The world is becoming ever smaller, driven mostly by the increasing interconnectivity provided by the internet. People anywhere can research and access the most obscure and idiosyncratic alleyways of human endeavour. This is certainly true in the world of Oceanic art where auction houses online catalogues now are viewed all around the world. The quality of online images has increased dramatically in the last few years and allow buyers to gain a very sound appreciation of objects many thousands of kilometres away. While never equalling the experience of handling an object ‘in the flesh’ it has made, at least for fine and valuable objects, the art market truly global.
But it is not just in the transaction of objects that the internet has transformed our behaviour: it is also in the way that people can research artefacts; their origins and traditional usage. It has also allowed collectors to delve deeper into the individual journeys of particular objects. A good case in point here is the beautiful Aboriginal shield from the Murrumbidgee region that was featured on the back page of the last edition of the OAS Journal. Brussels-based Michel Ghins, the owner of the shield, who was not a member of the OAS, had embarked on a quest to identify the collection numbers on the shield. Referring to the OAS website’s data base on inscriptions and labels (painstakingly collated by Harry Beran and others) he was unable to solve the mystery of the markings. Referred finally to the OAS editorial team we ran the image and accompanying story in the hope of eliciting further information. Which, indeed, happened. One of the collection numbers (A.P.133) turned out to be that of Alex Philips, the well-known Melbourne collector and dealer. An overjoyed Michel has uncovered a little more of the history of his shield, the OAS has gained another member (Michel joined) and the enormous power of the internet to be able to send images anywhere, instantly, was again revealed. We hope that when the newly redesigned OAS website is fully functioning this wonderful resource will be used by members to conduct their own research into their treasured objects, and also share their knowledge, which, collectively, is a huge resource in itself.
This edition of the OAS Journal contains a fascinating summary of Mike Donaldson’s talk on Australia’s Rock Art and Mike’s meticulous documentation of it. One cannot help but be reminded of the vast artistic legacy left by Aboriginal peoples from thousands of years before the arrival of the first Europeans. Barry Craig continues with his intriguing story of the early collectors of the New Guinea artefacts that now reside in the South Australian Museum, this time with part two of his article on Albert John Hunter. Crispin Howarth relates the particular history of three Garra hook sculptures from the Hunstein Ranges, which have been generously donated to the National Gallery of Australia by Sir David Attenborough. We also feature in this edition another succinct book review by Peter McCabe, this time of Virginia-Lee Webb’s Embodied Spirits: Gope Boards from the Papuan Gulf.
Lastly I would like to remind members of the forthcoming event at the Australian Museum, which the OAS is hosting with Pasifika Film Festival, where the film Te Kuhane o te Tupuna/Spirits of the Ancestors will be shown on May 11. It promises to be a most stimulating evening.