John Watt Beattie | Photographic print 1906 | Graciosa Bay, Santa Cruz Islands | Douglas Rannie manuscript donated by Eileen Rannie 1982
John Watt Beattie | Photographic print 1906 | Graciosa Bay, Santa Cruz Islands | Douglas Rannie manuscript donated by Eileen Rannie 1982

A collection based collaborative exhibition of materials held at UQ from, and about, Solomon Islands

19 August 2016 - 14 July 2017


Purchase the exhibition catalogue here.

This is only the second exhibition in Australia devoted to Solomon Islands in recent years, although Honiara, the modern capital of Solomon Islands is closer to Brisbane than Auckland.

Among the 28,000 items that the UQAM is privileged to care for are more than five hundred remarkable things and images recorded as being from Solomon Islands.

This exhibition offers something glimpsed and partial suggested by the contents of this collection and by some contemporary works. It isn’t intended as a survey show of Solomon Island work but aims to return the Solomon collection things to an enchanted state (Hillman 1982), one that is alive with new possibilities for shaping the present and the future.

The exhibition is also a first step towards adding some layers of meaning to the poorly documented Solomon Islands collection and a way of inviting a response from anyone who has an interest in it. Blank labels are available for anyone with such an interest to add knowledge and meaning to the exhibition by writing their own label and adding it to the wall.

The show is arranged around several narratives and counter narratives that include:
•    Heads and tales. Head hunting canoes and their contemporary visual manifestations through carvers working around Marovo Lagoon, Western province. It includes contemporary sculptures and wood block prints by George Borgus, Aldio Pita, Leuten Watts-Hila, Milton Moloka, Gaspar, Terrence, Ralph Ako and stories from Leuten Watts-Hila and Eutucus Ngonga all from villages in Marovo Lagoon in the New Georgia Islands group.
•    Shells. Worked shells as rings, inlaid pearl and beads.
•    Malaitans and the labour trade. The role of batons in naming Solomon Islands and in ritual killing. The batons are displayed with Malaitan clubs and Malaitan men’s body wear.
•    Labour trade collected photographs. The unique collection of photographs assembled by the Queensland labour trader Douglas Rannie with hand written captions from his manuscript in the UQ collection.
•    Music. The case of stolen copyright and a Malaitan (Baegu) lullaby and music objects from the UQ collection with napa dance clubs from Santa Cruz.
•    Contemporary film made by Wantok Stori.


  Maker(s) unrecorded | Carving of a woman carrying a food bowl c.1895 | Attributed to Guadalcanal Island | Collected by Captain Sydney Mercer-Smith 1893-1903 | Donated by Sydney Mercer-Smith 1951

One powerful reason for there being so many Solomon Islands things here is Brisbane’s centrality to the Queensland Labour Trade. Between 1870 and 1911 Queensland and Fiji received 24,865 Solomon Island labourers, out of a total Solomon’s population of around 150,000 to work on its sugar plantations (Moore 1990; 2015). The UQ collection is haunted by the final decades of this trade in the sense that the existence of the trade is responsible for many of the older things being here in Brisbane. The content of the collection doesn’t record the experience of Solomon Island labourers, nor by-and-large the things that they gained as part of payment for it. What this museum does have documented are some details of the careers of sailors and plantation owners, missionaries and legislators. Unpicking the connections of the collectors is often revealing but ultimately unsatisfying.

Where is the other side of the story?  Who speaks for the past?

The majority of labour trade workers to Queensland were young men from Malaita and Guadalcanal and the British or Australian buyers, or possibly looters, of the things in collections from the late nineteenth century and early twentieth were mainly youngish men (Richards 2012). It is no surprise then that this exhibition has turned out to be mainly about Solomon Islands men, their deeds and accoutrements, their dazzling ritual things, not about the everyday and the mundane.

This bias is slightly redressed by the snap shots taken of Islanders going about daily business in the early part of the twentieth century. There is a paucity of photographs from the early colonial period that turn the camera the other way - no photographs of Europeans by Solomon Islanders.

Many of the things on display have highly patterned glinting surfaces of inlaid shell, woven glass beads and teeth (of bats, dolphins, dogs and humans) that allude to violent conflict and its resolution. The use of images of the mighty frigate bird, which bullies other birds, and of
bonito fish across diverse objects in the show point to the importance of both within various Solomons cosmologies that connect people, ancestors and spirits in networks of allies and enemies, predators and protectors (Waite 1989).

The appeal to Europeans of this combination of delicacy, vitality and brutality in the precise pattern work of surfaces – incised, inlaid, drawn, woven, painted - is another reason why museums in countries which were colonisers of Solomon Islands, especially Germany, the UK and Australia contain so many items from Solomon Islands.

This points to the quintessential anthropological subject of trade and exchange and their importance within and among the Solomons as well as with Europeans. So labile were these Solomons produced objects that it is hard to call where they were used and collected even if certain cultural groups were (and are) known for producing particular kinds of items. Europeans and Islanders exchanged things that were luxuries, things that they could do without (Bennett 1987). What is kept aside and not circulated is arguably more important culturally and socially than the things in motion. 

Diana Young


Upcoming events

Friday, 19 August 2016, 12 noon to 1.00 pm
UQ Solomon Islands Partnership lunchtime Seminar
Forgan Smith Building Tower, 01-402

Saturday, 20 August 2016, 9.00 am to 4.30 pm
School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry one-day Seminar
Forgan Smith Building, 01-E302

For more information and to register attendance click here.

