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Donald Thomson Ethnohistory Collection

This collection records the life’s work of Professor Donald Thomson (1901-1970), who undertook extensive fieldwork in Arnhem Land, Cape York Peninsula, Central Australia, the Solomon Islands and West Papua between 1928 and 1963.

The material, of enormous breadth, covers anthropology, linguistics, botany, zoology, ornithology and ecology. Thomson lived in Aboriginal communities and meticulously recorded the cultural practices he observed.

The collection includes film; high-quality photographs; sound recordings and transcripts; original maps detailing the landscape and Indigenous occupation, including drawings of ceremonial grounds; notebooks recording genealogy, kinship and language; correspondence; illustrations and equipment. The audiovisual material contains some of the earliest extant moving and still colour film of Central Australia.

A tireless campaigner for Aboriginal rights, Thomson used his material to write over forty scholarly publications and a large number of articles, lectures and reports.

The collection is important to researchers, academics and film-makers as it provides rare insights into Aboriginal people’s lives and lands prior to government mission administration.

The acclaimed film, Ten Canoes, drew upon Donald Thomson’s work, as represented in this collection. The material is also highly valuable to, and continually visited by, Indigenous communities; for some, it is the only record of their heritage.

It has also been used in successful Native Title land and sea claims.

Inscription Number: #25

Year of Inscription: 2008

Physical Location: Museum Victoria

File cards in Indigenous languages with English translations

File cards in Indigenous languages with English translations, Donald Thomson Ethnohistory Collection.

Photographs and field notes in the Donald Thomson Ethnohistory Collection

Photographs and field notes, Donald Thomson Ethnohistory Collection.

a photograph of Rosemary Wrench

Curator Rosemary Wrench with manuscripts in the Donald Thomson Ethnohistory Collection.

All images courtesy of Museum Victoria