Best of our new years: The end of the pig kill
The killing of district commissioner Jack Emanuel

Here’s an idea: Imagining a Museum of the Pacific

Chambri mask  middle Sepik
Chambri (middle Sepik) mask from the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris. Michael Pascoe comments: "It does a better job of displaying our region's art than anything I've seen [in Australia]"


SAMFORD QLD - Could we dare to imagine that, in 2019, Australia might make a move to establish the world's finest Museum of the Pacific (my working title) on our shores?

This could be a stand-alone entity dedicated solely to the cultures, social mores, artefacts and histories of our region.

Not only would the museum display 'the best of the best', it could be a globally significant research centre as well as a training base for Pacific curators and archivists, not to mention being a temporary holding facility and conservation centre for objects under threat in the region.

This year, the Australian government spent over $100 million on an audio-visual museum in France to commemorate General Monash and Australia's World War I efforts on the Western Front. It was no doubt a worthy contribution to remember great sacrifice.

But how about a Pacific museum in Australia to recall the huge history and prominence of this part of the world? Perhaps $50 million - half the cost of one new RAAF fighter aircraft and a mere drop in the government funding bucket.

Oh, and by the way, a Museum of the Pacific doesn't have to be based in Sydney or Canberra or Melbourne. There are places called Brisbane and Townsville and Cairns which all have closer affinities with the Pacific and its peoples.

Let us dream of what could be....


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Philip Kai Morre

Peter Salmon - Most of the early anthropological works was done by German missionaries including Fr Jon Nilles' 'stone axe to steel'.

I don't know where most of their early research works are kept but you can check up with Anthropos back in Germany or Holland's SVD mother house archives.

Martin Hadlow

The ABC's 'Pacific Beat' (7th January) takes the story onwards:

Peter Salmon

Hi Philip Kai Morre - I'm a Chimbu tragic and have also been interested in Father John Nilles. You remarked in your comment that, "the late missionary and anthropologist, Fr John Nilles SVD, wrote an interesting book 'From Stone Axe to Steel' containing a lot of information in material anthropology."

My interest was immediately piqued, I was not aware that the good father had authored a book titled as such and have not been able find any reference to this book through Mr Google.

I have a book titled 'From Stone to Steel' by RF Salisbury, 'Economic Consequences of a Technological Change in New Guinea', which mainly dealt with this question in terms of the Siane, part of the then Chuave administrative area.

Did you mean to refer to this book?

Philip Kai Morre

The people of the Pacific should have pride in the cultural heritage that is our identity. Material and artefacts collected from the stone age dating back to pre-history is more than 9,000 years old based on carbon dated and archaeological data of some of the materials collected.

The agriculture of Kuk in the Western Highlands started around the same time as civilisation in the Nile area and Mesopotamia.

The digging sticks and wooden spades used should be in a museum. A lot of artefacts of significant value have gone out to Europe, USA, and other countries without any trace.

It's time we must be serious and protect our museums and cultural asserts that rightly belongs to us.

The late missionary and anthropologist, Fr John Nilles SVD wrote an interesting book 'From Stone Axe to Steel' containing a lot of information in material anthropology.

I regret that most of us, especially students in anthropology at our universities, are not really interested to do research work and write books.

Philip Kai Morre

Cultural artefacts is our identity dating back to pre-history.

Pacific nations has a unique material culture and variety of collections which are priceless.

A lot of artefacts have gone to Europe, the USA and other countries without any trace. It's hard to get them back so we have to protect what we have for future generations.

Rae Kataha Smart

The Bishop Museum in Hawaii is a good example of Pacific culture collections.

I would like to see if a number of institutions could work together sharing collections and displays on a scheduled reciprocal basis. It is not impossible to achieve.

Paul Oates

Referring to Martin Hadlow's article about there being a crying need for funding to house a museum of art and culture of the Pacific.

On a recent tour of the Channel Island of Jersey I observed a local museum using a photo of PNG Neolithic culture to illustrate examples of Stone Age cultures.

Why oh why can't some of the gratuitous and unsolicited funds given to the Great Barrier Reef organisation be available to start the necessary funding off? All it takes is the will to do something positive.

Foreign aid could well also be used for this project rather than fund more useless commercial aid companies.

I daresay if there was the offer of a permanent, well funded museum it's quite possible many who have collected fine examples of Pacific art may well choose to donate them.

Pacific nations may well also want to contribute with visiting exhibitions being funded to travel around Pacific nations (by ship or air), as a cultural contribution to our region.

Maybe 'PNG Attitude' could raise this with our new Foreign Minister as an excellent example of goodwill and neighbourly interest in our region?

It's what is desperately needed in all our local 'national interests'.

I know there is another collection that PNGAA promotes occasionally but who knows where that is or even looks at that?

John Greenshields of Adelaide

Comments below are a copy of those posted on the article: Descendants protest museum's removal of Pacific treasures, dated 30 December 2018.

In 2013 the Australian Government sought public input into a new National Cultural Policy. My submission is summarised below: SUMMARY

Australia has a deficit of publicly available cultural material.
Australia has the largest Aboriginal, and some of the largest Pacific, collections in the world.
Most of this is never seen, and will never be seen with current funding.
Australia should be showcasing these collections to the world.
This would promote high value tourism and spending.
There are geo-strategic reasons to promote Australia as the major cultural power of the region.
Australian Government funding to assist the States in recording and digitisation of collections for online access is urgently needed.
An ageing knowledge base makes this work increasingly urgent.
The divisions between public art galleries and museums needs reforming to promote new joint initiatives.
Australia is entering a construction downturn.
The Australian Government should assist the States to fund major new galleries across the country.
These should take new forms to unite art and ethnography, culture and history.

NATIONAL CULTURAL POLICY 2013. [Australian Government]
The five policy goals.

Recognise, respect and celebrate the centrality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures to the uniqueness of Australian identity.
Ensure that government support reflects the diversity of Australia and that all citizens, wherever they live, whatever their background or circumstances, have a right to shape our cultural identity and its expression.
Support excellence and the special role of artists and their creative collaborators as the source of original work and ideas, including telling Australian stories.
Strengthen the capacity of the cultural sector to contribute to national life, community wellbeing and the economy.
Ensure Australian creativity thrives here and abroad in the digitally enabled 21st century, by supporting innovation, the development of new creative content, knowledge and creative industries.

Note there is not one mention of our role in the culture of the Pacific. It reflects an inward-looking Australia, ignoring our neighbours, and their rich cultures, whose artefacts we hoard.
In the words of Sir Charles Lepani, PNG High Commissioner, when opening the SEPIK exhibition at the NGA:
"The people of Papua New Guinea entrust Australia to look after our artefacts on our behalf."

The Australian Museum is to spend $57.5M on an exhibition of a dead culture, and send the largest Pacific collection in Australia to a remote store in the urban wilderness.
At the very least, some of this $57.5M should be spent in low-res digitisation of this collection for public online access. Then Pacific people and scholars around the world would be able to view this priceless heritage. However this would expose the Museum’s complete disregard for proper cultural priorities and fiscal responsibilities.

In 2018, Australia finally awoke from a 40 year slumber to rediscover the Pacific.
The re-introduction of Radio Australia shortwave and other media to the Pacific is good policy.
So is DFAT’s Soft Power Review.

Surely someone in Canberra can see the huge advantages in digitizing Australia’s museum collections, and sharing them with the world?
The Australian Museum’s Pacific collection would be showcased in France, Germany or the USA, where people understand such cultural masterpieces.

In the words of Dr Barry Craig, ex Curator of Foreign Ethnology SA Museum: "If you don’t share it, why do you have it?"


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