A rare look into Australias' history at this free exhibition
The Encounters Exhibition is a free exhibition at the National Museum of Australia between November 27th, 2015 - 28th of March, 2016. The exhibition displays rare Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander objects from the British Museum's collection and tells the story of the first interactions between First Australians and early settlers. The exhibition reflects on this early contact and also explains the stories behind the objects, as told by the modern day Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. It is a thought provoking walk into Australia's past and encourages discussion about how that early relationship has evolved to modern day Australia.
As many of the historical objects in the exhibition have never been seen in Australia before, it is a rare opportunity to learn more about the arrival of Captain James Cook in Botany Bay in 1770. He was met by local aboriginal tribes and on display at the exhibition will be the Gweagal shield and two spears collected by Cook at that first meeting. Also on display is a turtle-shell mask from the Torres Strait (pre-1855); and beautiful 19th-century glass spearheads from the Kimberley.
Shield, Gweagal people, collected at Botany Bay in April 1770. Source: NMA website
Due to the unrecorded nature of the era, it was unclear how and when some of the objects were acquired during contact between early settlers and First Australians. With this in mind, the staff from the National Museum and British Museum worked with 27 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia to learn more about these objects' origins. It took seven years to bring this exhibition together, to tell the stories behind these historically significant objects in detail.
Co-Lead Curator Dr Ian Coates with Noongar artist Brett Nannup in Perth, 2013. Photo: Carly Davenport. Source: NMA website
Also on display is contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and objects from the areas where the historical objects were first acquired. There are documentaries playing throughout the exhibition for visitors to learn more about these communities as they share with us their knowledge and stories about the objects on display.
In November 2015, on the Royal Visit to Canberra, Prince Charles had a preview of the exhibition and met some of the featured artists who explained their work. The National Museum of Australia and The Prince's Charities Australia announced the Encounters Indigenous Scholarships Program, that will enable six young Indigenous cultural workers from communities around the country to participate in an intensive three-month scholarship program in 2016.
Prince Charles and Western Australian indigenous artist Peter Farmer with wood surfboard. Photo taken by George Serras, National Museum of Australia. Source: NMA website
Wood surfboard is a collaboration between Peter Farmer and stain glass artist Kim Fitzpatrick and will be on display at the exhibition. Source: Tradition stained glass website
The exhibition is named Encounters after the historical first encounters between the First Australians and early settlers, the encounters that have occurred in this country since then and the visitor experience, or "encounter", today.
This exhibition reflects a tumultuous period in this country's history and it gives the visitor a moment to pause and reflect on these early times and the relationship we share today. Peter Yu, Chair, National Museum of Australia Indigenous Reference Group states " By celebrating the uniqueness and resilience of Australia's First Peoples – from first contact in 1770 to modern times – the Encounters exhibition will provoke serious reflection on the evolution of our shared experiences and history as a nation". (National Museum of Australia website).
Although the exhibition is free, the National Museum of Australia recommends you book a time to ensure you gain entry at the time you wish. See here for bookings.
To learn more about this thought provoking exhibition, see the National Museum of Australia TV advert for the Encounters Exhibition, courtesy of You Tube.