Dr Louise Hamby

PhD, Anthropology, ANU MFA, Fabric Design, University of Georgia
Research Fellow
ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences
T: 02 61258986

Areas of expertise

  • Crafts 190501
  • Museum Studies 210204
  • Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Cultural Studies 200201
  • Multicultural, Intercultural And Cross Cultural Studies 200209
  • Social And Cultural Anthropology 160104
  • Cinema Studies 190201


Louise Hamby is a Research Fellow in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology. Her most recent ARC Linkage Grant is The legacy of 50 years of collecting at Milingimbi Mission with Museum Victoria. Previously she was co-granted an ARC Discovery Grant:Contexts of Collection- a dialogic approach to understanding the making of the material record of Yolngu cultures (2008-2011). Her last position was a Postdoctoral Fellow - Industry working with Museum Victoria on the project, Anthropological and Aboriginal perspectives on the Donald Thomson Collection: material culture, collecting and identity. She took up this position at the CCR in 2003. From 2001 she was a Visiting Fellow. She received her PhD in Anthropology from the ANU in 2001. She also holds an MFA in Fabric Design from the University of Georgia.

Louise's PhD, Containers of Power was an ethnographic study of fibre container forms from northeastern Arnhem Land. It investigated a complex set of relationships between the forms, mainly baskets, bags and mats, their makers and users, their functions, their morphology, their manufacture and history. The theoretical approach taken was one in which objects, the fibre ones, have cultural biographies.

Louise has a strong interest in historic and contemporary material culture from Arnhem Land. Her involvement with eastern Arnhem Land women lead to the development of the exhibition that she co-curated with Diana Young, Art on a String. Her most recent involvement in curation, research and writing is about Gapuwiyak in eastern Arnhem Land fibre. This resulted in the exhibition Women with Clever Hands: Gapuwiyak Miyalkurrwurr Gong Djambatjmala and the book Containers of Power:Women with Clever Hands.  Her previous exhibition and book was Twined Together: Kunmadj Njalehnjaleken from western Arnhem Land. 

Researcher's projects

Fibre Container Forms from Gapuwiyak

Continuing research begun in the mid 1990s this project will look at generational change in the transmission of knowledge in fibre practice in Gapuwiyak. The influence of past makers and their styles will be investigated to highlight and encourage the involvement of younger women in the fibre practice. This practice has both economic and cultural benefits.

Body Ornament in the Donald Thomson Collection

Her most recent work is linked to the Donald Thomson Collection obtained in the mid 1930s and 1942, now housed in Museum Victoria. This collection includes around 5,000 artefacts of just about everything that Aboriginal people made and used at the time. It is far ranging; from bark paintings to spears to plant and animal specimens. As part of a larger project to examine objects to be worn on the body such as necklaces, headbands, armbands, headdresses, skirts, string harnesses and pubic covers this year's work has focused on armbands. This involves the historic pieces as well as fieldwork in Arnhem Land.

Previous Research Projects:

Art on a String: Threaded Objects from the Central Desert and Arnhem Land
This travelling exhibition is the first exhibition ever to be devoted entirely to the intricately coloured and patterned strings made into necklaces, bracelets, wall hangings, mats and fly curtains. It was co-curated by Louise Hamby and Diana Young, University College London. This exhibition draws attention to the work of individual artists whose work has been neglected in the past. The exhibition opened at Object, Centre for Contemporary Craft in Sydney in October 2001 and was at the ANU in June 2003 at the ANU School of Art Gallery. It has now completed its tour around Australia.

Twined Together:Kunmadj Njalehnjaleken
Twined Together is a traveling exhibition and reference book about western Arnhem Land fibre objects made by women. Louise has been working with the artists and the staff from Injalak Arts and Crafts Centre in Gunbalyana (Oenpelli) and its surrounding outstations to develop this project since 2002. The exhibition opened at Museum Victoria on May 12, 2005 and will continue to tour until 2008. This exhibition will give the women artists an opportunity to showcase their work and to demonstrate to the outside communities the long history of fibre production in their community.

Woven Forms: Contemporary Basket Making in Australia
Louise was part of the curatorium for Woven Forms: Contemporary Basket Making in Australia that was developed by Object - the Australian Centre for Craft and Design. This exhibition aimed to present a unique selection of outstanding selection of basket forms by practitioners from various cultural backgrounds in Australia. Louise researched and wrote mainly about the works from the Arnhem Land artists. The travelling show opened in September 2005 in Sydney.

