Fri. Nov 18th, 2022

“One hundred and ten years later, here it is,” director David Ellis says.
The museum started with a $15 million donation by its namesake, Chinese-Australian property developer Dr Chau Chak Wing, and rises over five levels of which four are public.
“Seventy per cent of what we have on display has not been seen in the past 20 years, if at all, and the reason for that is we’ve not had the space. The collection spans 500,000 years 500,000 years of what I regard as human creativity,” Ellis says.
The coffin of Padiashaikhet, Thebes, inside the Mummy Room.
Credit:Kate Geraghty
The oldest artefact on display is a 500,000-year-old stone hand axe from northern France. Another highlight is a portrait bust excavated from Jericho, dating to between 8200 and 7500 BC.
Acquired in 1957, it’s a human skull overlaid with clay, with shells for eyes, and was probably passed around the family in memory of the deceased. “It’s at the very point in history where people, hunters and gatherers, were coming into towns and is one of the most important items in our collection,” says Ellis.
Remains of four mummies, acquired by Charles Nicholson, the university museum’s founder, have their own dedicated Mummy Room, a custom-made space which uses technology to recreate the human form.
The ancient Egyptians believed that to speak the name of the dead was to restore the “breath of life to him who has vanished”. “In a way, we are doing just that,” Ellis says.
Pompeii comes alive. Credit:Kate Geraghty
On display in the Potter Gallery, the biggest of the new museum’s exhibition spaces, are 350 works by 100 Yolngu artists. The works date back to the period following the establishment of Methodist missions in the Yolngu territories of Milingimbi and Yirrkala, during the late 1920s and 1940s.
Some bark paintings reference Makassar traders from Sulawesi trading beche-de-mer (sea cucumbers) in northern Australia. Among the artists was a survivor of the Japanese sinking of the HMAS Patricia Cam, in the waters off northern Australia in 1943.
Also in the exhibition is a significant Yolngu artwork by David Malangi Daymirringu, depicting the ancestral design which was appropriated into the 1966-issued Australian $1 note without the artist’s consent.
Matt Poll, the assistant curator of Indigenous heritage, said elders from the Milingimbi, Yirrkala and the Ramingining communities were instrumental in designing, grouping, laying out and interpreting displayed works acquired by university anthropologists.
“The Yolngu collection represents more than 80 years of engagement with the community,” Poll said.
Scattered across the galleries are eight separate exhibition components displaying 100 precious Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artefacts covering aspects of cultural knowledge among 25 language groups. The displays, all drawn from Macleay Indigenous collections, are referred to as Ambassadors.
Poll describes them as diplomaticmediators that encourage deeplearning. Objects include clothing, ornaments, sculptures, a 40,000-year-old stone axe discovered in Penrith, shields, fire sticks, and boomerangs.
The museum hopes to double the number of school student visits and has brought out the Nicholson Museum’s Lego model of Pompeii. Painstakingly recreated from more than 190,000 individual blocks across 470 hours, it’s the largest model of the ancient city ever constructed out of Lego.
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