First Peoples

This article was first published on Youth Central, November 2013.

Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre, Melbourne Museum.

Guest reporter Mabel explored the depth of information in this new exhibition about Indigenous Victoria.

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Celebrating the history, culture, achievements and survival of Victoria’s Aboriginal people, First Peoples is the first and largest exhibition of its kind in Australia. With a range of Aboriginal artefacts, photos and video clips on show, the exhibition tells stories of past and present Victorian Aboriginal communities.

The entrance area is aptly dubbed Wominjeka, meaning “welcome”. Here a wooden map pinpoints the geographic origins of diverse languages spoken by Victoria’s Aboriginal clans. Pushing pop-up buttons on this interactive map lets visitors hear the pronunciation of language names such as Bangerang and Woiwurrung, warmly inviting them to acquaint themselves with language groups that frequently appear throughout the exhibition.

With the ambience of a cave and a gigantic sculpture of Bunjil the wedge-tailed eagle at the very centre, the Creation Cinema is an eye-catching section of the exhibition. The story of the spiritual eagle within Aboriginal Creation (the origins of Aboriginal tribes) is narrated through speakers as one sits and watches the sculpture move and change colour.

Our Shared History showcases significant moments in Aboriginal culture. Partitioned into smaller segments by signage scrawled with quotes from various Aboriginal clans, meandering this section is relatively easy work.

Within this section the “Call to Fight” corner uses large sketches to outline battles such as the Eumeralla War between Aborigines and European settlers in the 1880s.

The Working Hard and Standing Strong corners are equally vibrant, displaying prominent Aboriginal boxer Lionel Rose’s gloves and AFL player Nicky Winmar’s jersey, serving as reminders of recent key occasions in Indigenous culture. Short explanations accompany every display, providing straightforward insight into each historical event.

The Burdens to Bear corner consists of individual booths where one can watch and listen to Stolen Generation stories straight from the horse’s mouth, namely from Indigenous Victorians who were removed from their parents by the government. Such anecdotal accounts make learning about Aboriginal communities all the more engaging.

Generations extends these Indigenous stories using a montage of vibrant photographs depicting Aboriginal community members and leaders. Flat-screen tablets propped up on stands in front of this wall of pictures offer stories detailing Indigenous families’ resilience and the pain of being a member of the Stolen Generation.

Australian Aboriginal and Torres Islander Strait artefacts including boomerangs and shields are on display in Many Nations. The activity table in this section is extremely kid-friendly: children can keep themselves occupied by banging their hands on possum skin drums and playing with clap sticks.

The Deep Listening Space is a circular area boasting a cinema-esque screen showing young and old members of Koorie Victoria proudly proclaiming their sovereign rights. Such diversity of voices makes for refreshing listening. However, this area is semi-enclosed and at times the narration can sound muffled.

There are a few other cons about First Peoples. The touch-screen tablets do provide a variety of content about Aboriginal communities, but for the non-tech-savvy, these devices may prove difficult to use.

In addition, the dimly-lit exhibit does not have a chronological, start and finish path, leaving visitors free to roam through sections in no particular order. Those who have limited knowledge of Indigenous culture and want to learn about the early history of Aboriginal clans first might feel a bit confused – the Creation Cinema and Our Shared History sections are tucked away rather deep in the exhibit with no directory in sight.

Overall, the positives of First Peoples shine through. There is plenty to see and learn about Victoria’s Indigenous history, both for those who are new to Indigenous culture and those well acquainted with it.

First Peoples will appeal to visitors of all ages, making it an in-depth, far-from-dull exhibition about Australia’s Aboriginal people for everyone.

4 out of 5 stars.