Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Collection: Overview

Most of the artefacts were collected since the 1880s.

Ethnographic Collection: Australia

Photographer: © Australian Museum

The Australian Museum cares for nearly 25,000 ethnographic artefacts collected from hundreds of different Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Ethnographic implies artefacts collected directly or indirectly from people who used and, usually, made them. The collection does not reflect the culture of Indigenous Australians at the time of European contact but, rather, the two hundred years after the British colony was established in Sydney. Most of the artefacts were collected since the 1880s.

As the result of British colonisation many living cultures and languages vanished. People grew into new cultural and social realities, but retained a strong sense of identity. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Collection reflects Indigenous histories in colonial and federated Australia, from early resistance through to the land rights movement and the apology to the Stolen Generations. While some artefacts remained similar to their pre-contact forms, there were numerous changes to their purpose and meaning. New forms of craft and artwork emerged, reflecting experiences of Indigenous people in the nation that refused to recognise them as citizens for nearly 180 years.

The Collection includes hunting and fishing tools, bags and baskets, body adornments and toys. It also includes traditional and contemporary paintings, sculptures and craft. All these objects are most meaningful when accompanied by stories, which are the glimpses of human experience through which Indigenous and other Australians are learning to live in mutual respect for each other. 

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Dr Stan Florek , Database Manager
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