Listening to Elders

Research into Indigenous cultures needs to be led by the knowledge of community, which is why the Yulendj Group of Koorie elders were key to the development of the First Peoples exhibition.

The development of the First Peoples exhibition at Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre was a rich collaboration between Museum Victoria and a wide range of Koorie community members across Victoria and Indigenous community members across Australia. It represents the birth of a new era where Aboriginal peoples and museum staff are working together to interpret the collections and reveal unique stories and knowledge.

"We have waited so long for this story to be told with truth and respect. Sharing knowledge and family connection keeps you going." Titta Secombe

A key factor in this partnership was the creation and the guidance of the First Peoples Yulendj Group of Elders and community representatives. Yulendj is a word from the Kulin language family meaning 'knowledge' and this group have brought their knowledge, stories, culture, objects and images to help the museum bring together this exhibition.

"Yulendj is a pretty special group of people, Traditional Owners, with a lot of knowledge and understanding of who they are as individuals and who we are as a group. I’m getting as much out of being a part of Yulendj as what I’m bringing. There’s a strong relationship now, and that’s based on museum staff showing respect to Yulendj members, and Yulendj members imparting knowledge back to museum staff here. I think it's unique. It's setting a new standard," said Brendan Kennedy.

A man and woman looking at objects in a box
Yulendj member Brendan Kennedy talks with curator Louise Gray about First Peoples exhibition objects. Elder Sandy Atkinson is in the background.

Yulendj is more than an advisory group – members collaborated with curatorial staff so that theFirst Peoples exhibition accords with both Aboriginal 'Law and knowledge' systems and western knowledge systems. As Bangerang Elder Sandy Atkinson says:

"We are the experts of our culture; we are the leaders of our future."

The Yulendj Group shared knowledge and advice across the project team from curatorial and design to conservation and public programs. The collaborative model is providing many long-term benefits for all including: improved community access to collections; improved research and identification of collections; knowledge and skills exchange between staff and community; and, the exciting exhibition, First Peoples. As Boonwurrung Elder Carolyn Briggs says:

"We are creating a new narrative and creating a legacy."
A woman and two men looking at an object
Elder Albert Mullet talking with designer Corinne Balaam and collection manager John Duggan about a shield in the First Peoples collection store, April 2012.

The First Peoples Yulendj Group was facilitated by Melbourne Museum staff members Caroline Martin (Chair), Manager of Bunjilaka; Genevieve Grieves, Lead Curator of First Peoples; Vicki Couzens, Senior Researcher, Language and Culture; and Jen Mattiuzzo, Lead Operator.

Visit the First Peoples exhibition at Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre located in Melbourne Museum.

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