Connections across a vast sea explored in new exhibition

10 December 2021

In a world-first, new evidence of expansive voyaging and cultural interactions across the Coral Sea will be revealed in an original exhibition premiering at Museum of Tropical Queensland on Saturday 11 December 2021.

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.

Based on the latest research by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CABAH) 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.

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 culture 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 Connections across the Coral Sea: A story of movement connects visitors with new insights about the history and heritage of one of the oldest surviving cultures on the planet.   

“Queensland Museum has curated an inspiring and informative exhibition, showcasing rare and significant items from the state collection that offer a fascinating view into Queensland’s cultural history,” Minister Enoch said.

“Our Government supports Queensland Museum to share our stories and elevate First Nations perspectives, with this exhibition highlighting the importance of cultural exchange and learning in shaping cultural identities and supporting the ongoing journey towards truth-telling.”

Museum of Tropical Queensland and James Cook University (JCU) Senior Curator of Maritime Archaeology Dr Maddy McAllister said the exhibition highlights important Indigenous artefacts from the State Collection.

“Many of the objects you see in the exhibition are on display for the very first-time including a fragment of rare Lapita pottery originating from Papua New Guinea that is thousands of years old,” Dr McAllister said.

“Another highlight is a large wooden outrigger canoe made in 1900, which is an example of how many of the communities navigated and traded across the vast ocean.”

The exhibition also prioritises the use of traditional First Nation languages to identify places and objects.

“The whole process of exhibition development has been in collaboration with communities to ensure their stories, objects and languages take centre stage,” Dr McAllister said.

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.

Connections across the Coral Sea showcases the extraordinary cultural and natural history of the Coral Sea region and deepens our appreciation of the enduring ties with our Papuan neighbours across the Torres Strait,” Professor Roberts said

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 archaeological site in the Lizard Island Group 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 across the Coral Sea 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 thousands of years ago.

Another exhibition highlight is a life-size 3D digital version of a Torres Strait canoe. Created by Professor Ian McNiven and a team at Monash University, the model provides visitors with a sense of the size and imposing presence of the seagoing vessels that were used long ago.

To support the exhibition, CABAH and Queensland Museum Publications have produced an exhibition catalogue that includes further information on the research, curatorial work and the objects that feature in the displays. The book is available to purchase at both instore and online at the Queensland Museum shop.

The exhibition opens at Museum of Tropical Queensland on Saturday 11 December 2021 until Monday 2 May 2022.

To celebrate opening of Connections across the Coral Sea, entry to the museum will be free on Saturday 11 December. Visit for more information.

Media Contact:

Andrea Hughes

(07) 4726 0604 or 0497 347 117



Connections across the Coral Sea is a Queensland Museum exhibition produced in partnership with Australian Research Council 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.


The research presented was undertaken in partnership with the Walmbaar Aboriginal Corporation and Hope Vale Congress Aboriginal Corporation. 


Museum of Tropical Queensland is part of the Queensland Museum Network and open 9:30am to 4pm daily (closed Good Friday, ANZAC Day, Christmas Day and Boxing Day).