Dr Leah Lui-Chivizhe: Ongoing Responsibilities’ and Finding Answers

Our special guest speaker, Dr Leah Lui-Chivizhe presented ‘Ongoing Responsibilities’ and Finding Answers’ in May 2021, at GML Heritage, Sydney.

Dr Lui-Chivizhe was the inaugural speaker at the First Nations Speaker Series presented by GML Heritage and the Research Centre for Deep History at the Australian National University.

‘Ongoing Responsibilities’ and Finding Answers’ was a talk about the challenges of working with collections gathered during colonisation—specifically ancestral remains—and the unresolved issues this creates for First Nations people.

Photo: Ben Silverstein (ANU), Charlotte Feakins (GML Heritage), Dr Leah Lui-Chivizhe and Sharon Veale (GML Heritage CEO).

About the Presentation

The 1875 Chevert expedition, headed by Macleay Museum founder WJ Macleay, was the first Australian scientific expedition into New Guinea. With the explicit aim of collecting and documenting the natural environment, the expedition members gathered vast amounts of animal and plant material from the east coast of Australia, Torres Strait and coastal New Guinea. The objects and data from the expedition, along with valuable Torres Strait cultural material are part of a substantial collection at the University. During his time on Erub, in the eastern Torres Strait, Macleay also collected ancestral remains.

In 2018, Dr Lui-Chivizhe started researching the collection in preparation for an exhibition of the natural history and cultural material. Planning the exhibition has given renewed impetus to engage with the Erubam community.  The ancestral remains pose significant challenges for Dr Lui-Chivizhe as a curator and an Islander with strong familial connections to Erub.

The presentation reflected on the challenges of working with the collection and consider how situating Macleay’s collecting practices in the broader context of settler colonialism and Christianity on Erub in 1875 might help find answers for the question Erubam continue to ask, almost 150 years later, “Why did they take our old people?”

About Dr Leah Lui-Chivizhe

Historian and curator, Dr Lui-Chivizhe is Meriam le with enduring connections to the Mer, Erub, Badu and Mabuiag islands of the Torres Strait. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow in history at the University of Sydney. With a broad geographic focus on Oceania and the Torres Strait more specifically, her work is on histories of settler colonialism and indigenous resistance, decolonising museum collections and practices and Islander histories of human and more-than-human entanglements. Her first book, Masked Histories: Turtle shell masks and Torres Strait Islander people will be published by Melbourne University Publishing in late 2021.