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 across to 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 collections were established to support the creation of the Department, 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.
The Berndt Museum 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.
The Berndt Museum has been 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.