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AMSD: The Australian Message Stick Database
  • Piers Kelly,
  • junran.lei,
  • bibiko
Piers Kelly

Corresponding Author:piers.kelly@gmail.com

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Message sticks are marked objects, typically made of wood, used in Indigenous Australia for facilitating important long-distance communications. Between the 1880s and the 1910s, settlers and scholars took great interest in message sticks and this was reflected in efforts to document, collect and conserve them in museums worldwide. However, by this period, the practice was already undergoing profound changes, having been abandoned in many parts of the continent and transformed in others. Today their use continues in parts of northern Australia as a means of coordinating negotiations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous organisations, as an artistic genre, and in narrative expositions in which message sticks figure as a central theme. Despite such continuities, many questions concerning the history, pragmatics and global significance of message stick communication remain unanswered. To begin to address this we have compiled the Australian Message Stick Database, a new resource hosted at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzi, and The Australian National University, Canberra. It contains images and data for over 1400 individual message sticks sourced from museums, and supplemented with information derived from published and published manuscripts and private collections. For the first time, metadata on Australian message sticks can be evaluated as a single set allowing scholars to explore previously intractable questions about their histories, meanings and purposes.