Museum shops of the world: the Koorie Heritage Trust — plus the Moving Tongues exhibit

Yesterday was shockingly windy, but I had to leave the house for a Continuum programming meeting (aka eating a steak sandwich with a friend while we made plans and took notes and scribbled things like “THIS PANEL CANNOT RUN WITHOUT MAJORITY ASIAN PANELISTS” in our spreadsheets).

And since I was in the city anyway, I managed to knock some places off my to-do-one-day list: the Koorie Heritage Trust, and the Moving Tongues exhibit at the City Library.

The Koorie Heritage Trust is a combination gallery/research facility/storing house for Indigenous knowledge and artefacts/education service. The Trust originally came to my attention because it occasionally runs events and workshops for writers in conjunction with the Wheeler Centre — Indigenous languages, writing about Indigenous people, that sort of thing — but they have a facility of their own in Federation Square.

Upstairs is the research centre, where books, artefacts and oral records are stored. It’s a lovely space, with two meeting rooms, some excellent couches, artwork, and a table of colouring pages for kids.

Downstairs is a gallery space, currently devoted to an exhibition by Lee Darroch titled Yenbena biganga, gaiyimarr biganga: Stitching together the Songlines. Darroch’s primary media here are kangaroo and possum skin, but there are also pieces constructed from found objects — driftwood, stones, shells — and her sketches of the oldest surviving possum skin cloaks in the country.

Little context is given about the works, but they have a spare elegance that I really admired, and I strongly recommend checking this free exhibition out before it closes on 27 November.

And then there was the shop.

Quokkas, I’m developing a Theory about museum shops, which is that the smaller and more niche the museum or gallery, the better its shop will be. Because the Koorie Heritage Trust has an excellent shop full of objects I’ve never seen anywhere else. Everything featured was created or designed by Indigenous artists, and they ranged from blank greeting cards ($6.50) to hand-carved eucalyptus leaves to wall art costing $200 or more.

There was also — and this bit really impressed me — original art, painted onto A5 sized water-colour paper, for $40. At first I was like, “Gosh, this is a rather fancy postcard,” BUT NO, it wasn’t a print.

And the books! The Trust’s shop has a really good collection of books, from fiction by Indigenous authors to non-fiction about Koorie cultures, history, achievements and politics. I was particularly intrigued by Aboriginal Convicts, about Maori, Khoisan and Indigenous Australians who became convicts in Australia.


  • 1 greeting card ($6.50) because I’m still doing that budget thing, ugh

The Koorie Heritage Trust

  • Levels 1 and 2, The Yarra Building, Federation Square — opposite ACMI, near the cafe just upstairs from the NGV
  • Accessibility — like all of Fed Square, the Trust is fully accessible, with ramp access outside and elevators within
  • Cost of entry: FREE!

Overall score

  • Four Aboriginal flag cufflinks out of five



Having some time to kill, I then trekked up to the City Library to check out the Moving Tongues exhibition, a very small exhibition about non-English speakers in Melbourne in the final decade of the nineteenth century.

I very much wish this had been larger, maybe part of a wider exhibition on multiculturalism in Victorian Victoria (heh), because it was fascinating, and I wanted more — from the meeting between Victorian politicians and Chinese(-Australian) and Indian(-Australian) community leaders about their opposition to the Immigration Exclusion Act, to the existence of the Chinese Oath, which was used in the Victorian legal system long after it had been abandoned in its place of origin, Hong Kong.

Much of the exhibit was A3 prints of historical records and photographs, accompanied by detailed notes. I suspect it was hampered by lack of budget, but it was effective despite its simplicity, and gave me some jumping off points for further research. For example, the first “Chinese” and “Indian” interpreters in the Victorian legal system were white men, but after 1909, William Ah Ket, a Chinese-Australian linguist from Wangaratta, became the Chinese-English interpreter of choice in the Melbourne Supreme Court. He was also a lawyer, and the first Chinese-Australian to be admitted to the Bar.

The exhibit did not have a shop, but — being in a library — it had something even better: a display of related books for visitors to borrow. Sadly, I am heavily in debt to the City Library, and really cannot show my face there without shame.

But my to-read list has grown regardless — I’m especially keen to read The Chinawoman by Ken Oldis, a non-fiction account of the murder of an English sex worker who primarily worked in the Chinese community (hence her nickname and the title, which I’m super not into) of Gold Rush era Victoria. I was a bit hmmmmm when I looked at it yesterday, but this review seems promising.