• Visitors to the new Bunjilaka exhibition (Museum Victoria)
At the Melbourne Museum, a striking exhibition has opened of what curators are calling a unique display of Victorian Aboriginal cultures. 
By
Kerri Worthington

Source:
9 Oct 2013 - 2:28 PM  UPDATED 9 Oct 2013 - 9:44 PM

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

At the Melbourne Museum a striking exhibition has opened of what curators are calling a unique display of Victorian Aboriginal cultures.

Kerri Worthington reports.

The Bunjilaka First Peoples exhibition is the culmination of years of collaboration with elders and community representatives across south-eastern Australia.

Lead curator Genevieve Grieves says it will be a permanent exhibition, highlighting the diversity of Aboriginal cultures.

"It's very important to have a representation from everywhere and I think every group has got a place in the exhibition. Victorian cultures are very varied, depending on country, where people are from. And the historical experience is also very varied. So one of our key learnings in this exhibition is diversity. We want our audiences to understand there's not one Aboriginal group, there's not one Aboriginal way of being, there's diversity. So we've made sure that we've included as many voices as possible."

The exhibition incorporates multi-media, art and artefacts grouped around themes like creation, early encounters with settlers.

Bunjilaka centre manager Caroline Martin says it's also about shared history of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.

But she says the history is told from an Aboriginal perspective.

"What's unique about it is that it tells a lot of the history from south-eastern Australia that hasn't been told before, and it's from Aboriginal perspectives. That is very unique, particularly in a museum environment. It's very unique to have so many Aboriginal voices working collaboratively with the museum. Museums, even now around the world, are still actually telling indigenous cultures (stories) from a museum and anthropological perspective. It's actually very 19th Century and it's not relevant and it's not authentic anymore."

An interactive map of Victoria is a hit with visitors, who can hear for themselves the 38 Aboriginal languages from 11 language families.

(Sounds of a selection of the languages spoken in south east Australia).

Caroline Martin, herself a Boonwarrung woman, says hearing the different languages but also hearing the stories straight from a wide range of people is bringing home the reality of Aboriginal culture in Victoria.

"You know what else I absolutely love about this exhibition is that it's not one voice it's many voices. The voices come from all language groups from across Victoria. The thing that you actually see with those voices is country. And so when you actually see big images of country, you see the diversity within that country. And through the diversity of country you get a sense, and you should actually get a sense, that the people are diverse as well."

Bunjilaka can be roughly translated as Bunjil's place, named after the wedge-tailed eagle creator of many of Victoria's Aboriginal language groups.

Bunjil is represented in a magnificent moving sculpture with multi-media effects telling the creation story of the Kulin nation -- the language groups of the Melbourne area and central Victoria who were culturally and economically-aligned before European settlement.

("Bunjil sent the ancestors to create the world".... "When the ancestors finished their work they ascended to the sky and became the stars.")

Another important ancestor is represented in the Boorun's Canoe exhibit.

Boorun is the father of the Gunaikurnai people of Gippsland in Victoria's east who arrived in the region carrying a bark canoe on his head.

Steaphan Paton is the artist behind the bark canoe on display at the Bunjilaka Cultural Centre.

"I'm Gunai from Gippsland, I grew up down there. Boorun's Canoe was a collaboration with my gr_andfather, Uncle Albert Mullet, who we call Pop, and a friend of mine Cameron Cope, who's a photographer. And we put together this project to get that knowledge passed on and keep it, sort of, in the family and teach the younger boys how to make a bark canoe, basically."

Mr Paton says the entire crafting of the canoe was done as his ancestors did it, and the result is a working vessel that could go out onto open lakes or even the ocean.

"The whole idea behind the project was to show people that we still have this knowledge and this is still part of our culture. Even though we drive around in cars and we've got this other system here that most people operate in, there's still te old ways of things and we still know how to do that and that's still important to us and that's still part of our culture here today."

Genevieve Grieves, the lead curator, says the entire Bunjilaka First Peoples exhibition came about because people asked to learn more about indigenous culture.

But she says it's also become an opportunity to reach people they don't normally reach, visitors who wouldn't normally be interested in indigenous exhibitions.

"There are a lot of people who walk into this museum who wouldn't necessarily want to learn about Aboriginal culture or history, who've come to see the dinosaurs. And we've wanted to create something, all of us, that maybe gets people down to our end of the museum and gets them engaged in Aboriginal history and culture. We've thought a lot about this in developing this exhibition. And one of the ways I think we've hopefully achieved it is to make a really dynamic, engaging exhibition with a lot of experiences that people say 'oh you have to go and see this'."