biology, geography and colonialism gives a huge scope, but this is done very well: a thorough, comprehensive and fascinating topic that has been developed into a well-rounded and beautiful exhibition.

Mr Coles said both exhibitions introduced the Emerging Curators program where young Aboriginal men and women from Country participate in the program by working alongside lead curators and specialist WA Museum curators.

“The Emerging Curator program has been so successful we are expanding it to other Aboriginal communities across the State. Two Yawuru people, Bart Pigram and Maya Shioji, and two Menang people from Albany, Shona Coyne and Lindsay Dean, provided great insight into the respective exhibitions through the Emerging Curator program.”

Photo: Axe (kodj). Wood, stone, resin. King George Sound, Albany, c. 1830s OC.4768  - © Trustees of the British Museum

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