Current student projects

PhD Students - The Interdisciplinary and Cross-Cultural Research (ICCR)

Joanna Barrkman

The Baguia Collection consists of material culture artifacts acquired from Baguia, Baucau District, Timor-Leste in 1935 by the Swiss ethnographer Dr Alfred Buehler. Whilst visiting Baguia, as part of an expedition initiated by the Museum der Kulturen, Basel, Switzerland, Buehler also took photographs of the people and local landscape. Joanna Barrkman’s research undertakes to document the process whereby Makasae and Naueti people, through engagement with the Baguia Collection objects and photographs, reconstitute social memory, transmit cultural knowledge between generations and in some instances re-enliven design in local crafts.

Jilda Andrews

Encounters with cultural material in museum collections:

an Indigenous perspective

Successfully navigating the collection repositories of museums is a challenging and nuanced task. Indigenous cultural objects in museum collections all over the world are widely understood as having been removed from an original context to be placed with new meanings, under new hierarchies of value in systems still pungent with the residue of the colonial imperative. For Indigenous Australians, these conditions ensure that encounters with collected objects are also encounters with the system under which they were collected, an encounter with the subjugation of the prevailing ideologies of the time, and an encounter with a contemporary reluctance to engage with difficult histories.


This thesis explores one such encounter. Through an extensive case study which takes in several state, national and international museums, the research explores how reconnections- even with seemingly innocent stone tools- can be made complicated by the differing ways museums and Indigenous communities relate to their past, place, histories and each other. Foregrounded by postcolonial museum theory on Museums as Contact Zones, this thesis seeks to problematize the oft cited and almost generalised trope of Indigenous access and ‘reconnection’ with cultural collections in museums. Contact Zone theory also provides an opportunity to explore the ways Indigenous agents are engaging and directing their own encounters via autoethnographic expression – a linguistic device identified by Mary Louise Pratt, instrumental in the crafting of the theory, as a ‘phenomenon of the contact zone’.


Finally, inspired by the folklife approach employed extensively across Europe, this research invites a reconsideration of historical Indigenous cultural material in collections not as relics of the past, but as products of life and experience, fundamentally grounded by a unique Indigenous consideration of ‘Country’. Being able to understand collected cultural material as unique examples of Indigenous lifeways informed by specific cultural and ecological place-based articulations of Country, illuminates the dynamism of the archive and the people it represents.  It also presents museums with an opportunity to rethink what material forms contemporary cultural continuities might take, and what the products of contemporary Indigenous lifeways might look like – inside and outside of their collections. Such a reconsideration is sure to positively affect future encounters with museum collections for Indigenous people, while at the same time progress collective understandings of the life that this country has sustained so successfully since time immemorial. 

Past student projects

Living the heritage, not curating the past: A study of lirrgarn, agency & art

in the Warmun Community


Catherine Anna Massola

This thesis is an historical and contemporary examination of the creative, social and cultural

world of the Warmun community in Western Australia. It focuses on how the community as

a whole, and as individuals, exert agency and maintain their values and priorities when

situated within larger, sometimes more powerful, structures and frameworks that differ from

their own.


Through the prism of art, the research examines the community's engagement with and

value of the Warmun Community Collection, their history of adjustment, the unofficial roles

of the Warmun Art Centre and how the Warmun Art Centre supports and enables informal

learning. The thesis connects these four themes through a socio-historical analysis of the

experiences of Warrmarn1 people, ethnographic and visual descriptions of their actions and avisual examination of the manifestations of their actions—objects of creative practice or,



In doing so, the thesis reveals several overlapping matters: it tracks the development of a

museum in an Aboriginal community; it brings to light the hidden roles of the Warmun Art

Centre; it contributes to the developing field of informal learning; it reveals how people

express agency in daily life; it unveils the proprietorial relationship people have with objects;

and finally, it lays bare the purpose, use and interpretations of objects, which has at times

made Warmun residents, and their sites of cultural production, tangential to the objects

they make. The research finds that Warrmarn people live their heritage rather than curate

their past.


Projects and Grants

Grants information is drawn from ARIES. To add or update Projects or Grants information please contact your College Research Office.

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Updated:  21 January 2020 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers