Nicola is a CDP student at the British Museum and Royal Holloway, University of London. Her research focuses on how and why Indigenous Western Australian material culture has been collected by non-Indigenous people, and how and why these objects then made their way to collections in Britain and Ireland.
Bridging the Silences – Texts, Objects and Colonial Encounters in Western Australia
In seeking to understand the historical encounters between Aboriginal Australians and various agents of the British Empire, the gaps and silences in the written record come to the fore. The earliest writings about these encounters were produced by non-Aboriginal people and reflect the worldviews of their authors – including a tendency to regard colonists as being, for good or ill, the dominant drivers of any cross-cultural situation. Scholars have grappled with how to deal with this historical muting of Aboriginal perspectives about such meetings. One of the benefits of the CDP scheme has therefore been the way in which it enables students to engage closely with partner institutions and their collections, which can provide new insights about colonial encounters.
In this paper I will discuss a small group of museumobjects acquired during David Wynford Carnegie’s 1896-7 inland crossing of Western Australia. His expedition party often kidnapped local Aboriginal people, and Carnegie admitted to taking several items from a camp whose residents had managed to successfully flee. Some of these objects are now held by the British Museum. Tracing their histories raises questions about our distinctive institutional affiliations with collecting institutions, and how wider perceptions of these relationships need to be recognised and considered during the course of research.