Baskets and belonging:
Indigenous Australian histories

26 May – 11 September 2011
Room 91
Admission free

This exhibition forms part of Australian season – a series of exhibitions and events at the British Museum focusing on Australia from April to October 2011.

Australian season is supported by Rio Tinto.

Baskets and belonging: Indigenous Australian histories will feature a selection of nearly ninety Indigenous Australian baskets from the British Museum’s remarkable collection, including both rare and unique examples. The objects on display are from across the whole Australian continent, and date from the beginning of European contact with Australia to the present. This exhibition introduces something of the rich diversity of Aboriginal history and identity by telling the stories connected to these revealing baskets.

Indigenous Australians are not a single group, but rather many interconnecting groups, each belonging to different territory. At the time of European settlement they had been living on the continent for about 55,000 years, and spoke more than 200 languages. They lived in the many varied environments of the continent, including rainforests, wetlands, mountains, plains, deserts and coasts. Most of these groups were mobile, moving from place to place within their territories. They made and used comparatively few objects: their riches were and are intellectual, philosophical and religious.

This significant cultural diversity is reflected in the diversity of elegant and sculptural forms, and painted and dyed decoration in the exhibition. It includes many important historic baskets, such as a small water carrier from Tasmania, skilfully constructed from a single piece of kelp. Kelp water carriers appear in early historic drawings, but this object, collected in the 1840s, is the only example now known. It is the basis of a contemporary revival among indigenous Tasmanians. Baskets from the coastal rainforest region of Queensland, such as that illustrated on the exhibition poster, had multiple uses. Painted baskets, such as this one, held the personal possessions of an individual man. Similar unpainted baskets were used in food gathering, while the largest of this kind were used by men to carry babies. The exhibition also includes contemporary baskets, drawing new materials into old traditions to make new kinds of object.

Indigenous baskets and fibre work are increasingly recognised as an important aspect of Indigenous Art in Australia. This exhibition introduces this aspect of Aboriginal art to London.

Indigenous Australian dilly bag made of cane

Indigenous Australian dilly bag made of cane. Collected in Malgrave, Cairns, Queensland, Australia. Probably 20th century.
© The Trustees of the British Museum.

Australian season

April – October 2011 – The British Museum and Rio Tinto present Australian season, a season dedicated to Australian culture featuring a broad programme of exhibitions, installations, performances, lectures and film screenings. The season is supported by Rio Tinto and includes Baskets and belonging: Indigenous Australian histories along with Out of Australia: prints and drawings from Sidney Nolan to Rover Thomas, a prints and drawings exhibition featuring works by Australian artists from the 1940s to the present, Australia Landscape, a specially commissioned space presenting Australian biodiversity in the Museum’s forecourt (in collaboration with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew), and a rich and varied public programme.

Notes to Editors:

  • A catalogue will be published by British Museum Press to accompany Baskets and belonging: Indigenous Australian histories written by curator Lissant Bolton.

  • Rio Tinto is a leading international mining group headquartered in the UK, combining Rio Tinto plc, a London and NYSE listed company, and Rio Tinto Limited, which is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange. Rio Tinto's business is finding, mining, and processing mineral resources. Major products are aluminium, copper, diamonds, energy (coal and uranium), gold, industrial minerals (borax, titanium dioxide, salt, talc) and iron ore. Activities span the world but are strongly represented in Australia and North America with significant businesses in South America, Asia, Europe and southern Africa. Rio Tinto acknowledges that the conservation and responsible management of the environment and natural resources – such as land, water, biodiversity and air – are important business and societal issues. The Group’s biodiversity strategy commits Rio Tinto to achieving the goal of a “net positive impact” on biodiversity – ensuring that biodiversity ultimately benefits as a result of company’s activities in a region. Rio Tinto is the largest private sector employer of Indigenous Australians, currently representing [8] per cent of the Group’s Australian workforce.

  • There will be a number of events related to this exhibition including From Dreamtime to Machinetime, Friday 17 June, 18.30, £5, Members and concessions £3. Rebecca Hossack, former Australian cultural attaché in London, gallery owner and champion of Aboriginal art, discusses Aboriginal art and culture from its ancient creation myths and unique views of the land to its engagement with contemporary Australian life.


Esme Wilson: or 020 7323 8394