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This guide introduces some significant conferences about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, museum collections, the role of museums in preserving and facilitating access to First Nations cultural material, and developments in Indigenous museology. The conferences are listed in chronological order of the dates they were held (papers were often published later).


  • Preserving Indigenous Cultures: A New Role for Museums

    Preserving Indigenous Cultures: A New Role for Museums / edited by Robert Edwards and Jenny Stewart, The Australian National Commission for UNESCO and the Aboriginal Arts Board of the Australia Council, Regional Seminar, 10-15 September, 1978, Adelaide (1980)

    In 1978, a UNESCO sponsored seminar, Preserving Indigenous Cultures: A New Role for Museums was held in Adelaide "to provide a venue where the role of existing museums and galleries, both metropolitan and local, could be examined as they relate to Aboriginal culture, Aboriginal people, and the wider community." (p.4). A report resulted from the seminar that “…is the first record of the wishes of the Aboriginal and Island peoples in respect of the way they wish to see museums develop.” (p.8). The seminar addressed a wide range of issues including cultural restitution and the right of traditional elders to adjudicate issues relating to secret and sacred cultural material.

  • COMA: Newsletter of the Conference of Museum Anthropologists

    COMA: Newsletter of the Conference of Museum Anthropologists (later Bulletin of the Conference of Museum Anthropologists), No. 1, 1979 – No. 30, 1999, COMA

    The Conference of Museum Anthropologists (COMA) was formed in February 1979, also as a response to the Preserving Indigenous Cultures seminar in Adelaide in 1978. The Newsletter, later Bulletin, of COMA became a combination of a forum for information exchange between communities and museums (e.g. seeking information for the Northern Land Council for the Malak Malak or Ngolowangga language area), brief reports on museum exhibitions and programs, and reports of the proceedings of regular conferences held by COMA. The COMA Bulletin provides insight into the ways in which museums responded to criticism from First Nations peoples about museum approaches to collecting and displaying their cultures.

  • Coastal Archaeology in Eastern Australia

    Coastal Archaeology in Eastern Australia: Proceedings of the 1980 Valla Conference on Australian Prehistory / edited by Sandra Bowdler. Dept. of Prehistory, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University : distributed by Australian National University Press, Canberra, 1982

    The 1980 conference of the Australian Archaeological Association concentrated on research into coastal archaeological sites concentrating on the east coast of Australia. The paper by Len Dyall (University of Newcastle) into shell middens along the Central Coast near Newcastle is particularly noteworthy – prior archaeological research concentrated more on the northern and southern stretches of the east coast. Contributors include Australian Museum researchers Val Attenbrow and Ronald Lampert.

  • Who Owns the Past?

    Who Owns the Past? Papers from the Annual Symposium of the Australian Academy of the Humanities / edited by Isabel McBryde, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1985

    Presented in early 1983, ‘who owns the past?’ was described as a “dominant public issue in Australia”. Contributors include: Eric Willmot, Principal, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra; Sharon Sullivan, Head, Aboriginal and Historic Resources Section, National Parks and Wildlife Service, NSW; and John Mulvaney, Professor of Prehistory, Australian National University.

  • Protection or Plunder?

    Protection or Plunder? Safeguarding the Future of Our Cultural Heritage: Papers of the Unesco Regional Seminar on the Moveable Cultural Property Convention, Brisbane, Australia, 1986 / edited by Lyndel V. Prott and James Specht. AGPS, Canberra, 1989

    The passage of the Australian Protection of Moveable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 was the impetus for this conference which had a regional focus, including representatives from Australia, the Pacific and Asia.

  • The Future of Australia's Dreaming

    The Future of Australia's Dreaming: The Rights and Reality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People; Conference Proceedings, Australian Museum, March 4 - March 8, 1992

    The Future of Australia's Dreaming: The Rights and Reality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People; Conference Proceedings, March 4 - March 8, 1992. Video. Kit includes 1 Booklet, 1 Videocassette, and 7 Audio-cassettes

    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander speakers, along with First Nations participants from the Cree, Inuit and Maori peoples, came together for this conference around sovereignty and ownership in the context of cultural institutions and museum collections. Working groups considered economic issues, institutional/political issues, land and culture, and social issues, producing summaries and recommendations.

  • People, place, law

    People, Place, Law: Conference on Aboriginal Culture and Heritage, September 8-11, 1993. Sydney, NSW: Environmental Defender's Office. Sound recording. Kit includes 8 audiocassettes + 1 booklet

    This conference, presented by the Environmental Defender's Office in conjunction with the N.S.W. Aboriginal Land Council and the Australian Museum: “…aims to bring together the wealth of knowledge and experience which exists among Aboriginal people…around the themes of culture and heritage, sovereignty and government, land and water management, mining and conservation.” Sessions and discussion topics included land rights, national and international environmental law, and models of management.

  • Caring for our Collections

    Caring for our Collections: Papers from the Symposium: Developing Sustainable, Strategic Collection Management Approaches for Archaeological Assemblages / edited by Charlotte H.F. Smith and Tim Murray. Museum Victoria Publishing, Melbourne, 2011

    This conference delved into the interpretation of Aboriginal archaeological collections including the institutional and sociopolitical context. Some comparison to the Australian Museum’s approach can be found in the paper by Michael C. Westaway: “Realising and extending the value of the Queensland Museum Archaeological Archive”, pp.89-101.


Other recommended reading:

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Phil Gordon, Aboriginal Liaison Officer, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Collection, Australian Museum, for suggesting this topic and related resources.