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Precious necklace returns to Tasmania after nearly 200 years

Last month, Regenstein Pacific team members Chris Philipp and Julia Kennedy traveled to lutruwita (Tasmania) carrying a necklace on loan to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. Entitled taypani-milaythina tu: Return to Country, the exhibition featuring the necklace contains Tasmanian Aboriginal items held overseas, and art made in response to those items.

Pakana (Tasmanian Aboriginal) artist Andrew Gall created a companion piece to FM 272969 not as a replica, but as a reaction and placeholder for the necklace until it could return to Tasmania. The two necklaces were installed in one case, facing each other as though in conversation, at the suggestion of the artist.

The necklace, made sometime before 1834, is the only one of its kind known in the world. It was taken from Tasmania, then Van Diemen’s land, by collector John Merriman, from whose descendants it passed to British collector Alfred Fuller and on to the Field Museum in 1958. For the ensuing decades the vital importance of the necklace to the pakana went unrecognized, until 2016, when researcher Zoe Rimmer shared photos and information about it with TMAG and community members in Hobart.

Made of plant fiber cord and colored with ochre, the necklace looks unassuming at first glance. Still, Zoe and others noticed its similarity to necklaces depicted in portraits of Wurati, a leader, negotiator and important figure of Tasmanian Aboriginal resistance during the era of colonial genocide on the island. As the only known example of this type of necklace, it is important that the indigenous people of Tasmania be able to see and interact with the necklace while it is under the care of the Field Museum. For now, that means accessing it at TMAG; the Museum and community will revisit its disposition over the two year loan period.

While Chris and Julia’s trip lasted only a brief 4 days, they have made connections which they hope will lead to further collaboration between the Field and Australian Aboriginal communities. Conversations and research conducted during the visit have already enriched our understanding of the Tasmanian collection at the Museum.

The trip was bookended by a flurry of other activity for the Australian collections, including visits by Chicago’s Australian consul general Chris Elstoft; productive research visits by scholars Alistair Paterson and Jason Gibson, and ambassador Caroline Kennedy’s visit to the necklace at TMAG.

  1. Artist Andrew Gall holding the necklace in its travel mount, with TMAG First Peoples Art and Culture team leader Tony Brown

  2. Both necklaces installed in their case

  3. The necklace being arranged on its mount

  4. TMAG and FM teams and community members after welcoming the necklace

  5. L-R Andrew Gall, Theresa Sainty, Tony Brown, and Teangi Brown examining the necklace

  6. Plaster bust of Wurati (wearing a similar necklace) in the TMAG exhibit

  7. Hobart, seen from the top of kunanyi/Mt. Wellington

  8. Tasmania seen from the approaching flight

  9. Hobart, kunanyi, and rainbow


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