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Some significant works about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have come to the Library from a large donation by Charles Melbourne "Mel" Ward (1903-1966). The collection documents both his personal interest in First Nations cultures as a collector, and the endurance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures in the history of published Australian narratives.

About Mel Ward and his collection

Charles Melbourne Ward (1903-1966), aka "Mel Ward", was a keen amateur naturalist, historian, and collector. He pursued his interests in First Nations culture and natural history by acquiring books and objects, including rare Australian books. In 1943, he opened a museum: The Gallery of Natural History and Native Art, on the grounds of the Hydro Majestic Hotel in the Blue Mountains, 115 kilometres from Sydney. He left his library and natural history collections to the Australian Museum. The books in the Melbourne Ward Collection are being progressively added to the Australian Museum Research Library's online catalogue.

Ward’s extensive collection contains works with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander content dating from the late 1700's to the 1960's. This includes early works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors such as traditional stories and political tracts. While the majority of works are by non-Indigenous writers, some are important for their first-hand accounts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and language, descriptions of cultural objects and how they were collected, and biographical accounts of well-known Aboriginal figures. Other works reflecting non-Indigenous perceptions of Australia’s First Nations peoples are now recognised to be culturally offensive and/or unethical. Almost all works in the collection are revealing of issues of colonization, race relations, and cultural contact, both destructive and constructive. A selection of the most notable publications are listed below.

Notable works

Aborigines Claim Citizen Rights! A Statement of the Case for the Aborigines Progressive Association / by J.T. Patten and W. Ferguson. Sydney: Publicist, [1938]

This pamphlet was published by the Aborigines Progressive Association for the Day of Mourning conference on 26 January 1938. It is an important record of the Aboriginal self-determination movement and the rights Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were fighting for on the Day of Mourning, including recognition as citizens and an end to media misrepresentation and systemic government-sanctioned prejudice.

Narrative of a Voyage from Sydney to Torres' Straits: In Search of the Survivors of the Charles Eaton, in His Majesty's Colonial Schooner Isabella / by William Edward Brocket. Sydney: Henry Bull, 1836

This book, which may be the earliest locally published book in the collection, recounts C.M. Lewis's experiences on a voyage in 1836. On this voyage, Lewis collected cultural objects from Torres Strait Islander peoples which were lodged at the Australian Museum on his return to Sydney and documented in the Museum’s 1837 catalogue: George Bennett, A Catalogue of the Specimens of Natural History and Miscellaneous Curiosities Deposited in the Australian Museum (Recno 35024). These objects, along with thousands of other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural objects, were lost in the Garden Palace fire of 1882, although recent research suggests that some may have survived.

Native Legends / by David Unaipon. Adelaide: Hunkin, Ellis & King, [1929?]

David Unaipon was a Ngarrindjeri inventor, lecturer and author. His book Native Legends, which explores Ngarrindjeri traditions and stories, is considered the first published work by an Aboriginal author. The original manuscript was purchased by William Ramsay Smith, FRS, an anthropologist and Chief Medical Officer of South Australia, who published it with the title Myths and Legends of the Australian Aboriginals – and credited himself as the author. It took more than 75 years for authorship of the book to be corrected; it was republished in 2001 under its original name with Unaipon credited as the original author. You can find out more about Native Legends and David Unaipon here.

The Port Stephens Blacks: Recollections of William Scott / prepared by Gordon Bennett. Dungog, NSW: Chronicle Office, 1929.

An account of Scott's experience growing up in the land of the “Gringai” (Guringay) people from 1844 and until 1873.

A Voyage to New South Wales: With a Description of the Country, the Manners, Customs, Religion, &c. of the Natives, in the Vicinity of Botany Bay / by George Barrington. London: Printed for the Proprietor, 1796.

George Barrington was a notorious London pickpocket transported on the third fleet. In this work, Barrington purportedly gives a first-hand account of his encounters with Aboriginal people around the Sydney area. However, his account was fraudulent. The book was not his work, but was ghost written using Barrington’s well-known personality as a selling point, based on the work of other writers with personal experience of Sydney.

Yuranigh / by W.R. Glasson. Sydney: Australasian Medical Publishing Co., [1950]

A short biographical account of Yuranigh, a Wiradjuri man from the Molong area who was a guide for Sir Thomas Mitchell’s 1846 expedition and whose grave is now a historic site.

References and further reading:

  1. Atkinson, Alan. "Book Reviews: George Barrington’s voyage to Botany Bay: retelling a convict’s travel narrative of the 1790s, edited by Suzanne Rickard." Aboriginal History, vol.27 (2003), pp.275-6.
  2. Lahn, Julie. “The 1836 Lewis Collection and the Torres Strait Turtle-Shell Mask of Kulka: From Loss to Re-engagement”, Journal of Pacific History, vol. 48, No. 4, 2013, pp.386-408.
  3. Pollock, Zoe. "Aborigines Progressive Association." The Dictionary of Sydney, State Library of NSW, 2008,https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/aborigines_progressive_association
  4. Rutledge, Martha. "Ward, Charles Melbourne (1903-1966)." Autralian Dictionary of Biography, volume 16, (MUP), 2002, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ward-charles-melbourne-11958
  5. "Yuranigh's Aboriginal Grave Historic Site." NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, NSW Government, https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/yuranighs-aboriginal-grave-historic-site