Melbourne – Part Seven

It is by now quite obvious that I’m a lazy bum tourist traveling through the Antipodes without applying myself to writing. Since my last post, my reports are now lagging behind not one, but two different Australian locations – and tomorrow we shall advance toward China. I beg your patience as I’m having too much fun to sit at the computer, and I’m not in the least sorry!

Back in Melbourne, we undertook an excursion to the Melbourne Museum, which we could’ve seen from our balcony hadn’t the Royal Exposition Building blocked the view. In other words, it was right in our neighborhood on the far side of yet another one of Melbourne’s fabulous array of urban green spaces.

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The Carlton Gardens. “Just” one more city park.

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A look back toward our building [center].

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The black “box” on the far side of the fountain was one of several projectors placed around the Royal Exposition Building, which provided us with a spectacular light show during la Nuit Blanche. No need to even leave the house!

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I loved reading the story behind this stela. Mister Woods certainly made his point in support of local resources and labor! To explain, Melbourne is the capital city of the state of Victoria, thus for this Member of the Victorian Parliament, it was unacceptable to “import” the building materials for the seat of Victoria’s government from the neighboring state of New South Wales with its capital city Sydney. Melburnians and Sydneysiders are competitive rivals still today!

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Coming through the Carlton Gardens, the Melbourn Museum is situated right behind the Royal Exposition Building.

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Aside from a multitude of permanent exhibits about all things Victorian [the state, not the queen] and Melburnian, there are also galleries with temporary shows, often emphasizing cultural and social themes. We were most interested in the museum’s “First Peoples” exhibit which included a special show on cultural and everyday items used by Pacific Islanders. An IMAX theater is also part of the Melbourne museum. We could see the back of the gigantic screen from our place.

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Carlton Gardens in the foreground, with the IMAX screen rising behind the Royal Exposition Building.

Most impressively, the museum pays particular attention to visitors who fall within the autism spectrum. It provides online booklets called social scripts for autism spectrum children of different ages to familiarize themselves with the museum ahead of their visit. I’ve linked the script for older children so you can see how it works. The museum also provides color-coded sensory maps to easily identify loud or quiet spaces, bright or dark rooms, and so forth.

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We started our visit with a few ferns, frogs and a Yarra Valley indigenous seasonal calendar.

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Next up in this nature gallery, we found a stunning display of Mountain Ash, Eucalyptus regnans, Myrtaceae, Australia’s tallest tree – second tallest globally – and its lifecycle activated by bush fire. Home.Exchange.Melbourne.MelbourneMuseum

On our way to the First Peoples, we came across a number of interesting and thought-provoking exhibits.

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Should you wish to learn a little more about Andor Mészáros (1900-1972), architect and sculptor here is a link to a 2004 article about father and son sculptors Andor and Michael Meszaros written by Julie Szego, a staff writer at The Age.

The museum building itself provided some stunning vistas.

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Eventually, we met the First Peoples.

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In a darkened circular chamber this mesmerizing bird representing Bunjil, The Eagle Creator flew in perpetual motion.

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As has been the case globally, European exploration and colonialism wreaked havoc with the indigenous populations in all those “discovered” lands.

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From the darkness surrounding the suffering of the indigenous peoples on the mainland of Australia, we moved into the bright and airy three-story space dedicated to the indigenous peoples of the many and varied islands of Oceania.

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The main emphasis of the Te Vainui O Pasifika exhibit in the Melbourne Museum stressed the importance of canoes in every facet of the Islander’s spiritual and everyday lives.

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Could be interpreted as ‘the great, life-giving waters of our Pacific home’.

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The largest canoe on display was this Tomako [also spelled Tomoko], a 19th-century war canoe from Roviana lagoon settlements in the Western Solomon Islands. The war canoes were magnificently decorated with cowrie, nautilus and clam shells inlaid in the black stained wood. This canoe is missing its Nguzunguzu or prow figure which was mounted on the bow just at the waterline. The figure, representing the protective God Totoishu, was in charge of subduing nasty water fiends who might cause the canoe to crash into a reef so that the Keseko, the hostile spirits could devour the warriors.

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War canoes were used for revenge raids on neighboring allied clans and individuals to avenge offenses committed against a clan or a member thereof. Large ocean-going Tomako were used for headhunting raids and slave capturing expeditions. Both types of raids were mercenary forays, contracted and financed by wealthy clan chiefs. Local raids never included the beheading of offenders because a murdered relative’s spirit was considered immensely dangerous. But, as we learn from Dr. Stan Florek through the archives of the Australia Museum in Sidney:

“Large, distant raids, often including two or five canoes and 30-50 warriors, were commissioned to kill powerful rival warriors or to destroy an entire hostile group. Beheading was practiced when the Roviana war party attacked non-Roviana groups, often in the islands of Choiseul, Isabel, Russell, Malaita and western Guadalcanal. The heads were needed for the inauguration of a new communal house, to commemorate the death of a chief or release a widow from confinement. They also were needed for the inauguration (va-peza) of a Roviana war canoe – a ritual to please ancestors and to ensure the canoe’s combative success in the future. It was believed that it was necessary to carry a victim’s head on the maiden voyage of the canoe to prevent jinxing it (tamu garata).”

Headhunting raids continued into the early 20th century, while the building of traditional Tomako is an enduring art in the Solomon Islands and beyond.

Not all canoes in Oceania had such ferocious purposes. All of them, however, were an integral part the villager’s lives. For some islanders who depended entirely on the sea for their sustenance, their canoes were literally part of themselves. If a canoe was damaged, its owner would fall ill himself. The fisherman’s spirit, his canoe, and the fish he captured coalesced into one entity.

  Some canoes were powered by colorful sails designed in local styles.

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Crab-claw sails [left to right] Melanesian – Micronesian – Polynesian

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On the ground floor, large glass vitrines displayed ceremonial and practical items. There were dozens of carved wooden hand bailers, mother-of-pearl inlaid prow figures, and many other ritual objects.

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Hornbill Malagan, detail
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Maori lady in feather cloak, circa 1896. The photo is credited to J. Iles, but I believe it was taken by his son Arthur James Iles who was a noted photographer of Maori people and scenes.
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Canoe splash board carving

There were so many beautifully detailed and culturally interesting objects on display, which I would’ve loved to photograph. But lighting and the reflective surfaces of the cases made that pretty much impossible. Pity!

Passing by these clubs and boomerangs, we left The First Peoples galleries,

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stepping back out into the museum’s hallway. We rested for a moment in front of the large welcoming rug with its center waterholes, where one would meet family and clan members.

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On the opposite wall, you can see some of the Aboriginal paintings that were included in a temporary exhibit called ‘Yannae Wirrate Weelam – The Journey Home’. An exhibition of indigenous art created by Aboriginals in the Victoria prison system. The correctional institutions work in conjunction with The Torch to support the prisoner’s reintegration into the community through skill development, thus creating income potential. Aboriginal Wellbeing Officers help the prisoners with their return to tribe and families through traditional arts. The money the prisoners earn is held in trust until their release. It provides income and stability when they return into the community at large. The indigenous prisoners retain some dignity through self-generated income and respect by bein viewed as artists rather than just ex-cons, which will hopefully reduce the very high rate of recidivism among the Aboriginal population.

One last look back toward the Royal Exposition Building concluded a remarkable, instructional and enjoyable day at Melbourne Museum.

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