CHCAP Seminar

The Gamelan Digul: Culture, history and politics, 1927 – 2014

Made in a Dutch political prison camp out of food tins and other scraps of metal and timber in 1927, this gamelan or set of musical instruments travelled to Australia in 1942. They arrived with a group of Indonesians imprisoned for their political activities by the Dutch East Indies government. While in Australia, the Indonesians campaigned for their country’s independence from the Dutch colonial rulers, sometimes giving gamelan performances with these instruments. The instruments were deposited in the National Museum of Victoria in 1946. A few months later, the man who had explained the set up of these instruments to the Museum was deported back to Indonesia and the instruments lay forgotten in the museum’s storerooms until 1976. They were then deaccessioned to Monash University and now some of the instruments are on loan to the National Museum of Australia.

This presentation will reassemble the object biography of this gamelan by following the people, organisations and government and institutional policies and practices with which it has come into contact through its journey in and out of these. At all three institutions we can see the ways in which ‘culture’ is defined and used to interact with and represent the ‘other’, sometimes at the expense of history which both excludes ‘the other’ and indicates cross-cultural connections.


Karen Schamberger is a PhD student at Deakin University. Her thesis examines the way that museums in Australia have dealt with cultural diversity by tracing the lives of objects in their collections. She previously worked at Museum Victoria as the Project Curator for the Identity: yours, mine, ours exhibition (2011) and as part of the curatorial team that developed the Australian Journeys exhibition (2009) at the National Museum of Australia.

Date: Wednesday, 25 March 2015 | Time: 12 noon | Venue:  Deakin Prime, City Campus, Address: 3/550, Bourke Street, Melbourne 3000


Note change of time.