Artifacts Telling Stories

Bark Painting - OI 86-10

Artifacts carry an array of stories from who used it, who made it, what was it used for, and even how it came to the museum. Boston Children’s Museum’s collection holds 50,000 artifacts with countless compelling stories about people, places, and things from all over the world. Sometimes, a story can be told from the donation of an artifact, otherwise known as “provenance”.

Recently, I digitized all of the Australian artifacts in the collection. Many artifacts come from a specific donation from the Melbourne Children’s Museum presented by the Indibundji Aboriginal Dance Group in 1986. The twenty-two artifacts from this donation include a boomerang, a coolamon (an item used as a cradle or bowl), a tjara (a shield), and jewelry. Aboriginal peoples from all over Australia made these artifacts during the 1980’s. The donation tells unique stories about the artifacts, Boston Children’s Museum, and Aboriginal cultures.

Since 1985, Boston and Melbourne have been sister cities, and according to our catalog records, Boston Children’s Museum helped to start the Melbourne Children’s Museum. In October 1986, the Indibundji Aboriginal Dance Group performed at Boston Children’s Museum as part of a cultural exchange program between the two sister cities. Gnarnajarraha Waitarrue and Una Branfield, husband and wife, created and managed the Dance Group along with an Aboriginal cultural school in Melbourne. Their efforts focused on sharing, preserving, and revitalizing their Aboriginal cultural heritage by creating understanding and public awareness.

With these artifacts, they tell the story of Aboriginal culture and history, Boston and Melbourne’s sister city relationship, and the public outreach and relationships museums create with other museums, organizations, and cultures whether a few blocks down the street or thousands of miles away.

Take a look at just a sample of the artifacts below. When Boston Children’s Museum received the artifacts, Waitarrue explained each artifact and its significance.

Didjeridu – OI 86-15
Didjeridu – OI 86-15

A didjeridu or didgeridoo (a type of wind musical instrument) made in 1985 by Bob Mardubul from Barunga, Australia. The designs painted represent the artist’s own dreamings and include Boloko (a water snake) and Bolung (a rainbow serpent). During Indibundji Aboriginal Dance Group performance, Waitarrue played this didjeridu!

Take a peek here at how a didjeridu is played and what it sounds like.

Coolamon – OI 86-1
Coolamon – OI 86-1

This coolamon, also called a piti bowl, was made in the Amata Aboriginal community in South Australia. Coolamons could be used to cradle infants or to carry items such as fruits or grasses.


Bark Painting - OI 86-10
Bark Painting – OI 86-10

Bark Painting created by Miytja from the Yirrkala Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory of Australia. The painting is on the front, and the tree bark kept on the back. This painting represents a dreaming about marsupial mice and ants called Nyik nyikga Njada.

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