Contemporary reimagining of a museum collection: An analysis of change in a collection of spears from Milingimbi, Arnhem Land
Sophie McLeod, 12 October 2016
Thanks, everybody, for coming along. This is the second last in our seminar series-- History, Culture, and Collections. And I know we have a few new people here today, which is really great. We like to introduce people to the museum world and research behind the scenes, but the way of course in particular with this talk-- how we work with the university sector, with students, but also this plethora of volunteers and other projects that happen behind the scenes. So it's a story about behind the scenes. And so I'll introduce the speaker in a minute, but I'll first acknowledge the traditional owners of the Melbourne region-- the people of the Woiwurrung and Boonrwrung clans of the East Kulin Nation and knowledge elders past and present-- as well as any traditional owners who are here today. Welcome.
So our talk today is by Sophie McLeod. Sophie last year did her honours project with myself supervising her here. She's a student from Monash. She was the inaugural recipient of a new initiative between Monash University and the Museum of Scholarships. We had a scholarship for an honours student in humanities and one in science. And Sophie was the recipient of the humanities scholarship. And we also had one for PhD students-- again one inhumanities and one in science. So it's sort of building on these sort of links that we have with the university sector and really encouraging research on museum collections, which happens here but often doesn't happen in the academy.
So Sophie's talk is going to look at-- very provocatively-- contemporary reimagining of a museum collection. She received a first class honours for her thesis. I've yet to see the final thing, but I'm looking forward to it. It's a really important piece of original research. And I'm going to encourage people to look at museum collections and see there's a vast holding of material there, just begging for people to come and do research on. But, honestly, it's really exciting to have a nice piece of original research that comes up with new ways of thinking about these collections. So I won't talk anymore. I'll hand over to Sophie. Thank you.
Hi. So I'd also just like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners and pay my respects as well to their elders, both past and present. Thank you for that introduction, Lindy. That was lovely. As mentioned, my name is Sophie. I'm a university student in my final year at Monash University. And last year, I was lucky enough to work in collaboration with Melbourne Museum to complete my thesis. So I was also very fortunate to receive that prize that was mentioned, which is the new collaborative programme between Monash Uni and Melbourne Museum.
And I'd just like to actually start this speech by thanking the museum-- not only for giving me the opportunity to work with such a wonderful collection and in collaboration with highly experienced staff and my amazing supervisor Lindy, but also for encouraging these relationships with universities. I think it's really wonderful to offer the chance to work with actual artefacts. And I think it's really exciting to develop these programmes, and there's so much information to uncover-- as Lindsey just said-- within the collections. And I think it would be really great if these kinds of partnerships can continue.
So today I'm going to talk to you about my research last year. Firstly, I'll explain the aims of my project, and then the collection itself, and what I wrote in my report, and finally what we're still hoping to achieve in the future with what we've uncovered. But mainly today I'm going to tell you a few stories, because they're really the heart of my research. It's really about the stories of the collectors and what prompted them to travel to the outskirts of Australia to collect these items. And it's about the stories of the producers who were making these wonderful artefacts and trading them through their relationships with the collectors. And it's about the story of the collection themselves-- and the collection itself-- and what brings these items together and what links them all.
So this approach really does reflect a change in museum studies that's happened over the past few decades. So earlier on, items were held to be self-sufficient, kind of scientific specimens, and that could speak for themselves-- either as curios or as barbaric weapons from a distant shore. But, recently, the biography of the collector has become a lot more important. And now it's recognised that the personalities and biases of these collectors is actually having a huge impact on the final composition of these collections. And it's acknowledged that producers also helped to shape the collections by what they make and what they offer for trade.
And so I really hope to interrogate these biographies in my research to find out some new information about these items, and I'm going to let you in on some of these stories today. So let's try this out. The original aims of my project were to catalogue the contents of the collection and both assess its functional role and its social significance. It was to analyse the motivations of collectors and the impact this has on the collection, to try to discern the aims of producers and the active role they took in shaping the collections, and to assess how museums utilise their collections of material culture.
So with any project as well, its important to talk about why its important or what this research could tell us. So firstly the spear is an essential part of the hunter gatherer society. And its an important material culture item that has not had a lot of focus. Museum collections everywhere have a lot of spears, because they are very impressive items, and when-- they were regularly traded at first contact.
For example, Melbourne Museum alone has 5,000 spears, and I was only looking at a collection of 135 of them. So I think really important collection to shine a little bit of light on. The spears also were accessible for the first time in a few years with the new storage rotations that have been happening. So we had good access to the spears, which was really wonderful. And it allowed us to do a more comprehensive and extensive measurements, because obviously in the database there are already the measurements. But we could really provide a more kind of detailed amount of-- detailed analysis that gives a greater understanding of the audience.
