My focus when visiting Perth’s museums was on Aboriginal culture. Hence my personal selection from the vast offer of museums.
Museum of Western Australia
James Street Mall, Northbridge. Open Sun-Fri 10.30 am-5.00 pm, Sat 1.00 pm-5.00 pm. Admission free.
This is not just one museum - it’s at least three. You enter this complex through a modern entry just to be teleported 150 years back as you find yourself next to the Old Gaol. This ancient building houses an exhibition of Western Australia’s history with a lot of old tools and relics. Attached to the gaol is a coffee shop but if you’re hungry you should bring your own lunch.
A further museum is located in the “Francis Street Building”. There’s an Aboriginal Gallery in level one which is really worth while. I returned to this good exhibition to take more notes and some photos (which is allowed for private purposes). Check if the museum is open because in June 2011 it was closed due to an asbestos problem.
The gallery gives a good overview of the different chapters of Aboriginal culture and the regional groupings of Australian Aboriginals. Each region (like South West, Kimberley, North West, Desert, etc.) is explained with their hunting and food gathering techniques, local history and facts. Each display has original items while some of them have been copied (like the “Climbing Men” or an Aboriginal rock painting). It’s a pity that there’s no catalogue available. Only for one section which deals with the Stolen Generation a booklet is for sale.
Take at least three hours for this section. If you’re really interested, don’t forget notepad and camera (which needs a tripod as flash is not allowed).
Art Gallery of Western Australia
James Street Mall through to Roe Street (behind the train station), Northbridge. Open daily 10.00 am-5.00 pm. Admission free.
Also in level one there’s a display of traditional to contemporary Aboriginal art. Early Papunya artists copied the ancient style of small dot paintings on bark, later canvas. Modern artists use a wide variety of materials. Famous names include Lin Onus, Sally Morgan and Julie Dowling. Grab a copy of the “Aboriginal Art” leaflet at the information for a short summary.
If you’re lucky there’s an open air market on the Art Gallery piazza (weekends only). However, the market seems to be fairly new as there has been only a handful of stalls.
Berndt Museum of Anthropology
Social Sciences Building of the University of WA, Hackett Drive, Nedlands. Open Monday+Wednesday 2.00 pm-4.30 pm and Friday 10.00 am-2.00 pm. Admission free.
This museum is often praised for its “finest collection of traditional and contemporary Australian Aboriginal art and artefacts”. However, once you have found this small museum you can only guess what wealth of material must have been collected by Robert and Catherine Berndt.
Only a tiny fraction is on display in just one room. Space is precious which led to a lot of boxes standing in the hallway and amidst the exhibits and sometimes you feel like an explorer who just returned from his latest exploration. But the Berndt’s are that famous couple of Aboriginal Art and somehow a visit here is mandatory. Don’t forget to buy a copy of their book “Aboriginal Australian Art” which is available here.
Creative Native Gallery
Located at Forrest Place this is one of the big galleries on Aboriginal Art. Prices seemed to be ok and leave some room for negotiations. They don’t mind if you need an hour to hear through a couple of CDs.
(71 Barrack St) I found the prices here rather high. The range is more limited compared to Creative Native and - to my mind - more consumer-oriented.
Artists in Residence
Behind this name is not a gallery but a programme. It invites domestic or international artists to a set location (‘reside’) and have their work supported for a period of time.
I really would have visited the participating gallery in Perth - had I found it in time! Their new location is at Kings Park, at the edge of the steep ridge where the little lookout is, below the information and not in Hay Street! This gallery looked quite small, too.