Awaken exhibition opens in Arts West Gallery

Australian Aboriginal cultural heritage objects from one of the most important anthropological collections in the world are now on display in the Arts West Gallery.


Titled Awaken, the exhibition includes almost 200 items from the extensive Donald Thomson Collection.

One of the most important anthropological collections in the world, the Donald Thomson Collection includes almost 7500 artefacts and 2000 biological specimens collected mainly on Cape York, Arnhem Land and from the Great Sandy Desert and the Gibson Desert of Western Australia, during the University of Melbourne anthropologist's 50-year career. Donald Thomson's ethnohistory collection is included in the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World register.

Professor Thomson's wife Dorita Thomson made a generous gift of the collection of objects into the care of The University of Melbourne. This, along with the photographic, film and field notes owned by the Thomson family, have been on long-term loan to Museums Victoria from The University of Melbourne and the Thomson family since 1973. The Thomson family's own collection is featured in the Awaken exhibition, including handwritten notes, postcards sent to his family and Professor Thomson's typewriter.

Awaken has been curated by Genevieve Grieves, Faculty of Arts PhD candidate, Worimi Nation film-maker, storyteller and Melbourne Museum Director of First Peoples, with Rosemary Wrench and Faculty of Arts alumna Shonae Hobson (Kaantju). The exhibition has been developed in consultation with communities, using local knowledge alongside Donald Thomson's fieldwork notes to awaken the stories of these objects and explore the community's deep and abiding connection with them. Awaken highlights the relationships that exist between communities of origin and their objects held in museums and other collections.

Awaken aims to foster a greater understanding of the cultures, knowledge and values of several Australian Indigenous communities and language groups and reaffirms the University's commitment to Reconciliation with its focus on a holistic, inclusive and two-way relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

"Awaken has, and will continue to strengthen ties between the University and the communities from which these objects originate," said Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Professor Denise Varney, at the opening celebration on Friday evening.

"I would like to acknowledge all the individuals, families and communities from Indigenous Australia have contributed their support, knowledge and stories to the Awaken exhibition. This collaboration marks the beginning of a continuing relationship, bringing greater opportunities for the University to work and collaborate with Indigenous people and communities."

Awaken also provides the Faculty of Arts with a unique opportunity to extend its innovative approach to teaching and learning through object-based learning to enhance the experience of its students both within and outside the classroom.

Opportunities for students, researchers, alumni and the broader community will be provided through curricula and extra-curricular activities and a comprehensive public engagement program which will be built around the exhibition.

Students and recent graduates of the Faculty's Master of Cultural Materials Conservation and Master of Art Curatorship have assisted with the exhibition, enhancing their learning by applying knowledge and skills developed throughout their study. Arts students, along with students from Murrup Barak, will act as guides for the duration of the exhibition.

Awaken is open to the public from Monday - Friday, 10am - 4pm in the Arts West Gallery, Ground Floor, Arts West (Building 148). Entry is free.