AMarchive vv2854  Fig 27 Click to enlarge image
A photograph of Mer (Murray Island) from Dauar, taken by A.R. McCulloch in 1907. Image: Alan McCulloch
© Australian Museum

Hedley and McCulloch collected biological specimens and artefacts on Mer (Murray Island) for a period of five weeks, from 29 August to 4 October 1907. Hedley explained in his report to the Curator: ‘Murray Island was chosen as a field of operations because its far northern latitude, volcanic structure, proximity to the Barrier [Reef] and backward condition of the population promised interesting Results.’ McCulloch added in his diary that the aim of this trip was to collect materials ‘of which we had no representatives in the Australian Museum.’ He also asserted that ‘it was general understanding that we should visit Murray Island, a locality rendered famous by Professor Haddon who had led an expedition there and collected much material for the British Museum.

A conical basket made from split bamboo, tied with palm leaf strips and cane rings. It is decorated with three goa nuts and a snail shell attached near the top of it. It is said that they are usually used for catching shoals of sardines, but can also be used in dances. They are called "weresz" or "weres" by the Meriam people. It was collected by C. Hedley and A.R. McCulloch in 1907. (86x20cms.) Image: unknown
© Australian Museum

Hedley recorded, in his field journal, the local names of artefacts, sometimes giving more information concerning their usage and social context in a laconic manner. McCulloch’s diary, on the other hand, contains numerous general observations and anecdotal passages that well reflect the local flavour of Torres Strait at the time of their expedition. Although it includes little anthropological detail specifically related to the collection.

Two Men in costumes, Mer (Murray Island), Torres Strait 1907
Two men wearing dance costume. One holds a traditionl drum warup with feather decorations, the other wears the 'crocodile' mask of western Torres Strait tradition. Mer (Murray Island), Torres Strait 1907 Image: Alan McCulloch
© Australian Museum

On return from the Strait, Hedley and McCulloch reported that their expectations ‘were fulfilled. A large number of old curios are still in existence, almost every day we purchased some object of interest and where originals were no longer obtainable, models were made for us.’ It appears that numerous objects in this collection are contemporary replicas of old, pre-contact forms. Years earlier, Professor Alfred Haddon also acquired many artefacts made especially for him. Obviously, by the time of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition in 1898 and, even more so, by 1907 many traditional artefacts were still remembered but not customarily made and used. The overall impression is that a large part of the Hedley-McCulloch collection consists of artefacts made, not for use by Miriam (Murray Island’s) people, but specifically for artefact collectors. However, Hedley and McCulloch only slightly overstated the case by proclaiming that they enlarged ‘the Museum collection by a fairly complete ethnological series, illustrating an Australian people not before represented in the Museum.’


Hedley & McCulloch: Report to the Curator, Australian Museum Archives;
AMS25/2; General Report no. 3, 25 October 1907