Wilful Ignorance: Pacific Collections, Connections and Equitable Futures

How can we decolonise the museum, asks curator Dr Jude Philp, and why is it important to appreciate a richer diversity of place, history and culture?

In this essay, adapted from the fourth annual Iain McCalman Lecture, curator and anthropologist Jude Philp examines the role of museums in helping to shape an ignorance of Pacific people’s lives in Australia, exposing the ideas of otherness inherent in their systems.

“Most importantly, this work could bring us closer to the Pacific Island Museum Code, recognising that the things we look after, as a need to recognise the people who inform those things today and seeking responsible solutions to climate change and habitat loss through the knowledge of people who have lived in this environment for far longer, have straddled the relationship with a globalised world and know how to balance the oneness of culture and natural need.”

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The Iain McCalman Lecture celebrates SEI co-founder and former co-director Iain McCalman’s dedication to fostering and pioneering multidisciplinary environmental research. The lectures aim to highlight the work of early to mid-career researchers working across disciplinary boundaries to impact both scholarship and public discourse.


Dr Jude Philp is a museum-based anthropologist and senior-curator of the Macleay Collections at the Chau Chak Wing Museum. Over the past twenty years her exhibition and research work has been directed towards understanding the cultural and social circumstances under which animals and peoples’ objects were collected for museums in the nineteenth century.