And also this research has raised discussions about why it's important for the museum to keep all these items. So spears are obviously not the easiest item to store. They're quite large, and when you have so many that appear to be quite similar, it's often an issue discussed in museum as to why we need duplicates of the same kind of thing. So today I'm going to talk a lot about what I-- why I focused on the duplicates and what I really think is interesting and important in those items.
And, finally, what makes this collection that I was looking at so unique is that all the spears are from the same place, created by the same group of people over a period of 33 years during colonisation. So it's really-- it gave me the opportunity to look at the change that was happening in this very important period of time.
So I think I have some photos here of what the storage is like, how much space it kind of takes up. And, yeah, we're very lucky to be able to work there and have access to them all. So about the collection, I was looking at 135 spears that were collected on Milingimbi Mission between 1926 to 1959. Milingimbi Mission is situated off-- and just I need to say that I'm going to be pronouncing some Yolngu words today, but I'm probably going to say them a little bit wrong, so bear with me. But it's on Yurruwi Island, which is the largest of the Crocodile Islands, just off central Arnhem Land coast. So on the map, you can see it just at the top. It's one of the names there.
And so before I talk about the spears themselves, I want to talk about the people that made the collection and made the donations to Melbourne Museum. So in this collection, there were three collectors who brought this collection together. Both Webb and Wells were missionaries, and Thompson is an anthropologist who worked a lot in Australia. So as you can see from the graph, both Webb and Thompson have contributed quite a lot of the spears. Wells contributed a much smaller amount, but his spears add a whole lot to the collection as well, which I'll discuss later.
So firstly it's important to mention that the first missionary at Milingimbi was Reverend Watson, who was very important, because he established a collection culture that would continue at Milingimbi. And he developed a reputation of being fair in his treatment of the Yolngu and would pay them well for their work. So many people would travel long distances to trade their artefacts with him. Because the mission encouraged the continuation of traditional production of artefacts, Milingimbi would host over the years a steady stream of visitors, art collectors, and anthropologists-- including Thompson.
And so onto the first collector, who is Reverend Webb. He replaced the original missionary at Milingimbi. And Webb differed from other missionaries because of his strong interest in anthropology. And during his time at Milingimbi, he endeavoured to learn about the customs of the Yolngu people, rather than trying to force them to assimilate to Western society standards. So he contributed to several missionary journals and anthropological journals during his time, and his works demonstrate a really extensive knowledge of the people. And he allowed the Yolngu to continue their ceremonial practises and the manufacture of artefacts in so far as it didn't go against the missionary aims. And Webb was very interested in their workmanships, he believed that aboriginal decorative art had reached its finest peak of development in eastern Arnhem Land.
One of Webb's methods, that he used to prepare aboriginal people for the inevitable impact of white settlement, he explained in his book titled Spears to Spades, and so he writes, "instead of employing aboriginal men and women at the daily rate of pay, whereby the indolent and industrious would receive equal reward, they're encouraged to manufacture these articles, which have been purchased by the mission when completed. In this way, individual energy and initiative are encouraged, and a real interest in these new tasks is created, whilst the Aboriginals are left at least partially free to pursue their old crafts and pastimes."
So this also meant that Webb amassed quite a large collection of material culture, which he would keep in a storeroom at Milingimbi for trading with visitors. He also donated approximately 400 objects to Melbourne Museum, of which about 15% are spears. So when Webb left the mission after 15 years, He was reportedly missed by the people, because he was a great friend and supporter.
The second collector is Donald Thompson, who was an anthropologist who visited Milingimbi during his field work in Arnhem Land. Thompson had an interesting background in zoology and botany prior to training as an anthropologist. And so he received a lot of criticism, because he was more interested in how life looked for aboriginal people. And he was criticised for being a medley of zoologist, anthropologist, and journalist and that he was not wholeheartedly a scientist, because he lacked things like taking photography. And he would develop his screens in the bush, and he liked exploring the bush and learning about the bush ways and things. So arguably it's these criticisms that actually enhance Thompson's work and set them apart from other anthropologists at the time.
So in his field, where he sought to collect a representative example of the full spectrum of material culture that he saw in youth, he collected over 4,500 items of material culture, which is an incredible feat, considering there are approximately 1,500 people living in Arnhem Land at this time. So he averaged three items per capita. He was a meticulous fieldworker, documenting everything he collected and learned in great detail. There's over 1,500 pages of field notes. And it makes his collection very important and quite unique. And as I mentioned earlier, the collecting processes early on weren't actually recorded or documented. And so his work is really great, because it does give us some insight into the items, beyond just the artefact itself. So we're really lucky that this was part of the collection we were looking at, because through comparing what he wrote and his items with some of the Webb and Wells item, we could learn more about the other spears, which was great.
