By Maya Borom
The Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre is living cultural space within the Melbourne Museum that allows visitors a glimpse of the wondrous cultural heritage of Indigenous Australians. As the only living Aboriginal cultural centre in Australia, it provides an important educational and hands-on experience for those wanting to learn more about Indigenous culture.
One of the highlights of the cultural centre is the First Peoples exhibit. With the decline in usage of Aboriginal languages, coupled with the fact that everyday access to Indigenous languages is limited, the exhibition engages and teaches visitors about Indigenous languages in the hope of ensuring their survival.
A collaboration between the Melbourne Museum, Koori and Indigenous community groups, a key driving factor has been the participation of the Yylendj Group of Elders, a community reference group tasked with sharing their collective knowledge with visitors to the centre.
The welcome area, referred to as ‘Wominjeka’, offers tactile experiences through active listening and touching, allowing visitors to hear firsthand ancient languages and thus be exposed to a linguistic heritage outside of the common (predominately English language) experience in urban Australian landscapes. Visitors are immediately immersed in the rich cultural heritage of indigenous languages – a unique experience for most visitors to the centre. This is not just an auditory experience: visitors are also encouraged to actively engage with parts of the exhibition and become familiar with commonly used tools and artifacts. These experiences are further supplemented by digital media explanations of what they do or were used for.
The centre also provides a space for temporary exhibitions. The Naghlingah Boorais: Beautiful Children exhibit features the Yorta Yorta cloak (1800s), which is one of only two possum cloaks that the Museum has in their collection. As possum skin coats were traditionally used by the Koorie people as signifiers to identity and status, the centre initiated workshops with indigenous children in order to re-connect them with their cultural and spiritual heritage. The result is a display of photography, artwork and the creation of possum cloaks much like their ancestors have done for over 2,000 years. You’ll need to hurry, as this temporary exhibition is due to close on the 24th of February and is well worth seeing.
The Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre also houses the Birrarung Gallery which collaborates with community groups to host three exhibitions per year as well as the Milarri Garden which offers visitors the chance to explore Indigenous flora and their myriad uses. It’s a wonderful multi-faceted space which allows visitors to explore the relationship that Indigenous culture has with the land, and it’s flora and fauna and ties the centre’s experiences together nicely. The Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre is a must see for visitors to the Melbourne Museum as if offers a cultural experience unlike any other in Australia.
Find out more about Bunjilaka on the Melbourne Museum website.