There are now two new exhibitions, part of a regular changeover in the National Museum’s Gallery of First Australians, which have been praised as
‘uplifting to the visitor’s experience and conducive to study and reflection’ (Carroll Review).
Just how the lost cultural traditions of Victorian and Tasmanian indigenous people are being reclaimed is shown through a collection of contemporary indigenous works. NMA Curator Amanda Reynolds travelled last year through Tasmania, working with Aboriginal communities on the revival of Tasmanian culture to produce works for the exhibit ‘We’re Here’ the name of a poem by a Tasmanian elder.
The exhibit ‘Tooloyn Koortakay’ or ‘Squaring Skins for Rugs’ traces the journey of four Victorian women who imported possum skins from New Zealand to reproduce possum skin cloaks from the 1800s. The women have revived the lost art of making possum skin cloaks, once worn by their own warriors and women before the days of government issued blankets. The Koori women, including two sisters, researched the meaning of the intricate designs which they reproduced on the 50 skins in each cloak.
Richard Frankland, Aboriginal filmmaker and playwright launched the two new exhibits in August. Traditional crafts with a modern interpretation are on show, including a stunning piece of kelp armour by Vicki West as a comment on Aboriginal resilience and the traditional use of kelp for carrying water.
Kangaroo skin drums, paintings, shell necklaces and poetry also reinforce the message that Truganini was not the last Tasmanian.
Aboriginal Tasmania’s recent political activism is also highlighted by ATSIC Commissioner Rodney Dillon’s wetsuit. Dillon has been fined $12,000 for abalone diving and faces a new court case – but continues to argue for traditional fishing rights and the return of human remains.