Darryl Collins: an appreciation of his contribution to Cambodia, 1994 -2023

By Margaret Bywater

Darryl Collins came to Cambodia at the beginning of 1994, as part of a restoration project working with the staff of the National Museum of Cambodia. Completion of repairs to the roof and other renovations were marked by a ceremony attended by King Sihanouk and the then Governor-General of Australia, The Hon. Bill Hayden, AC, on 28 April 1995.  Darryl returned briefly to Australia, but his Phnom Penh experience was to change his life; he resigned his job at the Australian National Gallery and was soon back in Cambodia teaching English at Australian Centre for Education, a connection that he retained for many years as a teacher and an examiner.  He encouraged many young Cambodians to pursue further study overseas.

From late 1999, Darryl was a lecturer at the Royal University of Fine Arts in the Department of Archaeology. During this time the chance finding of a very large collection of small black and white photographs of buildings in Cambodia led to a seven-year research project – he worked with fellow RUFA teacher and architect Helen Grant Ross and architectural student /researcher Hon Sokol produced a groundbreaking work, Building Cambodia: New Khmer Architecture 1953-1970, which was published in December 2006. 
As Manager of the Collection Inventory Project in 2004 Darryl directed the important task of creating a digital register of the entire collection of the National Museum, including the transfer of all the early French records.  Darryl continued to conduct research, further developing his understanding and appreciation of Khmer culture and civilisation, including a one-year consultancy for the Department of Culture and Research of the APSARA Authority, ceaselessly lecturing and writing articles for publication in local and international journals and newsletters.  Darryl delighted in sharing his knowledge with students, the general public and other scholars and interested visitors to the kingdom.  He was appointed to the Board of Heritage International and was still a board member at the time of his death.
Once Darryl moved to Siem Reap in 2008, he became a well known figure in the community and was widely respected for his knowledge of Khmer history and culture. He donated a collection from his own library when the Centre for Khmer Studies Library was establishing its Southeast Asia collection in 2001.

His personal belief in the need to preserve and document traditional Khmer wooden houses and the need to encourage Cambodians to value these beautiful dwellings is the light that shines on every page of his last book, Cambodian Wooden Houses: 1,000 years of Khmer heritage, co-authored with Hok Sokol, published by SIPAR, 2021.


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