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University of Sydney photographic exhibition traces Pacific history
No Title [Punitive action, crewmen of the HMS Royalist torching canoes], 1891-1892 [possibly] Roviana, Western Province, Solomon Islands. Photo: Crew or passenger of HMS Royalist, copy print, donated by B Bowden . Originals held by Fiji National Museum. Macleay Museum (HP87.14.24)
SYDNEY.- An exhibition of historic photographs at the University of Sydney’s Macleay Museum offers a fascinating look at life in the Pacific during the early colonial period.

Dating from the late 1850s the images on display are drawn exclusively from the Macleay Museum’s extensive historic photograph collection. The show includes photographs taken by missionaries, anthropologists, tourists, and early government expeditions. They offer intriguing insights into the history of some of Australia’s nearest neighbours.

Points of Focus features images of the British proclamation of a protectorate in Papua in 1884, colonial and civil war in Samoa in the late 19th century, and Douglas Mawson’s first scientific expedition - to Vanuatu in 1903. The personal side of colonial service is shown in the family photos of Sir Hubert Murray (Australian Lieutenant-Governor of Papua for over thirty years, up until 1940). Detailed and intimate glimpses of Solomon Islanders’ every day and ceremonial life are seen in the images captured by anthropologists working in the region in the early 20th century. There are five themes to the exhibition: community, sea & land, governance, spirituality and the market.

“We wanted to depict people, places and times that don’t receive a lot of attention in history books but have an important historical and ongoing relationship with Australia,” says exhibition curator Rebecca Conway.

Rebecca developed Points of Focus after researching Pacific collections in Britain, France and the Netherlands.

“There are some similarities between our holdings and significant overseas collections – for the exhibition we have selected a really interesting cross-section of unique and commonly seen images. The exhibition tracks the changing idea and visual conception of the Pacific and Pacific Islanders from the late 19th and into the 20th century from a diversity of perspectives. Working with these photographs was like travelling back in time, seeing both dramatic moments of Pacific history, such as the 1937 volcanic eruption that swallowed Rabaul, and the closer, more detailed views of individuals, the daily lives of Pacific Islanders and the foreigners who they met with.”

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