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Gaye Sculthorpe - Eldershaw Memorial Lecture: Tasmanian Aboriginal Objects, the overlooked archive

Published: Tuesday, 12 December 2023

In the 2023 Eldershaw Memorial Lecture Professor Sculthorpe detailed some of the key findings from her research whilst working on Tasmanian Aboriginal collections in the United Kingdom and France, and reviewing past work on Tasmanian collections. Particular objects to be discussed include the Thomas Bock drawings with the misidentified portrait of Trukanini, the kelp water container acquired by the French near Recherche Bay in 1792, Mithinna's doll and pincushion, and baskets misidentified in Cambridge and Liverpool. She spoke to the challenges and opportunities for doing this kind of historical work and to the broader issue of museum collections in Tasmania and Australia being overlooked in terms of funding, thus restricting access to knowledge housed in these collections. 

Gaye Sculthorpe is a palawa woman from Tasmania, being a descendant of famous singer Fanny Smith. She grew up in Nicholls Rivulet adjacent to lands granted to Fanny by the colonial government in the late 1800s. She has formal qualifications in history, anthropology and Museum Studies. Gaye has worked in local, state and national museums in Australia, and between 2013 and 2022, she was curator and section head of Oceania, in the Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas at the British Museum. In August 2022, she took up the position of Research Professor, Cultural Heritage and Museum Studies, in the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University where she continues to research historic Aboriginal collections in museums across the globe. Her honours include being ANU's Indigenous Alumna of the Year in 2017 and in 2022 she was the awardee for Global Impact by the Advance Global Australians Network. She is also an honorary member of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. Her research on Aboriginal collections in the UK is featured in the book she co-authored and co-edited Ancestors, Artefacts, Empire: Indigenous Australia in British and Irish Museums, published by British Museum Press in 2021, which was officially launched by Julia Gillard as the opening event of the UK Australian Season of Culture in that year.