Friday, 2 September 2016, 2-3pm

Curator panel talk
Anthropology Museum Level 1 Michie Building (9)

Friday, 23 September 2016, 2-3pm
'A pity you didn't wing him: Gender, sexuality and race in colonial Tulagi, Solomon Islands'
Anthropology Museum Level 1 Michie Building (9)
Presenter: Clive Moore in collaboration with the UQ Solomon Islands Partnership

Friday, 21 October 2016, 2-3pm
'Wrecks and Relics: Emerging Hertiage in Solomon Islands'
Presenters: Professors Jennifer Corrin and Craig Forrest in collaboration with the UQ Solomon Islands Partnership

Go to News and Events for more information
To register attendance to these events please email or phone (07) 3365 2674.


This has been a collaborative scholarly project.

Since 2012 the Museum’s registrar and curatorial assistant for this exhibition Camella Hardjo has been working with Graham Baines and Evelyn Tetehu Baines to add some meaning to the poorly documented Solomons collection. Later David Akin visited in 2013.

David Akin is an anthropologist who has been working with Malaitans, particularly Kwaio people, over the past 37 years.  With his former wife Kathleen Gillogly he helped the Kwaio people establish the Kwaio Cultural Centre from 1979-1983, which included a Kwaio Arts project that encouraged the revival or proliferation of many Malaitan art forms.

Dr Graham Baines, Honorary Research Fellow, School of Social Science, University of Queensland, worked with Solomon Islands government agencies 1981-1989 during which time, through extended village visits, he developed a keen interest in Solomon Islander cultures and artefacts. He assists his wife, Evelyn, with the Santa Isabel Cultural Heritage Programme.

Clive Moore, an Emeritus Professor, has been visiting Solomon Islands since 1976 and in 2005 was awarded a Cross of Solomon Islands for his historical work on Malaita Island.

Honorary Associate Professor Annie Ross has worked in Marovo Lagoon for over a decade, documenting local cultural traditions and stories from the past and the present that link local people to their land and sea heritage.

Dr Diana Young is Director UQ Anthropology Museum/ Senior Lecturer. One of her research interests is re inventing ethnographic museums for the twenty first century. She has researched, co-curated and commissioned a number of exhibitions based around the University of Queensland Anthropology Museum’s Pacific collections.

Director of project research and curation: Dr Diana Young
Curatorial and research assistance: Camella Hardjo
Research consultants:
Emeritus Professor Clive Moore
Dr Graham Baines
Mrs Evelyn Tetehu Baines
Honorary Associate Professor Annie Ross and her research consultants
David Akin, independent scholar

With thanks to
Ben Burt, British Museum
Shirley Mwanesalua, curator, Solomon Islands National Museum
Lawrence Foana’ota, former Director of Solomon Islands National Museum
Oliver Lueb, Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum – Cultures of the World
Anna Craven, Foundation Director of Solomon Islands National Museum
Rebecca Conway, The Macleay Museum University of Sydney
Chantal Knowles, Queensland Museum
Jill Hassel, British Museum
Yvonne Carrillo-Huffman, Australian Museum
Members of SIIN network
The Edge-Partington family
Rosita Henry and James Cook University

Project management: Jane Willcock
Media arrangement, exhibition installation: Kiri Chan
Conservation: Kate Stanway
Additional literature research assistance: Sarah Webb, Jane Willcock
Photography: Carl Warner
Student intern: Alex Dwyer
Exhibition based on an idea by Diana Young

Bennett, J 1987, Wealth of the Solomon Islands. A History of a Pacific Archipelago 1800-1978, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu.
Hillman, James 1982, ‘Anima mundi: The return of the soul to the world’, Spring 1982: An annual of archetypical psychology and Jungian studies, pp. 71-93.
Moore, C. 2015, ‘Australian South Sea Islanders’ narratives of belonging’, in Farzana Gounder (ed.), Narrative Practices and Identity Constructions in the Pacific Islands, John Benjamins Studies in Narrative, pp. 153-174.
Moore, C. 1990, ‘Pacific Islanders in nineteenth century Queensland’, in Clive Moore, Jacqueline Leckie and Doug Munro (eds), Labour in the South Pacific, Department of History and Politics, and the Melanesian Studies Centre, James Cook University of North Queensland, Townsville, pp. 144-147.
Richards, R. 2012 Head Hunters Black and White. Three Collectors in the Western Solomon Islands 1893-1914, Paramatta Press, Wellington NZ.
Waite, D. 1989, ‘Animal metaphor in art from the Solomon Islands’ in Howard Morphy (ed.), Animals into Art. Unwin Hyman Ltd., London, pp. 318-342.

Other reading
Akin, D. and White, G.M. 2014, ‘Artifacts of war: art, exchange and politics in world war II Solomon Islands’ in M. Mélandri and S. Revolon (eds.), L’éclat des ombres: L’art en noir et blanc des iles Salomon, Musee du Quai Branly, Paris, pp. 62-72.
Hvidings, E 2014 ‘War canoes of the Western Solomon’ in Ben Burt and Lissant Bolton (eds), The Things we Value. Culture and History in the Solomons, Sean Kingston Publishing.
Tetehu, Evelyn 2014 ‘Some family treasures of Santa Isabel’ in Ben Burt and Lissant Bolton (eds), The Things we Value. Culture and History in the Solomons, Sean Kingston Publishing.


Makers unrecorded
Lepau tapa cloth c.1950, Santa Cruz Islands
Model canoe early 20th century, Malaita Island
Head ornamentc.1895, Solomon Islands
Photo Carl Warner







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