The last collector is Reverend Wells. He was superintendent at Milingimbi be between 1949 and 1959. He was known as a patron of the arts and was a collector himself. He was quite similar to Webb in many ways. He was also trained in anthropology, and so he too had an appreciation for indigenous cultures. And like Webb, he allowed the Yolngu to continue with their cultural practises.
Webb was critical of the superintendent who preceded him for his harsh policies against this kind of production, and he believed that he had-- when he arrived, there were no real craftsmen left at Milingimbi. So he really thought he played quite a role in reviving that culture. On one occasion, the annual cash income through the sales of bark paintings and artefacts from Milingimbi alone equaled the combined total sales from four other mission stations in Arnhem Land. But for Welles, the economic advantage was second in importance to the saving of aboriginal society, traditions, and culture.
So one of my favourite stories about Welles I read from the writings of his wife, Anne. And she writes how Wells had been watching a highly sacred bag being woven for quite a few months, and by all accounts it sounded like he really loved the bag and was impressed by the craftsmanship. But he regarded it as being beyond price, and he refused to purchase it, because he didn't want to take it out of the system and affect the ceremonial life.
However, then, a visiting anthropologist came along and offered a large amount of money for the same bag, which couldn't be refused by the producer. But the consequence of this was that the ceremony that the bag was intended for was never performed. And I think from memory, it was an initiation ceremony, and so that person really suffered the effects of that for a long time. And so I think that's something that collectors don't witness when they take items out of these cultures, the ongoing effects that they can cause.
So that sums up the background of the collectors, and I'll refer to elements of this as I talk. So remember those. But first of all, I need to explain the spears. So what we really did is we did a comparison of the spears that those collectors collected, because they were working in a similar period. But before we could do that, we needed to have a categorisation of the spears.
So creating categories for items is really difficult, because like I personally wanted to incorporate indigenous categories as well and allowing it to fit into the museum's archival system. So this is difficult, and I can explain this in one example. I've got the next slide. So there's some of the drawings from Donald Thompson that he made during his collection. But so if you look at a spear, the top part of the spear in Western museums is referred to as the "head of the spear," whereas in Arnhem Land, it would be called the "nose" or the "tooth."
But I couldn't really incorporate this, because we can't have really Melbourne Museum with different sections of a spear to every other museum. So based on my research, there were more than that there were 150 Yolngu words that were used to classify spears or compartments of spears, and only 25 of these were recorded by Thompson and Webb. So although I've included the names in the database that we've updated, it wasn't something that we could really incorporate into the actual structure of categorisation.
So what I ended up doing was looking through all the earlier literature of historians, ethnographers, anthropologists, and missionaries to see how they classified the spears and what they called them. I decided not to classify them in terms of function, because sometimes a spear can have many roles within a community. And also when you're looking at an artefact, it's not always clear what that was used for. That's kind of the knowledge that unfortunately gets lost when there aren't any field notes made on it.
So in the end, we came up with three categories. So the categories are down the bottom here. We have the barb spear, the projectile, and the multi-pronged. And within these groups, there are many different subcategories as well. And on the next slide, I've got-- this is the distribution of spears across the 135. So it's a percentage value of each type. The names are also still down the bottom.
Most of them are pretty self-explanatory, but I'll just explain one or two of them. So the [? lift ?] spear in the projectile one is quite an interesting one. It looks like this. So it had many different names that it was referred to. Some of them had called it the closed barbs, because the barbs don't actually reach the outside, or they look kind of like eyelets, cut into the spear. But we kind of classified that as a projectile, because it was different to a barbed sphere, because of the-- it still conformed with the kind of projectile shape that the single pointed spears also had.
And another very impressive spear within the collection is this multi-pronged kind of stingray spine spear. It's very interesting with the orange feathered appendage that comes off it, and it features over 100 different stingray spines that have been individually attached to the top there. So it's a very impressive spear.
And there are so many more impressive facts about the individual spears. But in today's talk, I'm kind of focusing more on the overall change that was witnessed. So I won't go into those specific nuances, except to say that I've recorded them all in our new descriptions that we'll be adding to the catalogue, so you can kind of go back and have a look through the database.
So now that you know the categories and the collectors, we can really look at the bulk of my research, which was on the motivations of collectors, the intentions of producers, and how these two elements kind of interplay. So when we're looking at the collection of Thompson and Webb, this graph here explains the different amounts of each spear within each collection. So this really allows me to focus on why two people visiting the same area and working around the same time would acquire different items.
