Circa 1830s axe made from wood, stone and resin

An exhibition featuring historic objects made by Albany’s Menang people nearly 200 years ago opens at the Museum of the Great Southern (previously the WA Museum – Albany) today.

Yurlmun: Mokare Mia Boodja means ‘returning to Mokare’s home Country’ and showcases the significant shared history of Albany’s Menang people and early European settlers through the historic objects on display. The objects, including stone axes, spears, spear throwers and knives were collected from the area in the early 1800s by settlers including local surgeon Dr Alexander Collie, who became close friends with significant Menang man, Mokare.

Western Australian Museum CEO Alec Coles said the historic objects on display represent not only the everyday items of Menang people at the time, but have become powerful expressions of culture and Country.

“I am very pleased that the Western Australian Museum has been able to work with the Menang community and all of our partners to bring these objects back to Country for this important exhibition, and to share and explore the stories that surround them,” Mr Coles said.

“The exhibition is the result of extensive engagement between the Western Australian Museum, the National Museum of Australia, the Menang community and, of course, the British Museum where the objects have been held for more than 180 years.”

Co-curated by the Albany Heritage Reference Group Aboriginal Corporation, the exhibition describes how relationships between the Menang community and settlers evolved as Albany developed. It focuses, specifically, on the special friendship that developed between Alexander Collie and Mokare. Collie was a British naval surgeon and a keen naturalist and collector who had a strong interest in Menang culture. The objects he collected were gifted to him by Mokare.

Collie died relatively young, in Albany, in 1835 and in line with his will, his natural history collections were sent to various institutions in the United Kingdom. One of those collections, which included the Menang objects he had been given, went to the Royal Navy’s Haslar Hospital Museum in Portsmouth, and this was later donated by the Admiralty to the British Museum.

Mr Coles said he hoped that the journey home to Country of the historic Aboriginal artefacts was a momentous and affirming event for the Menang people.

Yurlmun demonstrates the power of objects and their resonance with Australian Aboriginal communities,” he said. “It also shows what is possible when museums work closely with communities to create meaningful outcomes. This partnership provides an exemplar for museums working with indigenous communities the world over.”

The historic Menang objects have been welcomed back to Country by local elders and Aboriginal youth ambassadors in a special ceremony in Albany. While in Country, they will be cared for by the Albany Heritage Reference Group Aboriginal Corporation, which will also prepare them for their return to the British Museum at the end of the exhibition.

Yurlmun: Mokare Mia Boodja also features other objects on loan from the Menang community as well as artworks including lithographs, stencils and paintings and drawings that capture 19th century views of Albany and the Menang people at the time.

The exhibition is supported by the British Museum, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the National Museum of Australia. It will be on display at the Museum of the Great Southern until April 2017. Entry is free of charge.

Mara Pritchard
Manager Communications and Media
Western Australian Museum
(08) 6552 7803