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In April 2011 the museum received a phone call that informed Cultural Collections staff that a Miss Muriel Snell wished to donate a small number of objects to the Australian Museum...
On viewing the collection in its entirety however, Miss Snell’s donation consisted of a much larger collection of approximately 200 materials from Tonga and Papua New Guinea. By increasing the existing Tongan collection by 40% this was an opportunity that could not be missed!
Miss Muriel Snell left her New South Wales home in 1958 to take up teaching positions at Pilolevu College on the island of Lifuka, Tonga. During the six years that she lived in Tonga Miss Snell grew particularly close to members of the community and felt that she was treated as family during her time there. It is through these close and unforgettable relationships that Miss Snell collected and received gifts of such elegance and skill as shown in the museum’s Miss Snell Collection.
During an interview with Cultural Collections staff, Miss Snell described the importance of daily craft classes in which students learned traditional Tongan and European techniques to create bags, mats, baskets and other items such as painted bark cloths. These classes still continue today as an integral part of the continuation of Tongan knowledge and culture. The use of cultural objects in daily life remains to be a fundamental part of many social and economical relationships in Tongan society. Whilst the collaboration between villages develops regional styles, it significantly strengthens and enhances relationships amongst the community as they gather together to weave, teach and take part in the continuation of a long standing tradition.
Muriel Snell’s donation has provided the museum with an even broader spectrum of materials that can support the continuation and revitalisation of traditional techniques and practices amongst contemporary communities in Tonga and New South Wales, Australia.
Following the acquisition of the Miss Snell Collection, Tongan community representatives have visited the museum to engage with the materials and share their memories and knowledge enthused by the collection.
A senior spokesperson for the Tongan Royal Family and Langafonua Royal Art Gallery, Lady Tunakaimanu Fielakepa, was a particularly special visitor who flew in from Tonga to share an abundance of detailed knowledge on the collection and the revival of traditional ngatu dye techniques in Tonga today.
Additionally the Australian Museum held an exclusive event which aimed to provide an opportunity for Tongan artists, curators and community representatives to explore, share and contribute knowledge that has added great valued to the Miss Muriel Snell donation.
The Museum is indebted to Mrs Patricia Porritt and the Australian Museum Foundation for its support of acquisitions. Their contributions have been used to fund the costs of transport, conservation treatments, registration and accession of this extensive collection. In addition, these funds provide for the research and invaluable documentation of the intangible heritage that surrounds each item. The museum is no less indebted to Miss Muriel Snell who has provided both the museum and the Tongan community with such an exquisite collection and to community members who have contributed so much to this collection. For more information see the Australian Museum Foundation.