Indigenous Cultures – Acquisition Policy


The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) is the premier cultural collecting institution of Tasmania. In keeping with the traditional role of the museum as educator, the central responsibility of the Indigenous Cultures Department is to illustrate and interpret the history of Tasmanian Aborigines through the acquisition and display of objects of outstanding significance. Indeed one of the major aims of TMAG is to build a representative collection of objects that represents the major periods and themes of all Indigenous people, including works, objects, artefacts that cross over into other collection areas throughout the TMAG including History, Art, Decorative Art, Photography, Vertebrate/Invertebrate Zoology and Documents.

As TMAG is the State Museum, it has a key responsibility to communicate the development of all Indigenous Cultures to the people of Tasmania, interstate and international visitors to TMAG. Indigenous Cultures is reflected in the objects that demonstrate all collecting periods, (past and present). These objects reflect local, national and international periods and influences that reveal new meanings for Tasmanians, and become exciting discoveries for interstate and overseas visitors. Consequently a primary focus of the Indigenous Cultures Department is the acquisition and display of Tasmanian Aboriginal objects of exceptional significance that tell the story of Tasmanian Aborigines to all audiences.

The Indigenous Cultures collection comprises of over 100,000 objects. At least 60 percent of this collection would consist of stone tools and excavated archaeological material. A small portion of this material is yet to be curated and would make very good research projects for visiting honours and PHD students. The collection consists of objects from the Pacific region, Papua New Guinea, Asia, Africa, Europe, the America’s and Australia.

SECTION 1: Indigenous Cultures


The Indigenous Cultures collections of the TMAG go back to the 1850s when items were collected and donated to the Royal Society of Tasmania. No acquisition guidelines or rationale were in place. Material was accepted if it was considered interesting to display. In recent years the Indigenous Cultures collection has been developed as systematically as is possible given various limitations, in particular resourcing and staffing. The emphasis has been on conserving a cross-section of material culture that conveys a ‘certain’ objectivity about all Indigenous Cultures, in particular Tasmanian Aboriginal culture, including social and political development that will prove useful for display and study purposes now and in the future.

General Acquisition Policy

The principal aim of the Indigenous Cultures Department Acquisitions Policy is to meet the vision and the objectives of the TMAG Business Plan. These are:

Vision:    To collect, conserve, research, interpret and display objects of historical, scientific or artistic interest.

Objectives: Provide present and future generations with the opportunity to gain information and insights into the world of Indigenous Cultures past and present.

Provide an environment that both stimulates and educates the general public.

Research, interpret and present its collections, and provide opportunity for public access and participation through diverse programs and publications.

The Indigenous Cultures Department seeks to address the business plan through focusing on the acquisition of Indigenous objects, primarily Tasmanian Aboriginal for the State collection. In particular the Acquisitions Policy seeks to identify and acquire objects that fill gaps in the existing collection as identified in this document.

At the time of acquisition of a work, the costs associated with conservation and restoration preparation, presentation and storage should be estimated and taken into consideration. Information regarding the provenance and history of the work, materials and techniques should be sought and recorded.

Acquisitions Priorities (General):

The Museum’s relevance as a Tasmanian institution is paramount. As such, the primary focus of the Indigenous Cultures collections will be Tasmania Aboriginal. Items from outside this collecting area will be collected primarily when they inform a better understanding of the region’s history, for comparative research value or for interpretive purposes.

More specifically the Indigenous Cultures Department will seek to:

· collect objects of Tasmanian Aboriginal significance,

· build on current collection strengths,

· fill gaps in themes, typologies and eras,

· encourage gifts of significant objects through the Cultural Gifts Program, donation and other forms of bequest, and

· develop targeted forms of gift giving and benefaction.

Selection Criteria:
Other than in exceptional circumstances the following criteria will apply to the acquisition of objects:

· Objects may be acquired by donation, collection, bequest, exchange or purchase;

· objects will only be accessioned into collections if accompanied by adequate provenance and contextual data, and

· full title must accompany any object to be accessioned into the collections.

Significance criteria based on guidelines provided by the Collections Council of Australia will be used to inform the acquisitions process. Significance will be assessed against one of four primary criteria:

· Historic

· Aesthetic

· Research value

· Social or spiritual

· Scientific

Comparative criteria used to evaluate the degree of significance include:

· Provenance
· Representativeness

· Rarity

· Condition, including completeness, integrity and intactness

· Interpretive potential

A statement of significance will accompany any requests to the Museum Trustees for funding in support of new acquisitions.

