Ancestor Treasures: First Nations Tools and Adornment on Jaara Country

16 December 2023—5 May 2024

Ancestor Treasures: First Nations Tools and Adornment on Jaara Country

Under the care of Jaara and Dja Dja Wurrung Country, First Nations ancestor tools and adornment have been within the stewardship of Castlemaine Art Museum since its inception in 1913.

First Nations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) cultural objects – having been housed as part of CAM’s Collection – are held in trust for the local Jaara and Dja Dja Wurrung community, as well as all First Nations people, who have open access to and interpretation of the works. Jaara and Dja Dja Wurrung Elders oversee their use in CAM’s exhibitions and publications, recentring First Nations authority.

Registered as significant on the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Register (VAHR) [2015], the majority of these works were obtained by settler Australians through largely unknown means and primarily donated during the early years of the Museum’s operation. These works hold significance for First Nations communities across Australia. In 2019, three items were repatriated, while the rest of the Collection has since been safely rehoused in handcrafted museum storage.

Many of these items are being exhibited for the first time in Ancestor Treasures, under the direction of Uncle Rick Nelson (Jaara), Dja Dja Wurrung Traditional Elder; Alvin Darcy Briggs (ADB) (Yorta Yorta, Taungurung, Ngarigo Walbunga), Artist; Tiriki Onus (Yorta Yorta, Dja Dja Wurrung), Associate Dean of Indigenous Development and Head of the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development, University of Melbourne; and Sharnie Hamilton (Djaara), Cultural Values Manager, Djandak.

This exhibition follows a private viewing for First Nations people of the region. Ancestor Treasures also includes traditional tools made by contemporary artist ADB (Yorta Yorta, Taungurung, Ngarigo Walbunga), in response to the Collection, and a video by First Nations photographer James Henry in collaboration with Henry Harmony Nelson's Descendants – the Saunders family from Mooroopna, documenting their Meeting at Marna bulatj dharak (Meeting of arms), Lake Eppalock.

The first of many exhibitions, Ancestor Treasures is an approach to open up the Collection for First Nations access and interpretations, as well as broader access, truth-telling and debate in the hope that together we can build a culturally safe and ongoing resource for creative inspiration, respect and reconciliation.

Ancestor Treasures is a speculative rather than a definitive statement on First Nations Collections in contemporary museums. It is hoped that it will invite discussion and further research.

"As an artist obsessed with reclaiming the technologies and practice of my forebears, museums have become (at times) an uneasy home for me, strange environments in which we are surrounded by the legacy of our families, yet in an alien atmosphere that seeks to catalogue and quantify. Viewing ourselves through the eyes of the coloniser is never easy. However, in looking past this alienating legacy, in pushing aside the ethnographic and anthropological lens which sought to record the last vestiges of a dying race, we are left with vast warehouses of knowledge and stories embodied in objects, once more waiting to be told."
– Tiriki Onus (Yorta Yorta, Dja Dja Wurrung), Associate Dean Indigenous Development and Head of the Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development, University of Melbourne

Public Programs
Free public programs, including talks and conversations, will be presented in the gallery throughout this exhibition. All details will be shared on our website. Click here to subscribe to our mailing list to receive special updates and invitations.


Restart Investment to Sustain and Expand (RISE) Fund – an Australian Government Initiative

Gordon Darling Foundation

The Water Dragon Endowment

Chapman & Bailey

Like Butter

Womindjika Woorineen willam bit
Willam Dja Dja Wurrung Balug
Wokuk mung gole-bo-turoi
talkoop mooroopook

Welcome to our homeland,
home of the Dja Dja Wurrung people
we offer you people good spirit.
Uncle Rick Nelson

The Jaara people of the Dja Dja Wurrung are the Custodians of the land and waters on which we live and work. We pay our respects to the Elders past, present and emerging. We extend these same sentiments to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander First Nations peoples.

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