Shona off to Canberra

By Ashleigh Fielding | posted on January 19, 2018

BRINGING Menang artefacts back to country and sharing indigenous culture with locals has allowed Albany’s Shona Coyne to take her newfound career as a curator to the next level.

The most recent development in her career, an offer to work at the prestigious National Museum of Australia in Canberra, came about from her award-winning efforts in the Yurlmun: Mokare Mia Boodja exhibition.

She sat down with The Weekender amidst packing boxes ahead of her big move interstate.

Ms Coyne’s journey with the Yurlmun exhibition began when Averil Dean and Harley Coyne were invited to Canberra to contribute to the Endeavours exhibition which featured Menang artefacts.

They encouraged the Canberra exhibitors to bring the Menang pieces back to Albany, and so the four-year Yurlmun project began.

The Yurlman exhibition focused on the relationship between Menang leader Mokare and Scottish botanist Dr Alexander Collie in the 1830s.

The objects found during this period have been held by the British Museum, with the Yurlmun exhibition marking the first time the objects were back on Country.

“The Albany Heritage Reference Group Aboriginal Corporation advertised for two Noongar people to be emerging curators, because they wanted to make sure the Yurlmun exhibition was delivered in a culturally sensitive way,” Ms Coyne said.

“As part of being an emerging curator, I visited the WA Museum and the National Museum of Australia.

“It was like I had a back-stage pass to the workings of the museum – something not a lot of people ever get the chance to see.

“It was awesome and definitely a highlight for me.

“I think they could see how hungry I was for more; I just couldn’t get enough.”

Ms Coyne’s enthusiasm and passion for Menang culture so attracted the attention of the National Museum of Australia that she was offered a curator position as a part of the Endeavour 250 project – an exhibition marking the 250th anniversary of the HMB Endeavour sailing up the east coast of Australia, and highlighting the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives on the event.

“It’s an absolute privilege to be asked to be a part of this project,” Ms Coyne said of the 12-month position.

“I’ll get to explore what it was like for the indigenous people from the shores, instead of the common perspective of what it was like for Cap- tain James Cook.

“I’ll be able to bring my voice to the table; I feel really honoured.”

Despite her partner Ross’ excitement for the Canberra snow, and her apprehension of living away from the coastline, Ms Coyne knows where her roots truly lie.

“Here is my home,” she said of Albany.

“My heart is here.”

Ms Coyne will commence her post in Canberra next month, with the aim of opening the exhibition in late 2019.