Issue 2
Monday, 29 February 2016
Charles Darwin University
Masters student Adam Macfie: “Fantastic laboratory for this interface to exist”
Masters student Adam Macfie: “Fantastic laboratory for this interface to exist”

Student unpacks value of Strehlow Collection

By Patrick Nelson

An anthropologist studying at Charles Darwin University in Alice Springs says he believes the significance of Central Australia’s Strehlow Collection is yet to be understood fully.

“It is quite an incredible cultural resource and has much to offer other institutions around the world,” said Adam Macfie at his Masters confirmation presentation last week.

“I believe it is probably the best and most well documented ethnographic collection in existence,” he said.

Mr Macfie brings a uniquely informed perspective, having worked at the Strehlow Research Centre for about 10 years before starting a scholarly analysis of the collection as an intercultural resource.

“I’m exploring the concept of significance and how it is understood in both the institutional and Indigenous cultural context,” he said.

“‘Significance’ is one of the most powerful conceptual tools used in museum practice to evaluate an object.”

Mr Macfie said he was searching for answers to questions such as: how does the institution interpret the collection, how do custodians interpret the collection and how these interpretations interact with and inform one another?

“The Strehlow Collection is a fantastic laboratory for this interface to exist.

“It is one thing to consider the significance of a cultural object from a curatorial perspective, but a whole new world opens up when you consider it from a custodian’s cultural standpoint.

“It’s amazing where an intercultural understanding of significance can take you.”

Mr Macfie said he anticipated that his findings would be of use to other collections – interstate and overseas – that contained sacred objects and important ethnographic collections of archival material.

The Strehlow Collection is the culmination of anthropologist Ted Strehlow’s work between 1932 and 1970. It contains diaries, maps, genealogies, film, photos, sound recordings and more than 1000 sacred objects relevant to the Indigenous ceremonial life of the Aranda people.