So there are many factors at play, which contribute to when you make comparison of collections. And the factors are listed on the left, which I'll go through. So as you can see, Thompson collected a lot of the stone-headed spears. Over a quarter of his collection was of the stone sample.
So this preference of this type of spears appears to relate to the symbolical significance of the stone and specifically its link with the Dreaming. In some cases, stones are believed to be the petrified remains of ancestors-- specifically the Rainbow Serpent in Northern Territory in northern Australia. So the ancestors are believed to imbue the stones with magical properties, and these spears have added power, which is believed to sap the life out of their targets.
Thompson notes that aboriginal people preferred the stone-headed spears, because they made a greater wound and caused a greater blood loss, because of the associated Dreamtime beliefs. In comparison to Webb, it's clear that Thompson has overrepresented this type within his sample in his collection. And Thompson's interest in the stone-headed spear could relate to his other interests in social structures, such as exchange. And he actually published a book on exchange within the Northern Territory.
So what was also interesting is that all these stones of spears come from the Ngillipidgi Quarry, which is the main quarry in Arnhem Land and is located 160 kilometres from Milingimbi. And so these stones have travelled a long way to get to-- to be part of these spears. And it demonstrates the trade routes in action. And in 1935, just before Thompson came to Milingimbi and made these acquisitions, he-- Thompson was the first non-indigenous man to be granted permission to visit the quarry. And this is a right that was privileged and strictly guarded by the local owners of the land. So this could be a further reason for his preference.
In terms of Webb, he had a preference for painted speakers. We found over 90% of his spears being painted, compared to Thompson, who only had approximately 2/3. So traditionally these items would have been valued higher by museums, as the paint-- patterns and painting-- was what had been come to be expected of indigenous art forms, which is possibly why Webb was collecting these items and doing a lot of trade with museums.
In contrast, Thompson was attempting to represent the lived experience of the aboriginal people and possibly would have had no preference for painted or unpainted. According to [? Paula Tasson, ?] [? orchids ?] are feminine, whereas spears are masculine. And so often the hunting spears and fighting spears weren't actually painted, because the combination of these two elements is considered very powerful and embodies life. And so [? Tasson ?] argues that spearheads were not often painted, because spears were intended to bring about death.
Obviously, the number of spears collected relates also to their availability, meaning that valuable spears passed into the collection in much smaller numbers, whilst common and easily replaced spears dominate. As well, time was a limiting factor for Thompson, because he was only in Arnhem Land for 15 months, whereas Wells lived there for quite some time. So Thompson's collecting practises in Milingimbi were often short and sharp, and he would acquire several spears at once. Consequently, Thompson would only be able to collect what was available to him on those days he was there, whereas Webb had a much longer period to kind of attain the more interesting samples perhaps.
Collections also reflect relationships, and it is possible that certain items would be traded only once there had been a relationship of trust established. So as you can see in the table, Webb has a great number of the laced barb spear, which I showed you a picture of earlier. According to the notes of both Webb and Thompson, this type of spear is likely to have been used in ceremony.
So Webb referred-- recorded the name of the spear to be [? Mata ?] [? Lingu. ?] And [? "mata" ?] means "tongue" or "language," and [? "lingu" ?] means "passed" or finished. So it's possible that these spears were no longer being made, and they were just kind of talking about the tradition of making that spear when that name was recorded. And Thompson on the other hand, recorded of the name of the spear to be [? Ditjay ?] [? Mari. ?] [? "Ditjay" ?] means barbs, and [? "mari" ?] means "ceremonial decoration." So for that reason, it's likely that the spears were of ceremonial use from the past.
And so it might be a type of spear that they were less willing to part with to a stranger, except for a high price. Wells' wife Anne recorded such an example, where Wells was given more new and more information about a spears several years after acquiring it. And when he questioned why he had not been told before, he was told you were too new then.
So a lot of this is obviously speculative, because the collecting processes were not recorded. So we don't know if there was resistance to that particular spear being given to Thompson, or if it was not in the area he was when he was collecting it. But doing these comparisons, we can kind of tease some of these stories out.
So from the price paid for certain items as well we can know how much it was valued by the community. For example, this spear, there is a spear here. This spear cost Thompson eight sticks of tobacco, and the going price in Arnhem Land was one stick of tobacco per spear. So obviously this spear was of more importance and didn't want to be parted with.
Other things of note in-- is the popularity of the single-sided barbed spear and the single-pointed projectile. And there are three reasons for this. Firstly, the single-sided barbed spear is the most diverse type of spear in Arnhem Land. So I have it. This is just five of the spears, picked at random, which shows some of the different designs. And it really allowed for the artistic preference to how the barbs were made.
