The Daylesford and District Historical Society with Uncle Rick Nelson have been awarded the First Nations Project of the Year Award for their Coranderrk Portraits exhibition at the Daylesford Museum earlier this year.

The 2023 Victorian Museums and Galleries Awards were announced at a gala ceremony held on Tuesday 10 October at ACMI – Melbourne’s centre for screen culture.

The exhibition featured a collection of life-sized portraits of Dja Dja Wurrung people forced off their land to live at the Coranderrk Aboriginal Station. It  included a narrated film led by Djaara Elder Uncle Rick Nelson and Professor Barry Golding, taking visitors on a truth-seeking journey across significant local sites. The exhibition was complemented by storyboards, videos, images, text, and artefacts that provided insights into the Dja Dja Wurrung story and Coranderrk history. The exhibition offered a rare opportunity to reflect on the impact of colonisation and forced removal on the Dja Dja Wurrung people and their communities.

The judges commented that “this project showcases impactful local collaboration and dialogue led by Elders and First Peoples, bridging cultural divides, decolonising spaces, and reconnecting Djaara Ancestors with their community through powerful ancestral portraits. Involving young children in interpreting the artwork adds an inter-generational dimension to this small-scale initiative with a strong community spirit.”

Museum curator, Gary Lawrence, has been an advocate of reconciliation initiatives through his work with the Historical Society, the Museum and the Shire’s Reconciliation Action Committee. “We are proud of our connections (with the Dja Dja Wurrung people) and have always aimed to offer ideas, exhibition and education as approved and guided by Djaara representatives,” he said.

Gary was uncertain if the exhibition would ever travel to another venue. “Any exhibition involving First Nations experiences or stories must be guided by and in partnership with relevant local Elders and the Traditional Owner group,” he said. “The fact that the events of the exhibition happened in our ‘backyard’ made it so impactful.”

Uncle Rick Nelson looks forward to further projects with the Museum. “It’s been an honour to collaborate  with Gary (Lawrence) and Donna (Spiller) and the Daylesford  community,” he said. “Thank you Daylesford  Historical  Society for giving the the Coranderrk portraits a voice.”

This year marks the first time Australian Museums and Galleries Association Victoria (AMaGA Victoria) and Public Galleries Association of Victoria (PGAV) have partnered to deliver the Awards. The 2023 Awards received a record 55 nominations, showcasing a remarkable range of high quality projects carried out by Victoria’s museums, galleries and community collecting organisations.

Ten awards were presented during the evening, and twelve organisations were recognised for achieving Reaccreditation –the gold standard for collecting institutions, as outlined by the National Standards for Australian Museums and Galleries.

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