With discussions underway about where to build Australia’s national centre for Aboriginal art and culture, the name of a humble museum at the University of Western Australia has been thrown into the mix.

Founded by anthropologists Catherine and Ronald Berndt in 1976, The Berndt Museum of Anthropology houses one of the world’s most significant collections of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and cultural material, including over 11,500 objects and 35,000 photographs and audio-visual recordings.

Telling stories from different times and places, the museum contains UNSECO listed Yirrkala drawings from north-east Arnhem Land, some of the earliest pieces of contemporary art for the Birrundudu in North Territory, and human figures intricately craved onto boab nuts from the Kimberley.

The Berndt collection has significantly contributed to the current education of Aboriginal culture and provides an invaluable insight into the history of Aboriginal people, both ancient and contemporary.

 In August, WA Treasurer Ben Wyatt committed $2 million towards the planning of an Aboriginal Cultural Centre. Given this announcement and the fact that Berndt has been seeking to establish a standalone museum to display their collection and expand it beyond the artefacts collated by Reynold and Catherine Berndt, the timing seems right for the establishment of a national indigenous centre right here in WA.

However, the competition for being the home state of the centre is stiff, with South Australia and the North Territory also vying for the honour. With an official announcement on where the centre will be built seemingly a while off, Perth residents are lucky enough the have the Berndt within arm’s reach. Many of the collection’s artworks are exhibited at the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, which is also located on the grounds of UWA. For viewings of the anthropological artefacts, visitors will need to book ahead.

Image credit: Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery Website.

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