It's been discussed by many anthropologists in that barbs on a spear are useful, but that refers to one or two barbs. When there are more than six or seven, it results in the stem where they connect to the head of being quite slender. So they wouldn't be very practical, because they wouldn't be able to withstand any hard impact. So because of this artistry that they demonstrate-- that's why they were very popular within collectors.
In contrast, the bamboo projectile spear can be made very easily. There are a number of trees and cane types of bamboo in Arnhem Land that are capable of providing these high quality shafts that don't require any kind of carving or narrowing down. They're already ready to go. And so they're not often painted and could be made very easily for collectors.
The abundance of bamboo spears can be contrasted to the absence of the multi-pronged wooden spear. We know that this spear was used in Milingimbi and in Arnhem Land. But in our collection, we don't have any of them. And this spear was probably in use at the time for fishing and hunting, and so the Yolngu would be reluctant to part with this type of spear, as they still needed it. It was an-- the object that had been rendered obsolete, due to the introduction of European equivalents that were increasingly available to collectors, rather than the items that were still being used.
So even though Thompson did try to get a representative sample of everyday life, he could not collect items that people did not want to part with. In addition, some items would be hidden, so that they would not be asked for to be sold. And specifically, these did tend to be spears that were associated with ceremony. So those are just a few of the factors that influence the collectors that be made and the different controlling factors, and preferences, and biases that change what collectors do choose to take home with them.
But there's another unique part of this collection that we did explore. So these are the miniature spears, which pictured on the far side there. So these demonstrate the producers' motivations, because Wells collected these 13 miniature spears, and they demonstrate that the changing intentions of producers over time. So when changes occur to artefacts in indigenous communities, it's important to consider whether these new items reflect indigenous innovations or are a response to Western influences.
The creation of miniatures I have classed as a shift towards the tourist market. And I will explain the elements that indicate to me why the producers decided to make this change. So the spears collected by Webb and Thompson in the early years are the normal size standard for Arnhem Land spears. They're all about 2.5 metres long, whereas these miniatures are only a quarter of this normal size, so they're only 70 centimetres long.
But, interestingly, they're not scaled-down versions of the larger spears, so they're not true miniatures in the sense that all the components are kind of reproduced on smaller form. All the components are there, but the proportions are all different. So some spear components have retained their original size. 60% of the miniatures feature a spearhead that is comparable to the full-sized spear.
In order to support these large spearheads, it needed a large joint. And the average binding length from the miniature spears is 73 millimetres, which is almost identical to 74 millimetres on the full-length spears. So the large bindings of the miniatures are often elaborately painted, as you can see in the picture. And this is not common in the full-sized spears that are made by Webb or Thompson. The shaft of the miniature spears have also been dramatically shortened. For the full spears, the shaft is the main part. It's 80% of the item, whereas in these ones, it's only 50% really on average.
And within this miniature assemblage that we have from Wells, almost every type of spear we identified is represented, as well as a new form, which is the double-headed spear. So this is comparing the full size, and the lengths of the different spears, and the proportions of each type. And also at the top, it explains some of the other miniature comparisons that other works have focused on. So in South Australia and Ernabella, there were a lot of miniature spears made in the 1970s. And there was a PhD written on that by Gaye Sculthorpe, but those spears were small-scale replicas of the full spear. So they didn't feature the kind of changing of components. And so Wells spears differ from that.
Another comparison can be made with the Kimberley points. And in the work of Kim Akerman, he observed-- she-- sorry, they observed that the size head of the Kimberly points-- the larger ones were given as gifts. And the smaller ones were more likely to have been used as functional spearheads.
And then finally there was the daggers and spears on the Admiralty Islands in PNG. And Robin Torrence looks at the changes in the size of the stone head of the dagger and the size of the haft. And it increases in size and decorations, whilst at the same time the popularity of the dagger, which was the smaller item available, increased. So she measured this change in terms of efficiency-- looking at simplification and standardisation of designs-- as well as the level of craftsmanship.
So these examples were looking at change made specifically to meet the demands of traders. Wells' miniature spears do not align exactly with any of those other examples. So this raises the question as to why there is the change. And this comes back to what the market wants, and in this case, it's tourists. Now, I'm sure everyone here has been travelling, and I just actually got back from overseas, and the mementos that I did bring back with me were small hardy things that could fit fine in my suitcase and would survive the journey home. And this is interesting. I'll carry on.
And, unsurprisingly, this was the same in the past. So the shift to miniature items reflects-- the power going out. That's all right. Oh well, I can still read, so I can still carry on in the dark, as long-- yeah, no, I'm fine. So the same preferences existed in the past. So the shift to miniature items reflect the preference of tourists for portable and small items.
