Historical information

These Message Sticks acknowledge the return of Dja Dja Wurrung Cultural material held by the Burke Museum. The Burke Museum is the current custodian of a significant collection of First Peoples’ cultural material from across South-Eastern Australia. These objects were sold to the Museum by Reynold Everly Johns in 1868. We recognise the harm caused by dispossession of cultural material, and by any inappropriate display and interpretation of this collection over the past 150 years. The Burke Museum is continuing to build relationships and collaborate with traditional owners, Aboriginal communities and the museum sector to ensure culturally appropriate outcomes for the collection, including repatriation of objects to communities of origin.

Message sticks are a form of communication between Aboriginal nations, clans and language groups even within clans. Traditional message sticks were made and crafted from wood and were generally small and easy to carry (between 10 and 20 cm). They were carved, incised and painted with symbols and decorative designs conveying messages and information. Some were prepared hastily, like you might create a note left on a friend’s desk or a quick text message; others were prepared with more time to make the markings neat and ornate. There were always marks that were distinctive to the particular group or nation sending the message and often marks identifying the relationship of the carrier to their group. This way it could be identified and authenticated by neighboring groups and by translators when the message stick was taken long distances.

Physical description

Two solid cylindrical shaped pieces of wood bound together with black, red and yellow string. Each stick has etchings with angular lines and dots.