Aboriginal cultural materials


Objects as ancestors, collections as consultation tools
Ambassadors is the Museum’s ongoing display of First Nations culture and heritage. Throughout the Museum, you will meet 'ambassadors' from eight regions of Aboriginal Australia.

Objects are one of many tools that people across the world use to connect with their ancestral heritage and knowledge. On each floor of the Museum, displays of objects made by Aboriginal peoples from eight Nations become ‘ambassadors’ of Aboriginal Australia. Each Ambassador has been curated within and informed by Aboriginal knowledge frameworks. We welcome descendants’ continuing work with the collections made by their ancestors.

Fish hooks

Bera (fishook)
Eora Peoples, Sydney
Donated by Fr Eugene Stockton 1985
Macleay Collections, ET2014.1871, ET2014.1872

Introduction to the Ambassadors

Level 3, foyer

Buraga! Baya, buruga !
(Rise! Voices and hands!)
Yanma baru, yanma bulbuwul
(Move fast and move strong)
Naminmamila nugbady, dunga ngyinigai migal
(Show your love and shed your tears)
Yilabara, badjamibuni, midyungmibuni
(Today, do not harm, but mend)

– Joel Davison, Gadigal ambassador, 2016


Ngurti, coolamon
Nyikina Mangala language association
Macleay Collections, ETD.1117

Dolord (cave)

Level 3

Dolord means 'cave’ for those who have responsibility to the Wandjina: the Worrorra, Ngarinyin and Wunambal peoples.

"When the word came that we could get our native title to our land, we travelled back to the desert. We went to Kurtal three times. We have to prove if it is our own country or not. It is really piyirnkura (Aboriginal) land. We know exactly how we fit together, we know our own country and we know the right people for the other jila (waterholes). We don’t cut across, we have to go lightly into other people’s country. But in kartiya law we don’t know where we stand. In kartiya law it is all mixed up."

– Ngarralja Tommy May Wangkajunga and Walmajarri 2016

Danala, woven basket

Danala  (woven basket) 
Larrakia country, Darwin, Northern Territory
Probably collected by Edward Spalding, c.1877
Macleay Collections, ETB.1072

Gwalwa daraniki (Our land)

Level 3

"The British settlers took our land. No treaties were signed with the tribes. Today we are refugees. Refugees in the country of our ancestors. We live in Refugee camps – without land, without employment, without justice. The British Crown signed treaties with the Maoris in New Zealand and the Indians in North America. We appeal to the Queen to help us, the Aboriginal people of Australia. We need land rights and political representation now."

– Larrakia petition, 1972


Jill Nga (headband)
Wik Mungan peoples    
Macleay Collections, ETA1032

Thum-pupiya (Firestick)

Level 2

"I paint, craft and make artefacts to ground myself. It is known that these techniques, used over hundreds of years, become embedded in our DNA. So, through the process of making a spear or shaping the figure of a spirit, I connect with my ancestors and they help bring my practices to life."

– Bernard Singleton Djabuguy, Umpila, Yirrkandji,  2019


Nolla Nolla, (meaning clubs in Karun-burra language)
Herbert River region, North Queensland, c. 1885 
Macleay Collections, ETH.1013.1-2, ETH.1010

Kurranji (Cassowary)

Level 2

"When you see this design, you know it’s about the storm story, how storms started, and fighting, and that it’s a story in itself … You have got mountains and rivers as the two main boundaries, you follow rivers, and between rivers and the other rivers you always met half way, you’ll notice the boundaries are in the middle of the river, it’s not by accident, we go halves. It’s Girramay/Jirrbal, halfway between the Davison River. You won’t see that on any maps."

– Ernie Grant, Jirrbal, 2019


Murruwaygu, (designs that are carved onto trees and weapons)
Wiradjuri language association
Murrumbidgee River, 
collected after 1839
Macleay Collections, 1790–1892, ETH.1124



Shield people

Level 1

The Shield People are from Sydney, the NSW coast and inland and protected other inland nations during colonisation.

"Ballumb Ambul Ngunawhal Ngambri yindamarra. Ngadu bang marang Ngadhu Ngu-nha winhanga nha nulabang nguwandang. Ngadhu biyap yuganha. Birrang a ngawaal. Ngadhu, yand yaman gid yal. Yindyamarra. Mandaang. Ngarind-ja.

In the language of Wiradjuri, my people: I pay respect to the ancient Ngunawhal and Ngambri. I say this: good day. I am giving my first speech and I am deeply moved. I have journeyed to another place – a powerful place. I am one person. I wish in this House to honour, to be respectful, to be gentle and to be polite. I am thankful, happy. I could weep."

– Linda Burney MP, Wiradjuri, maiden speech, House of Representatives, 31 August 2016


Riji, (pearl shell) Bardi peoples
Kimberley, Western Australia
transferred from the Department of Anthropology, c.1970
Macleay Collections, ETA2009

Aalingoon (Scales of the rainbow serpent)

Level 1

"Songlines are a library of information. They are many things: a road map, a bible, our history. The examples and stories in songlines guide the way we live and give us our unique cultural identities. But our culture and history are an oral one, if it is not talked about, it is forgotten."

– Cornel Ozzies, 2016

Stone axe

Kurrijuwa, (stone axe heads)
Tiwi Islands, Northern Territory
Collected by Keith Hart, 1928–29
Transferred from the Department of Anthropology, c.1962
Macleay Collections, ETH.1792




Murrakupuni (Place, country)

Level 4

"Each dreaming has different paint. Different where we come from like totem. Great and grandfathers, fathers. It’s sort like we all Tiwi people from the two islands [but] different totem. We all the same style like what we do back home. It was passing down from the old people. Passing down the knowledge they had. Passing down to us, and us, we are passing down our knowledge to next generation, ongoing."

– Jacinta Tipungwuti, Tiwi 2019

Bark painting

Marndiyingunyuny, dugong
Port Essington, Cobourg Peninsula, Northern Territory
collected by Edward Spalding or James Cox before 1878
Macleay Family, 1790–1892
Macleay Collections, ETP.993,

Mangara, Wo? (Do you intend to give this to us?)
Port Essington

Level 4

"We urge the leadership of this country to support the Referendum Council’s first recommendation to have a voice to Parliament, to have a body that enables us to determine our affairs … Let us sit around the one campfire. As the Yolngu said at Uluru – we have an obligation to keep the fire burning."

– Professor Tom Calma AO, co-chair of Reconciliation Australia, from the Joint Statement in Support of First Nations’ Voice to Parliament, 2019

Featured image (top of the page) clockwise from top: Bigg-unn, shield, Jirrbal and Girramay language association, ETH1123; Ngurti, coolamon Nyikina Mangala language association, ETD.1117; Murruwaygu, shield, Wiradjuri language association, ETH1124;  All Macleay Collections