And an early example of this practise was in early 19th century. Collectors would commission groups to reproduce large items, such as huts or canoes, and they would take them back on the smaller scale to their European museums. So occasionally collectors would make the change themselves, such as Edward [? Hanchon, ?] who was one of the first anthropologists to visit Milingimbi. And he cut every spear he collected at 1.5 metres long, to make it easier to fit into his transportation crates.
So when Torrence was talking about the daggers, she wrote how the indigenous people saw the alterations that the collectors were making. They saw that the collectors were cutting the spearheads off just below the top, and they saw that the designs were being adjusted. So, accordingly, they adjusted their own designs to feature the spearhead more prominently and provide the collector with a larger proportion of decoration per size of artefact.
So Wells also has spearheads in his collection-- and possibly this same argument can apply here. So Wells was cutting the spearheads off to send them back to Darwin, where his wife writes that there was always a good market for in Darwin for good spearheads. And so the popular-- so the indigenous people would have seen that that spearhead was something to kind of be enhanced, because that was what was really the attractive element of the items.
So size is not the only thing that matters in tourist art. Authenticity is also valued. And in context of tourist art, "authenticity" refers to items that are deemed sacred or old. So I think-- so sorry, this was the double-headed miniature spear that I was referring to earlier that really kind of captures the preference the collection, in that it's a demonstration of craftsmanship. And these are some of the things that I'm going through, so that the art is transportable, and that it's authentic.
So there's a particular preference towards items that are used internally by the community, as opposed to items that are created for external sale. This is why often museum tags on artefacts will state "has been danced" in reference to traditional ceremonies. The miniature spears, however, do not meet these standards of authenticity required by tourist art, because they could not have been used as actual weapons. In particular, this double-headed spear is problematic, and it's purely a demonstration of craftsmanship and a unique item for collectors. At the time, there was also an interest and curiosity as well, so this would have been a curio more than an authentic item. But it's important to note that authenticity is a subjective exercise, and the buyer needs to find it aesthetically acceptable to his genuine and authentic standards.
And a consequence of this means that the items often become standardised or simplified. If the item needs to be mass produced, then simple designs are easier to reproduce, and these types dominate the market. But in the small sample that Wells donated, we-- the forms have not been standardised. And in fact, they have diversified further, introducing new designs and new techniques.
Torrence notes-- notices the diversification in the PNG example as well. And she attributes this to the changing function of spears in about 1910, when the weapon changed from a functional to a decorative item. Consequently, the craftspeople began to focus on and create elaborately carved patterns. And I mentioned earlier that the person Wells was replacing at the mission, Shepherdson, didn't encourage aboriginal practises. And so possibly the tradition of the spearmaking practise had died out a little bit, and the old function was no longer there. And so are the people in Milingimbi also kind of try these new types of spear.
So the rationale behind standardising designs is to remove elements that are contradictory, puzzling, or offensive to the unknown buyer. By extension, I suggest that elements that are expected in the spear are added in. So in the spears of Milingimbi, elaborately painted designs have been added to the bindings, which as you can see here. So these painted designs are possibly expected due to the popularity of bark painting in this area. These market expectations were misinformed, because these patterns were rarely found on the full size item.
Many of the miniatures feature the crosshatch design, which is a pattern of special significance in Arnhem Land. But only four of the earlier spears feature this design, and it's never on the binding. It's possible that on the full-sized spears, these patterns were reserved for the sacred categories. So these are some of the spears that are the full-sized ones. The top one is a shovel-nosed or metal-headed spear. And that has that crosshatching design. And the one beneath it is a different example of this stingray spine, which as I said, were very important spears, because they're associated with the Tiger Shark Dreaming. And so to have that crosshatching on the miniatures is not something that is common to spears. And this has been changed and adapted in these new art forms.
So having seen all these changes that the producers made, I then looked back more closely at the earlier collections made by Thompson. And I found there were kind of previous examples of what I'm going to call mass production of spears. And they are spears that are being made for a market, but instead of a tourist market, it's a market of anthropologists.
So within Thompson's collection, which was made 15 years prior to Wells with the miniatures, there are some identical examples that would suggest some spears yet were already being made for the market. So this is what I'm going to call Set 1. So the spears resemble each other very similarly, and there are two reasons that this could occur. It could be the spears have been made by the same producer. Or the alternative, which is harder to prove, is that the spears are being mass produced or copied and modelled off a single design.
So I'm going to show you some of the things that make me believe that the latter is true. And in this set, they were collected on the same day, and they feature the same unique painting and barbed patterns, and they were made by the same language group. So, also, all the measurements of these spears, which are set out in the table-- so the spears are all over 2.5 metres long. And they are only differ by 1 centimetre between the three spears. And for example, the shaft length is-- it differs by 1/2 centimetre. So they were very, very similar items. And furthermore, the pattens-- as you can see-- are very similar, as well as the barbed design.
