Ancient trade routes explored in new exhibition

19 August 2022

New evidence of the expansive voyaging and cultural interactions across the Coral Sea will be revealed to Southeast Queenslanders as part of a new exhibition opening at Queensland Museum on Friday 19 August.

Connections across the Coral Sea: A story of movement brings together First Nations communities, cutting-edge archaeological research, advanced visual technology, and historic museum collections to highlight a rich and important part of Queensland’s cultural history.

The exhibition reveals international trade and relationships between the ancient seafaring cultures of southern New Guinea, Torres Strait and the northeast coast of Queensland dating back thousands of years, much further than previously thought, and based on the latest research by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH) which worked in partnership with the Dingaal and Ngurrumungu Traditional Owners on Jiigurru (Lizard Island).

Kenneth McLean, Walmbaar Aboriginal Corporation Chairperson and Dingaal spokesperson says the exhibition helped share this important story.

"We needed to tell our story from country and working closely with the Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage from JCU, it also gave us this opportunity of sharing our traditional stories of country and also helped with the research across the Coral Sea,” Mr McLean said.


"The most important find has been the midden artefacts dated over a few hundred years ago that was evidence of our people being on country for that long and the evidence of the connection across the Coral Sea, people living there for generations and generations.”


Mr McLean says he would like to see this exhibition travel around the country and show the ancient side of the cultural connection to country.


He adds that the partnership with all stakeholders is a valuable one and the ongoing research would help create education and employment opportunities for “the youth in our community and across Cape York.”


Queensland Museum Network CEO Dr Jim Thompson said the exhibition is an impactful collaboration that enables museum visitors to delve into First Nations histories and help us understand more about one of the world’s oldest continuous living cultures and its neighbours.

“The exhibition will enrich people’s understanding of the cultural importance of the Coral Sea and inspire Queenslanders to explore and celebrate the distinctive natural and cultural heritage of our state,” Dr Thompson said.


Minister for the Arts Leeanne Enoch said the exhibition would provide further understanding of two of the oldest surviving cultures in the world.


Connections across the Coral Sea captures a rare insight to the cultural stories, history and heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” Minister Enoch said. 


“Visitors will have a unique opportunity to take an informative journey across country, wind and waters with a collection of significant items curated from the Queensland Museum state collection.”


“Queensland Museum Network has shared our stories for 160 years and Connections across the Coral Sea tells an important story of movement across thousands of years.


“The Queensland Government supports Queensland Museum to elevate First Nations arts and culture, with this latest exhibition showcasing cultural exchange and highlighting the ongoing journey towards truth-telling.”


CABAH Director, Distinguished Professor Richard ‘Bert’ Roberts said the exhibition tells the remarkable story of cultural movement, interaction, and exchange throughout the Coral Sea region, drawing on the outcomes of research carried out by archaeologists and Indigenous partners over many years.


CABAH Deputy Director, Distinguished Professor Sean Ulm from James Cook University has been working in partnership with Dingaal and Ngurrumungu Traditional Owners on Jiigurru (Lizard Island) since 2012 to gain a better understanding of the deep Indigenous history of the Coral Sea.


“Over a period of two years, we excavated a deep midden on the South Island to date shells and objects buried there over time. At over 2.4 metres deep, an archaeological site of this nature is uncommon anywhere around the Australian coast,” Professor Ulm said.


“Our research revealed human interaction much earlier than previously documented. It’s a hugely significant and exciting discovery.”


Visitors to the exhibition will be able to step inside a replica of the archaeological site, with the midden** recreated to show the objects and shells that were key in understanding the cultural exchanges that occurred on Jiigurru (Lizard Island) thousands of years ago.


Connections across the Coral Sea: A story of movement is a FREE exhibition, located on Level 2 at Queensland Museum, and opens on Friday 19 August 2022 until Sunday 21 May 2023.

Media Enquiries:

Rhianna Patrick – 0412 388 797

Donald Johannessen – 0419 776 995


Connections across the Coral Sea is a Queensland Museum Network exhibition produced in partnership with ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH) and in collaboration with Queensland Museum Network’s Project DIG. The exhibition is also supported by James Cook University and Monash University.

** A midden is the remains of shellfish eaten by Aboriginal people. They can consist of the shells from a single meal, or many different meals eaten in the same location over many years. They can also contain, bone, botanical remains, ash and charcoal.