About us

A collection of national significance

The Berndt Museum at The University of Western Australia (UWA) holds one of the most significant collections of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural material in the world, manifesting in art, objects, archives, manuscripts, film and sound and photographic collections.

Founded in 1976, the Berndt Museum is The University of Western Australia’s (UWA) major collection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and culture, including Asian and Melanesian objects. It is the premier university-based museum that focuses on Aboriginal Australia in the world.

The Berndt Museum manages the Ronald M and Catherine H Berndt Collections, as well as several hundred individual collections of objects that have been presented over the past 40 years. It also manages the Ronald M and Catherine H Berndt Archives, as well as countless individual archives belonging to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal benefactors alike.

Embracing research, education and outreach, the BMA exhibits its collections through stories of cultural importance that explore historical and/or contemporary narratives, people, places or events. We work with living artists, as well as with other public and private collectors throughout Australia to unpack the collections in our care.

The richness of the collections includes not only the extensive archives, art and object collections, but film, sound and photographic collections of substantial proportions. Brought together over time, the combination of donations, gifts and acquisitions has built a collection that has great depth and breadth with substantiated interest in further research and steeped in Aboriginal history. It is a collection of national significance to be shared with all Australians and the international community.

Our mission

The Berndt Museum enriches research, teaching and learning on the campus of UWA and with communities across Australia and internationally by:

  • presenting art and culture across time
  • convening interdisciplinary discussions in which culture is a catalyst for exploring issues and ideas
  • collecting art and culture that supports the contemporary and historical of our current collections
  • co-laboured exchange between Aboriginal communities and the Campus through our collections

Our vision statements

  • To be a dynamic, imaginative and innovative research and learning resource at UWA through art and cultural programs that are a catalyst for thought-provoking discussions relevant to all faculties and to our lives today.
  • To inspire and develop a new generation of scholars, museum professionals, artists and educators by providing experiential learning opportunities bridging the classroom and the world beyond the campus.
  • To serve as a crossroad between campus and community by building and creating a new standalone museum and an environment where all visitors feel welcome to participate.
  • To nurture a deeper and broader understanding of Aboriginal culture for all Australians.

Our beginnings

The Berndt Museum originated as a private research collection of Professor Ronald M and Dr Catherine H Berndt. The earliest references to the idea of the Museum can be located in documents from 1957, one year after the Berndts relocated to Perth to establish the Department of Anthropology at UWA.

The collection's history extends from the University of Sydney (New South Wales), where the Berndts both studied under Professor A.P. Elkin, and to South Australia, where Ronald Berndt was raised, and across the globe, where they contributed to countless collections of Aboriginal Australian material.

In Western Australia, the earliest exhibition of the Berndt Collections was in 1957 in a show developed by Ronald and Catherine called An Exhibition of Australian Aboriginal Art – Arnhem Land Paintings on Bark at the Perth Museum in conjunction with the Western Australian Museum and Art Gallery, as it was known then. The original BMA collections were established to support the creation of the Anthropology Department, for teaching and research, with a particular focus on Aboriginal Australia, the Pacific and Asia. Today, the collections represent some 60 years of UWA history in anthropological education.

Person walking by archival shelves of museum

Early days

In 1979, the Anthropology Research Museum was launched with several collections from the Anthropology Department adding to its holdings. The inaugural exhibition was a survey show that opened on 22 February 1979 in the basement of the Social Science Building and showcased works from the Northeast and Western Arnhem Land, the Kimberley, Southwest South Australia, Central Western Australian and the Western Desert. By 1980 Ronald and Catherine Berndt, with support from the then Vice Chancellor, donated their collections of Aboriginal material to UWA.


In 1992, two years after Ronald Berndt’s death, the Anthropology Research Museum was renamed the Berndt Museum of Anthropology in honour of Ronald and Catherine’s contribution to the University, the field of anthropology and the Museum itself. Catherine Berndt passed away in 1994 and a second major bequest was made to UWA in which the Berndt Museum received significant Asian and Melanesian material, the Ronald M and Catherine H Field Notebooks, their personal and professional archive that includes manuscripts, personal and professional papers relating to their research, and items within the collections from across their full range of field work and research. The BMA has also been fortunate to receive additional donations and gifts from a wide range of donors that have expanded the collections across a hundred years of Aboriginal Australia as well as additional contributions to the Asian collections. UWA has also supported the acquisition process, and today the Museum is a mix of cultural material, archives, film and sound, photographs, publications and significant works of art.

Current site

In 2010, due to infrastructural concerns, the collections and administration offices were relocated to a temporary location in Car Park 20, beneath the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery (LWAG) while awaiting a new building. Its governance was transferred from the discipline of Anthropology to Community and Engagement, now Global Partnerships, and we currently exhibit in the Janet Holmes à Court Gallery within LWAG. The Berndt Museum is supported by the Professor Ronald M and Dr Catherine H Berndt Research Foundation, which was established by the Will and Testament of Catherine H Berndt (1994). The Foundation exists to encourage and support research in social and cultural anthropology in the area of Aboriginal Australia. Need more informat.

Our partners

Our areas of collaboration are broad and allow us to work across all faculties, making community and engagement a great launch pad for the Museum. In all that we do, we work to ensure our initial relationship with the communities from which our collections are derived are strong. We also have a number of UWA partners with whom we work closely to enhance research into the collections:

Berndt Research Foundation

The Berndt Research Foundation supports Australian Aboriginal social and cultural anthropology research.

Find out more about the Berndt Research Foundation.

Discipline of Anthropology

Anthropology is the study of humanity and human behaviour. It is the only discipline that offers a conceptual scheme for the whole context of human experience.

Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery

The Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery produces and presents exhibitions of Australian and international art, as well as important national touring exhibitions.

Find out more about the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery.

School of Indigenous Studies

UWA's School of Indigenous Studies aims to achieve excellence and equity in all aspects of higher education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Find out more about the School of Indigenous Studies.

Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal art collection of the University of Virginia

Is the only museum in the United States dedicated to the exhibition and study of Aboriginal art.


Working with us

The Museum collection is an important source of cultural heritage for many individuals and communities.

Community and visitor services

Scholarly academic researchers and students, native title, family history, researchers and other interested members of the public are welcome. We also provide information, loans and reproduction of photographic material for exhibitions locally, nationally and internationally.

Community engagement

Indigenous knowledge is embedded within the Australian Aboriginal cultural material collections of the Berndt Museum which is why Aboriginal communities connected with the Museum view it as a ‘living collection’, part of a living culture.

The Museum engages ethically with individuals and communities and is guided by management protocols in regard to the conservation, protection, contextualisation, promotion, research, teaching, publication and display of Aboriginal cultural material. We work with relevant communities throughout the exhibition process, from inception to research and planning, through to exhibition openings and public programming, mindful of intellectual and cultural sensitivities and the current circumstances and issues facing communities.

The Museum cooperates with and advocates for the voice and expert knowledge of the communities of origin in relation to their culture and cultural heritage.