What we do not collect:
The Indigenous Cultures Department is committed to maintaining professional standards for all objects in its care within the framework of limited resources of space, staff, money and conservations skills available to the museum. This inevitably means that some objects may not be acquired at all because they are too large, complex or culturally sensitive to be accommodated within the available resources.

The Indigenous Cultures Department will not acquire culturally sensitive objects such as human remains or objects associated with human remains, (grave goods) and secret sacred material (men’s and women’s) or objects illegally obtained removed or imported and will endeavour to abide by the guidelines provided by the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property as well as those pertaining to CITES.

The Indigenous Cultures Department will not normally acquire objects where restriction by the donor or legal owner would prevent effective curation, documentation, research, normal exhibition use, loan or disposal in accordance with the museum’s policies. It will not normally accept objects on condition that are placed on immediate, permanent or long-term exhibition. It will not normally accept objects on long-term loan.


The TMAG Indigenous Cultures Collection is divided into a number of different categories: Australian Aboriginal, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific region, Africa, Europe, Asia, the America’s and Tasmanian Aboriginal, this being the most important collection in Indigenous Cultures.

Tasmanian Aboriginal

Collection Profile:

The collection concentrates on Tasmanian Aboriginal history, artefacts, photographs and documentation.

Key Strengths:

Tasmanian Aboriginal material collected by people such as Joseph Milligan during the mid- 1800’s, includes fibre baskets, model bark canoes and spears, wax cylinder recordings of Fanny Cochrane-Smith made by the Royal Society of Tasmania and shell necklaces made by women from the Furneaux Islands of Cape Barren and Flinders.

Secondary Strengths:

Tasmanian Aboriginal stone artefacts collected by amateur archaeologists from the mid-1800s through to the 1970’s and excavated archaeological material from Aboriginal sites around Tasmania. Some of this material needs to be curated and offers significant opportunities for researchers to undertake research on the collection.


As a State Museum collection, the Indigenous Cultures collection needs to broaden and develop to become relevant to the whole of Tasmania. A brief analysis of the collection reveals significant gaps requiring an active collecting program. This should include the collecting of contemporary Tasmanian Aboriginal works that are currently poorly represented in the collection.

Australian Aboriginal

Collection Profile

This collection concentrates on Australian Aboriginal material collected from all around Australia and highlights the history, artefacts, photographs and documentation collected from the 1800’s through to today.

Key Strengths:

The bark painting collection, this includes works collected by Charles Mountford, as part of the American – Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land (AASEAL); and the Horsfall sisters, Constance, Margaret and Muriel. TMAG also has a significant collection of shields from around Australia, especially the rain-forest shields from NE Queensland.

Secondary Strengths:

Overall the Australian collection has some extremely significant historical items and offers opportunities for researchers to undertake research on this collection.


As a State Museum collection, the Indigenous Cultures collection is patchy in representation and could be broadened to provide a more comprehensive record of Australian Indigenous Cultures. A brief analysis of the collection reveals significant gaps. This should include collecting of contemporary Australian Aboriginal works as these are currently poorly represented in the collection. This collection needs to be thoroughly researched as there is extremely limited information on some artefacts, and the early collectors.

Non-Australian material

This collection concentrates on Indigenous material collected from around the world and highlights the history, artefacts, photographs and documentation collected from the 1800’s through to today.

Key Strengths:

Non-Australian material includes some significant early collections from the Pacific Region e.g. Fiji, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand.

Secondary Strengths:

This collection has some exceptional material from PNG and the Pacific region but is poorly represented in the TMAG. This collection could offer plenty of opportunities for researchers to research this collection.


As a State Museum collection, the non-Australian Indigenous Cultures collection could be broadened to include representative material from around the world. A brief analysis of the collection reveals significant gaps. The existing collection needs to be thoroughly curated and researched as there is limited information on the artefacts and the collectors; apart from the Fijian artefacts that were researched by Rod Ewins in the 1980’s.

Collecting Policy

The collection policy is designed to ensure that the TMAG holds the definitive collection of objects of significance to all Tasmanians. To this end the museum will collect:

· iconic objects of high importance to Tasmanian Aborigines,

· objects, information relating to Tasmanian Aboriginal organisations,

· objects that fill gaps in holdings identified as important to the State Collection,

· significant objects that will directly complement and add value to existing collection held by the museum across all disciplines,

· significant objects relating to events of historical, cultural, social, political and economic significance to all Indigenous groups

The main focus of TMAG Indigenous Cultures Acquisition Policy will be to collect significant works, objects, artefacts that are related to Tasmanian Aboriginal culture. A secondary focus will to include representative works, objects, artefacts of significance from other Indigenous Cultures around the world.