I have a passionate interest in Pacific collections held in Museums. My Masters research looked at re-contextualising a historical body adornment called Middi referred to as shell collars by Museums, which is relevant to the Tolai people of East New Britain, Papua New Guinea. As a practicing artist based in Melbourne, I am interested in the history of artefacts made by Indigenous communities, historical people and events related to colonialism and religion in the Pacific region and how objects have come to exist in museums. In November 2015 I began working on Museum Victoria’s collection made by Rev Rickard as a Volunteer under the supervision of Dr Liz Bonshek, Senior Curator, Pacific Cultures. I was aware of Rev. Rickard from a previous visit to the Collection Stores in earlier years, so, I was keen to find out more.
My aim in researching Reverend Rickard is to reveal more about a less than known man who collected ethnographic objects and specimens from Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific region which are now held in three public institutions; Museum Victoria, Queensland Museum and the Australian Museum between 1891 – 1893. I’m also curious to know if my research about Rev. Rickard will reveal any further details of and about Middi, given that he was there during the time when Middi were still worn by Tolai Luluai; Chiefs. (Image above depicts a man wearing a Middi around his neck, and other Tolai men preparing to set a Wup / fish trap, Rabaul, Papua New Guinea)
Richard Heath Rickard, was born in New South Wales (born1858 – died 1938). After training in theology at the Newington College, Rickard travelled with the Methodist Mission to New Britain in 1882 at the age of 24. He spent several years on the Gazelle Peninsular of what today is East New Britain, Papua New Guinea. In his seven years in New Guinea, he mastered Kuanua the local language of the Tolai and in 1889, produced the first written Kuanua dictionary reference book of the Tolai people. He was a pioneer missionary of the late 19th century and regarded as a gifted speaker. From my initial reflections of discovering this collection and given my cultural identity being associated to East New Britain, most of these artefacts held in Melbourne Museum are no longer made or practiced culturally.
I intend to create an online platform that links the three disparate collections, find out more information related to Tolai Middi and reveal history related to Reverend Rickard.
This research is generously supported through a Museum Victoria 1854 Scholarship 2016.