Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Indigenous Australia Exhibition at the British Museum, June 3rd 2015

Posted by Lisa Hill on June 3, 2015

In the afternoon we visited the Indigenous Australia Exhibition at the British Museum.

Nobody was taking photos so we thought we’d better not, but there is a video at the BM website that shows some of the paintings.

The exhibition was smaller than we were expecting, and I had thought that there would be more artefacts that had been taken back to Britain by the early explorers and settlers.  Still, it was interesting to see the original of “Batman’s Treaty” and that notorious poster that was used to show the Aborigines that British justice would be applied to both the indigenous people and the settlers.  (Which of course it wasn’t.)  There were examples of tools, weapons, basketwork, and jewellery and so on, and the signage was quite well done I thought though it glossed over some things such as the number of indigenous language groups that have been lost or are endangered.

It was also interesting to see the reaction of the other visitors.  It was quite clear from their avid attention to the signage that they knew very little about indigenous art and culture, so (whatever the politics of museum v indigenous ownership), I was pleased to see that this exhibition has increased awareness of the oldest living culture on earth.

Contemporary Australia doesn’t come out of it too well.  There was a video timeline that showed the Apology and the return of traditional lands by Gough Whitlam but as you’d expect, even though it was tactfully handled, there was more about unfinished business.

There was an intriguing video at the end of the exhibits, of a man weaving a basket, claiming to be the only person who still knew how to do this particular type of weaving using a wood called ‘wait-a-while’.   It was intriguing because as far as I know, basket weaving was – and still is – women’s work.

I was delighted to see Kim Scott’s Miles Franklin winning novel That Deadman Dance on sale in the shop afterwards!


8 Responses to “Indigenous Australia Exhibition at the British Museum, June 3rd 2015”

  1. Louise said

    The British are terrible at allowing photos. I thought basket weaving womens work too. We have a display of weaving sculpture at work that was done locally 5 years ago, but I’m not sure if it’s exactly the same technique of course. It’s always interesting seeing perspectives on Australia overseas. Will check out the video.

  2. kimbofo said

    I’m not one for visiting museums and galleries (especially at this time of year) but I’m intrigued by this one. Might see if I can squeeze in a trip this weekend…

    • Lisa Hill said

      I met up with my sister who’s here in London too at the moment, and she’d seen it … it’s quite interesting from an Aussie PoV to see how they have presented it.

  3. I think Wait a While is a vine from the rainforests of Queensland which has very vicious thorns. It may be that the men from that area weave baskets after they’ve treated the vine. The women’s baskets I’ve seen have been made from rushes and other water plants.

  4. I think seeing something about one’s own country in a museum in a different country is s particularly interesting thing to do. Thanks for reporting on it Lisa. That said, I’m a bit like kimbofo. I do go to museums and galleries but I have mixed feelings about this. I love spending time in small towns and villages and experiencing life. I love it when they have historic walking trails and old buildings and house museums for writers and museums I can wander into.

    • Lisa Hill said

      The great thing about where we are in Bloomsbury is that walking anywhere is a walking trail, I haven’t commented on it this time because we did London literary and historica walking trails on our first trip.
      That said, we love London so much that we like to add on 3-4 days here whatever the purpose of the main trip is, mainly to visit the museums and galleries we still haven’t seen. There are so many! Last time we also had a week in the Cotswolds as well, and before that we’ve spent time in Cornwall, Somerset, and up north in York. But this time our ‘village experience’ is in France, where we’ll spend a week in Cognac after we’ve done the art tour with Academy Travel. So I think we’ll have the best of both worlds:)

      • I haven’t been to London for a long time now but each time I’ve been there we’ve stayed in the Bloomsbury area. I think I’d be lost anywhere else.

        And yes, the best of both worlds is what our trips usually involve, too. You can’t easily avoid cities as they are what you fly into and out of for a start. But, tonight we are in Wangaratta. Last time we drove 20 minutes out to a cute old building, but this time we are trying Rinaldo’s. Seems to have some good reviews BUT it’s pouring.

        Oh, and a week in the French countryside is wonderful I reckon.

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