Exhibitions - Current Exhibitions

The Women’s: carers, advocates and reformers

Thursday, April 18, 2019 to Saturday, November 2, 2019

The exhibition, The Women’s: carers, advocates and reformers and accompanying catalogue highlights items from the Women’s Hospital Historic and Archive collection, Medical History Museum collection and  Public Records Office. It explores the role of key individuals, public education and health campaigns, public policy and research, from the first hospital site to where the hospital is located today. The exhibition will also acknowledge the stories and traditions of the traditional owners.

The Women’s has played a critical role in the life of Melbourne since its beginnings. As historian Janet MacCallum explains:  “The Royal Women’s Hospital opened in August 1856 as the Melbourne Lying-In Hospital and Infirmary for the Diseases Peculiar to Women and Children in a terrace house in Albert Street, East Melbourne. Melbourne was in the midst of a gold-rush that would bring half a million people through the colony in the decade. Women were abandoned, pregnant and destitute, while their husbands and erstwhile lovers tried their luck on the goldfields. The need for a charity lying-in hospital for women without homes was urgent.”

Image:  Dr Kate Campbell (1899-1986) examining a premature baby in an isolette, 1974, photograph, 23.8 x 17.5cm, Gift of Winifred Crick, Medical History Museum, MHM02260

The Art of Healing: Australian Indigenous bush medicine (international tour)

Sunday, March 3, 2019 to Sunday, February 2, 2020

Bush House, King’s College London
14 May - 28 June 2019

The Berlin Museum of Medical History, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin
24 October 2019 - 2 February 2020

For 65,000 years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have occupied the lands, with distinct cultural boundaries defined by intimate relationships with Country. The exhibition The Art of Healing: Australian Indigenous bush medicine follows the premise of Tjukurpa (Dreaming). It looks at traditional Indigenous healing practice as simultaneously past, present and future. A selection of 20 works from the exhibition are touring internationally in 2019 and 2020.

Through contemporary art, the exhibition presents examples of healing practice and bush medicine from many distinct and varied Indigenous communities across Australia. The artworks in this exhibition tell stories of bush medicine from many parts of Australia, as an introduction to a vast bank of knowledge that precedes and parallels other great healing traditions.

“Bush medicine has always been with Aboriginal people. It was before, and we will always be making bush medicine. There are all kinds of bush medicine and they grow all over. You’ll find they’re different in each place, and we have these ones that I’ve painted.”
– Judith Pungkarta Inkamala

This use of contemporary art underlines the continuing practice of bush medicine, by revealing it through a current lens. It also demonstrates visually the distinct and varied cultures that make up Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia.

Many of the works in the exhibition illustrate particular bush medicines, and in their accompanying words the artists share with us their knowledge of their uses. On her Bush medicine pot Hermannsburg ceramic artist Judith Inkamala illustrates the process of preparing bush medicine. The pot is crowned with a depiction (sculpted in clay) of a knunkara (medicine woman) using a grinding stone to prepare bush medicine. Inkamala explains: ‘The old lady and the old brother will sing, sing, sing and spit into the bush medicine as they mix it. That’s why everyone will get better and everyone will become strong’.

Elder and Ngangkaṟi (traditional healer), Ilawanti Ungkutjuru Ken has created a basket based on observing birds’ nests, to show the power of family and community for a person’s wellbeing. She says: ‘My basket is like a nest.'

Iiawanti Ken

Ilawanti Ungkutjuru Ken (b. 1944)
Language: Pitjantjatjara
Community/location: Amata, Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands, South Australia mother’s Country: Arula
Father’s Country: near/south of Wataru
Artist location: Ingkerreke Outstation, Rocket Bore, Northern Territory
Tjulpu wiltja: bird nest basket, 2017
Tjanpi, wool, raffia, emu feathers, wire
50.0 × 60.0 × 50.0 cm

The ancestral knowledge of healing of the Yorta Yorta people is celebrated in a major work by Treahna Hamm. Dhungala cool burn shows women and girls collecting bush medicine along the banks of dhungala (the Murray River), placing the medicines in coolamons and in dilly bags.

Marilyne Nicholls’ method of coil weaving has been used in south-eastern Australia for thousands of years, to make baskets, belts, mats, eel traps and other items.  Nicholls’ Healing basket is woven from Sedge fibre and includes two medicine plants: Coastal Rosemary and gum leaves, both of which are used for smoking ceremonies to cleanse and heal.

Senior Gija Elder and artist Shirley Purdie has been working for several years with linguist Frances Koford to document medicinal and other plants of the East Kimberley, identifying individual species and recording their Gija, Latin and English names. Preserving vital information and cultural memory for future generations, through written records and individual artworks.

‘Biriyal (Conkerberry or Carissa lanceolata) is used for smoking people to get away bad spirits. Used for all ages when they are sick—if they are dreaming about anything or not eating.’

Image: Dhungala cool burn, 2017, Treahna Hamm (b. 1965), acrylic paint, river sand, bark ink on canvas, 100.9 × 114.0cm (one panel)