On the next example, this is a further example, where the lengths are all very similar and as is the design. It's a little bit different, because there are a different number of barbs on each spear. But they're painted in the same way. And so perhaps this was made by the same producer, whereas in the spears in this next set, which I've called Set 3, they could be construed as an example of mass produced items. So they feature four-- the first four different spears-- the first four spears were collected on the same day, and the final spear was collected on a different day seven months later and was made by a different language group. But you can see there are a lot of similarities between all the spears.
However, the skill in the execution of the spears varies greatly. In the examples of Set 1 and 2, the carving is very uniform across all the types. But in this set, the-- I don't want-- mean to pick on the maker-- but in the third spear from the left, it's not as well carved. When you're looking at the item. the barbs don't come as clearly from the centre part. You can't see that definition between the barb and the main part of the spear.
And so this suggests that they weren't made by the same person, but they were obviously made to look the same. So that kind of made me believe that different individuals produced these spears based on the same model in order to trade with the visiting anthropologists, because it was something that they believed that they were looking for.
So as I said, I've termed these as mass produced. And they're not to be confused with spears that are simply made by the same craftsperson. Within Webb's collection, there are several pairs of spears that closely resemble each other. And because he had that culture of paying people for the spears they created, I believe those ones are more similar to being just made by the same craftsperson.
So a large issue that arises, then, is whether the items in their adopted form remain indigenous artefacts. And if tourist are is made for, used by, and believed solely by Westerners, then is it really indigenous art? Carpenter argues that if its roots are Western, then-- and so is its audience. In terms of the Milingimbi spears, I believe they have definitely remained an indigenous item-- particularly when you compare them to the full size-- so the miniatures and the full size.
The missionaries and anthropologists may have encouraged the practise, but they did not control it. And combining the cultural and anaesthetic goals of the producers and the expectations of consumers is a difficult compromise. But indigenous innovation is definitely present in all of these items, as is seen in the diversification.
So my research tracked the changes in spears and their recontextualisation from a secular weapon to decorative tourist art. The recontextualisation represents a response by indigenous people to the fact that spears were no longer required on a practical level. And so they were repurposed to become items of trade with Westerners. This change may have helped reflect-- helped to prolong the creation of these item, as it was predicted that when the rifle became popular, spears would become irrelevant. Yet production of spears continued due to the encouragement by missionaries and the popularity of the item in these kind of collections and by museums.
So as has been demonstrated, a collection can carry many narratives. The ideas I've discussed today were inspired by a collection of only 135 spears. Museums globally contain so much material, and it's important for these to be examined and explored. The artefact can be reimagined in an infinite number of ways, providing for endless discoveries and a great depth of research. These findings can subsequently contribute to the way that the items are displayed and used by museums.
So in terms of the future for this project, we're hoping to update the database. We're also having to publish some articles about the things we found and about the specific elements of the spears that differ to other areas in Australia and just to explain what's new that we found out about the spears. So that actually brings me to the end of my presentation, and if there are any questions, feel free to ask.
Thank you, Sophie, for a fantastic talk. And I'm sure she's absolutely convinced everybody of what wonderful things you can find out about collections that are generally ignored and all seem the same and yet great-- great advertisement for the work. So any questions?
Yeah, very interesting talk and especially your insight into the interplay between the market and the production of new forms of spearheads et cetera. A similar thing happened in the Western Desert with-- [? pushing ?] desert out to them, but at a much grander scale where the market and the producers were working-- sort of interplay situation. But I was just wondering, have you come across any correspondence between the missionaries-- or the collectors-- and the buyers outside of Arnhem Land?
Yeah, I did actually. I read a whole lot of letters and correspondence between Wells, who was that one with the miniature spears and a university in Queensland-- I think a collector there whose name was [? Winterbotham. ?] And he would often write saying what he wanted, or he'd write saying can you find out the histories about these, because that's what we're interested in? And he also-- in one letter, he sent some money back to Wells and said here's the money enclosed to thank the artist for retouching up the painting of the work. So, yeah, there was also that influence from the buyers about really what they wanted that could then be communicated by the missionary to say exactly what-- I don't know-- what they were looking for and what they wanted in the items.
Yeah, that's interesting, OK.
Sophie, thank you for a fantastic paper. My question is what led you to choose spears to study?
