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Message stick

Object information


An unsigned and undated document in the papers that accompanied the Milne collection to Canberra has a sketch of this object and an explanation for its meaning, reproduced here in full:


This stick is used as a message when two antagonistic tribes meet and is in fact a peculiar instance of warfare among the Aborigines. When a message such as this is received it means that there are two lines about 50 to 60 yards apart denoting the boundary of each tribe, the first of the aboriginals who oversteps that mark or line gives the sign for War and a battle ensues. The stick in question was used in a fight between the "Cumio" and the "Marirumbo" [?or Mari-uimbo] tribes, the first named being Queenslanders and the latter South Australians found around the surroundings of Lake Nash".

Lake Nash is in the Northern Territory and not South Australia. It is possible this note was written while the Northern Territory was part of South Australia (until 1911).

Edmund Milne (1861-1917) was born in England and emigrated to Queensland with his parents 19 months later. He had had personal contact with Aboriginal people throughout his life, from when he was a small boy in Queensland and, from the late 1860s, in New South Wales. This contact may have led him to recording the names of Aboriginal people associated with particular objects in his collection, at a time when this was rarely done. Milne seems to have begun actively collecting Indigenous artefacts in the early 1880s and was still acquiring objects a few months before his death in 1917. His work with the NSW Railways (1876-1917) enabled him to meet a broad range of people who facilitated his collecting and associated activities like visiting Aboriginal sites. From at least the time he lived at Orange NSW (1906-1915), and later at Ryde (1915-1917), near to Sydney city, he displayed his collection at his home. In addition to a large collection of Aboriginal artefacts, Milne's collection included artefacts from the South Pacific and prehistoric implements from Egypt, France and England. In his will dated 12 December 1916, Milne bequeathed his ?Anthropological collection? to the ?first Federal Museum opened in the Federal Capital?. The collection remained at Ryde until early 1931 when it was acquired by the Australian Institute of Anatomy in Canberra. It remained there until the Institute's collections were transferred to the National Museum of Australia in 1985.

Physical description

Wood stick, flat rectangle, incised geometric designs, ends truncated

Object information

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