Why you should take a trip back to the Melbourne Museum

BY SEAN FLINTOFT — PUBLICATIONS PROJECT MANAGER

How many times have you heard the following statement:

“I would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of this Land. I would also like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other First Nations peoples present.”

If you haven’t heard this or any of its variations yet, you certainly will. This Acknowledgement of Country is a key step that The University of Melbourne and many other organisations are taking to move this country in the right direction. As you progress through your education, you too will speak these words and champion the cause. However, I recently had the pleasure of learning that, for many years, the respect I had hoped to communicate through my use of this phrase was being lost in translation. You may be making the same mistake too.


The Melbourne Museum currently has an exhibition within the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre. It is named First Peoples, and it has been designed by the First Peoples Yulendj Group of Elders and community representatives. This exhibition provides its visitors with a raw and beautiful recount of Aboriginal culture and history, aiming to help museum goers understand what is often left out of traditional Victorian education. I was among a group lucky enough to be invited to the First Peoples Exhibition, to tour it and to speak with some of the First Peoples Yulendj Group of Elders who designed it. Here is the moment I was shown my error:

We sat in a circle. Our eyes were met by the kind gaze of an Elder. They asked us each where we grew up. I had previously been told that the area in which I grew up was actually Bunurong Country, so when it was my turn, I told the Elder: “Hello! My name is Sean, and I grew up in Hampton, which I believe is Bunurong Country!”.

“Okay, tell me about Bunurong Country” the Elder said.

I was stumped. As was everyone else that told the Elder what country they grew up on. The Elder then went on to implore us to learn about the country we live on, and to learn about the history of its people. That way, when we acknowledge country, we can do so from a place of deeper understanding and appreciation. That way, we can really express our respect for the opportunity to be where we are.

I am grateful to this Elder for showing me that identifying the traditional name of the land I inhabit is a good first step, but learning about it is the next. Naturally, the next question that was asked of this Elder was: “Can you recommend any good resources to begin deepening our understanding of First Nations people, land and history?”.

Despite our ineptitude, we couldn’t help but chuckle when the Elder replied with “Google.”

Amusing as it was, they were only half joking. Many of us do not take the time to google our questions about First Nations history, despite agreeing that it is a good thing to do. There are many valuable online resources that we can use to deepen our understanding about the land we live on, and with the diversity of the many First Nations communities and countries that exist around us, it is difficult to recommend any one resource. However, the Elder did have some more specific suggestions for Victorians. Here they are:

  1. The First Peoples Exhibition at the Melbourne Museum
  2. Dark Emu, an eye-opening book by Bruce Pascoe

Both these resources provide an overview of the history and culture of First Nations communities within Victoria that you can use as a starting point. From there, deepen your understanding by searching the web for answers to the questions you discover. You may be surprised by how easy it is to find them.

While we’re on the topic of searching the web for answers, I would like to remind you that if you can’t make it down to the Melbourne Museum, perhaps due to the pandemic that shall not be named, you can always take an online tour of the First Peoples Exhibition. It is an incredible way to better your understanding of the place you call home, and to ensure that you don’t make the same mistake as I.

I wish you luck on your journey of understanding and discovery. Stay safe and best of luck for the year ahead.

Sincerely,

Sean.

Writing from Bunurong Country, down along Nairm.


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