Projects Involving the Berndt Museum
Staff from the Berndt Museum have contributed to many community projects. Three of the most significant are described here.
The photographic exhibition at the Marribank Cultural Centre created
widespread interest in 1988; the display of children’s pastel drawings
sparked a revival of Nyungar landscape art. [P21122]
Marribank Cultural Centre
In 1985, the Museum was asked by members of the Marribank community (near Katanning, Western Australia) to help them with setting up an exhibition of art works in the nearby Katanning Town Hall, as part of NAIDOC Week.
This led to the Museum’s most enduring exhibition, which was called ‘Nyungar Landscapes: Aboriginal child artists’ and travelled with Art on the Move
, formerly known as NETS(WA), from 1992. This focused on Nyungar children’s art done at the Carrolup Native Settlement in the 1940’s and 1950’s. It also included works by artists who were related to the children who lived at Carrolup, now known as Marribank.
The exhibition was a great success. It eventually toured Australia for more than eight years and was seen by over 250,000 people. A further exhibition, ‘Aboriginal artists of the South-West: Past and Present’, toured nationally with Art on the Move from 2000 and, most recently, ‘Koorah Coolingah’ brought selected Carrolup chlidren’s works back from the United States for the Perth International Arts Festival in 2006.
The success of the original ‘Nyungar Landscapes’ exhibition indicated something more should be done. The Marribank community sought funds from the Australian Bicentennial Commission to restore one of the stone buildings, once used as the Girls’ Dormitory, and successfully transformed it into a Cultural Centre. This Centre houses both an historic photographic exhibition as well as art and crafts. The Museum was able to give some photographic copies and helped them set up the display.
The Museum helped draft applications to the Australian Heritage Commission and the Australian Bicentennial Authority to fund the Project. The application to the Australian Bicentennial Authority was successful and work began. The Museum played a big part in the project from the beginning. John Stanton
has been from its inception a member of the Cultural Centre Committee which had a lot of goals to achieve.
These were :
- fixing the Girl’s Dormitory;
- constructing display cases and partitions;
- training curatorial staff;
- installing an exhibition;
- making a film about the project;
- mounting a travelling exhibition by the Berndt Museum of Anthropology;
- writing a book that could be sold at the Cultural Centre.
It took several years for the project to be completed and in 1988, the Cultural Centre opened for the first time.
The Cultural Centre is currently being refurbished by the Southern Aboriginal Corporation, the present-day owners of Marribank/Carrolup.
Araluen Maymuru and Dindirrk Mununggurr inspect with John Stanton
one of the 360 crayon drawings on brown paper
collected by Ronald Berndt at Yirrkala in 1946-47.
Photo: Buku Larnggay Mulka [WU/P33406]
Buku Larnggay Mulka Project
THE Museum is proud to partner Buku Larnggay Mulka at Yirrkala NT in the development of its digital archive. The Museum holds one of two key collections of Yolngu materials (the other being the Donald Thompson Collection at the Museum of Victoria). The collection from Yirrkala that Ronald and Catherine Berndt started collecting in 1946 numbers over 1,000 items, including bark paintings, crayon drawings and scultpures, etc.
The formal opening of the Mulka Centre during Garma 2007 marked the achievement of a years’ long dream: to develop a cultural archive that could house copies of research recordings, photographs, sound recordings and the like that had been made with Yolngu people over the decades since the establishment of the Mission there in 1935.
Linkages between Buku Larnggay and the Berndt Museum are long-standing. One element of this has been through the collaboration on the development of a culturally appropriate research engine to access records held by the Berndt Museum and the Museum of Victoria. This project is in collaboration with staff of the Centre for Cross-Cultural Research at the Australian National University, and has potential application to both other museums and other communities.
The Berndt Museum has also been actively promoting the significance of Yolngu culture to the national and international community through such exhibitions as ‘Djalkiri Wanga: the Land is my Foundation’, which toured nationally with Art on the Move and Visions Australia
for several years from 1995, and through the nomination of the crayon drawing collection onto the
UNESCO Memory of the World Register
, which has created a lot of overseas interest.
highlights the extraordinary aesthetic significance of the crayon drawings on brown paper and their demonstration of the complexity and structure of Yolgnu spiritual beliefs.
Mr Livingston West, then Chairman of the Ngaanyatjarra
Council, inspects the photo albums in 2003 [WU/P31826]
The Bringing the Photographs Home Project
The Museum was successful, in 1998, in its bid to attract funding from the former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) to preservate its extensive collection of historic photographs. This collection, comprising approximately 13,000 images from the 1980s to the 1970s, from government and mission settlements, and pastoral stations in Western Australia, was available only in the form of small contact proofs on filing cards, so the were very difficult to access. At that time, only a fraction of the records were on the computerised database.
The photographic collection relates, and in a sense, belongs to the Stolen Generation. The wider Aboriginal community knew about the collection, and was encouraged to come forward to access the photographs, particularly for establishing connections with family. Photographic digitisation is a priority for the Museum, as most of the Stolen Generation
need to see these photographs as many are ageing and passing on. The Stolen Generation deserve the opportunity to reconnect with their families even if it is only in the form of a photograph. Sometimes a photograph is the only record of their family history, but it is crucial that this information is passed to the younger generations, which is an imperative for reclaiming and forming identity.
The Project has allowed photographs held within the Berndt Museum of Anthropology to be repatriated to communities throughout the State. One element of this was the repatriation of a large collection of images photographed by Professor Ronald Berndt and Dr Catherine Berndt during a trip they made to Warburton Ranges, in the centre of Western Australia, in 1957 and 1959, to investigate allegations made by Mr Bill Grayden MLA. These allegations were to be later referred to as the ‘Warburton Controversy’.
The Berndts’ photographs hold great importance in showing the living conditions of Aboriginal people at the Warburton Range Mission and surrounding areas.