Australian Indigenous - Northern Australia, Queensland & Torres Strait Islands

Historical bark paintings, ceremonial material and objects of everyday life are some of the 11,000 plus objects in the Northern Australia, Queensland and Torres Strait Islands Indigenous collection. Representing the diversity of known material culture types the collection attests to the vibrant and dynamic nature of Indigenous societies, and provides a unique counterpoint to the classic notion of Indigenous societies in Australia as being static and unchanging.


Developed during the early twentieth century via donations from missionaries, individuals on scientific expeditions, collectors, anthropologists, photographers, and tourists; this collection was pivotal to creating public understandings of the artistic and cultural heritage of Indigenous Australians. It was a major component of the Museum's landmark exhibition Primitive Art in 1929 and the 1941 touring exhibition to the USA, Art of Australia 1788-1941. The collection then developed sporadically until the 1970s when Alan West re-established its active development.

The collection provides a unique platform for understanding the changing and diverse nature of life for Indigenous people over the past 150 years. This includes consideration of the role of notable historical identities, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, in shaping the collections and history; as evidence in native title and land claims; and as a fundamental resource for Indigenous communities in cultural teaching and learning, particularly with younger people.