Well, fortunately, at the museum here, they'd just kind of moved the collection into that new space, so we just had access for the first time. And also working with Lindy-- and she had an ongoing project on mealing can be as well, so I could kind of slot in very well to that other research that was going on. And I think it was also really important to have someone with connections with the community, because if we did have questions, you know there is always that kind of follow up. And when Lindy would visit up north, she could take some of the questions we have and show them some of the materials. And I guess it does give the research that we do a little bit more impact when it can be communicated back to the community that it came from originally and the things we found be shared with them. And that's that really collaborative practise that was really interesting to be a part of.
And thanks to the interim collection-- what is-- the Interim Storage Collection Relocation Project, because we did get access to the spears and the team doing that actually gave preference to the Milingimbi spears and the Arnhem Land's spears for us.
Thanks, Sophie, that was a wonderful analysis of material culture and then drawing out all the implications of that. I wonder other-- there are presumably really-- there's a larger set of spears from some of the-- from Wells and so forth that would sit elsewhere. So could-- I mean, I'm not suggesting you need to go and do this tomorrow, but would it be possible? How many more spears could you add to that set in order to capture the work of those-- the collections of those collectors?
Yes, so as I said, yeah, Thompson did collect 4,500 items in Arnhem Land. And when I was looking through the catalogue cards that he recorded, I found some other spears that had been acquired on the same date, but they hadn't been attributed to Milingimbi. So they hadn't first kind of popped up when we searched the database. And so we realised that there would probably be a lot more spears if you went in-depth into the collection and tried to find those things when information is provided. So I can't say how much it would increase by, but there definitely are some extras. But in these circumstances, a lot of the ones that hadn't been included were the spear shaft with often-- with the stone-headed spears, the binding is made quite soft, so that you can take the stone out to use it as a knife whilst hunting and then put it back in. And so we have quite a few just shafts that don't have the heads. So, again, there is that extra material that can be recorded, but it wouldn't necessarily have the same importance as the other-- well, not importance, but the information it could offer was a little bit limited as well when we did find those other samples. But yeah, there are definitely more.
But, certainly, as part of the larger project, we've looked at spears in other collections, and the Webb collection in Basel in Switzerland has a smaller number of spears. And, again, it's about those practicalities. I mean, what he sent to Basel and what he sent Melbourne, they're the main Webb collections. But we have that information. But through Sophie's project, we've been able to refine our analysis more. So unfortunately, we didn't get all the details to make-- I mean, we can bring some of that information in, and yeah, University of Queensland has some. Anthropology Museum has some. So we've got some generic information about those others that in a fuller paper we could bring in. Good question, yeah.
Any other questions? Sophie, I'll have a question. Do you want to talk a little bit more about sort of naming? One really good thing that Sophie did, too, was this investigation of-- as she said, even though it didn't fit quite well with the model of how we catalogue information. And lots of people talk about how you get indigenous knowledge into cataloguing systems. I mean, they're a Western concept, and catalogues are a Western concept. But talk a bit more about the wealth of information that emerged out of looking just even at the names-- the old times for these spears.
Yeah, so we were fortunate in-- I think of the 135 spears, about 90 of them did have names recorded. Some of them, as I said I could only find 25 of them, because the spelling changed, obviously. And the phonetic alphabet, trying to kind of translate it across to the words that we do know, but there was a lot of extra information that could be gained from that. Like for example, one of the spears was written-- it just said that the name of it was Wallaby and Emu, but obviously that's not the name of the spear, but perhaps it was what they could-- were hunting for with that spear, which is interesting, because I don't think some of those animals are in that area of Australia. But it's interesting that that's what was recorded as the name.
Also, with the bamboo spears, from the naming practises, we saw that there were two different types. So one spear that was always under 2 metres-- which was something I hadn't really noticed when I was doing the measurements-- that spear was also always referred to with one name. And then the same type of spear, which looks virtually identical, but they rule over 2 metres had a different name. So both of these names mean cane spear, but there's obviously some sort of distinction, and there's some sort of meaning to those two groups. And so we have been able to include this information and there are words for ceremonial or special. And so we know which spears from that are also a little bit more important.
So it's been really wonderful to have those names and to have the resources as well. There's a wonderful Yolngu dictionary online, that you can look up and find the words. So that was really great to be able to go back through and see what some of these names were and what they were telling-- what they were telling the collectors, whether it be the name of the spear or whether it be something different. So, yeah, it was really great to be able to do that and hopefully to be able to put all that information into the database for future people to come along and use that information for further research.
And it's also a good body of information for further discussion with community about those names. So that's another whole research project. That's the thing with all these projects. You start with this wonderful sort of collection. You frame it, and then more questions come out of it. So now I think that's-- I hope everyone appreciates the richness of what can come out, in focusing on museum collections. So if there's no more questions, I'll just get you all to thank Sophie for a fantastic talk.