First Peoples Exhibition
- Museum Victoria
- Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre
Museum Victoria recently completed the redevelopment of Bunjilaka – the Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Melbourne Museum. Building on a solid foundation and a collaborative spirit that Bunjilaka embodies, the new long term 1200m2 exhibition First Peoples invites visitors to connect with Aboriginal people, culture and history. It contains content that challenges preconceptions, uncovers hidden histories and inspires audiences to learn more. Personal and evocative stories provide emotive experiences that engender pride in the Aboriginal community and create deeper understanding of the Aboriginal experience for a wide audience, and bring contemporary relevance and access to the Museum’s outstanding collections.
The exhibition design responds to the deep feelings of connection to Country and cultural significance of place across South Eastern Australian Aboriginal culture. Visitors experience an evocative multi-sensory journey across a new interior landscape, that inspires a sense of ‘being on Country’ through the built form shapes, angles and natural finishes.
The colour palette references Victoria’s natural environment, particularly the leaves and bark from local species of eucalyptus. Judicious use of vibrant colour and first person voice elicits a contemporary feel and reinforces a key message that Victorian Aboriginal culture is ‘living’ and not just tethered to a distant past.
The design team adopted a participatory model, inviting the First Peoples Yulendj Group of Victorian Aboriginal Elders into the design process. Yulendj provided first hand accounts and stories of their culture and the designers provided ways to communicate and bring the stories to life.
The designer’s ability to visualise stories and respond on an emotional level to the power of the spoken word provided great impetus for the project. The testing of ideas via visuals and models provided stimulus for debate, discussion and development of new ways to powerfully communicate Aboriginal culture to a broad audience.
First Peoples provided an opportunity to refresh the Bunjilaka brand positioning and develop new audiences, through embracing the exhibition’s warmth, energy, spirit and its distinctly Koorie voice. The response from Museum visitors and the Aboriginal community has been overwhelmingly positive, and has been a key factor in Melbourne Museum’s overall visitation target successes.
The exhibition was built according to sustainable design principles, including design for flexible use/re-purpose, low impact/low embodied energy materials and recycle/salvage. Innovative digital fabrication and printing techniques were utilised to substantially reduce waste. LED lighting and efficient multimedia technology have also significantly reduced daily energy consumption.
The design team worked closely with the Aboriginal community to ensure that the exhibition voice provided a powerful representation of their culture. First Peoples contributes significantly to design practice as a proven model for successful cross cultural collaboration relating to public display and interpretation of tangible and intangible cultural heritage. The Yulendj Group enabled the exhibition team and Aboriginal Community to explore new ways of sharing knowledge. The openness, strong spirit of collaboration, sharing and respect maintained throughout the project stand as testament to this process and are the foundation for much of the communities’ high praise for the exhibition.