The Macleay Museum ethnographic collection comprises close to 6000 cultural objects. The collection includes material from all continents of the globe and represents numerous cultures. The collections embody the experiences, knowledge, relationships and beliefs of the people who made, used, traded and collected them. A number of items in the collection are unique and many are both culturally and historically significant. In addition to cultural objects the Macleay Museum's Historic Photograph Collection includes large numbers of images with ethnographic content and historic relevance to the Indigenous cultures of the Australia-Pacific region.
Australian Aboriginal, Torres Strait, and Pacific Islander cultural objects are the strength of the collection. Ethnography was not a primary interest of the Macleay family, yet the ethnographic material that formed part of their original bequest to the University of Sydney has become a cornerstone of the collection. Collected between 1865 and 1891, it includes material acquired on the Chevert as well as through Sir William Macleay’s association with a range of amateur and professional natural history collectors.
The collections are part of a continuum of human interaction in the Australia-Pacific region. This includes relationships that are being built between source communities and the collections today. The Macleay Museum is committed to promoting greater understanding of the cultural collections we hold. Providing access to the collections to a wide range of community groups, students, researchers and the general public is part of this role.