Historian and Custodian of Cambodia Heritage Darryl Collins Dies

Esteemed scholar and historian Darryl Collins, who dedicated his life to documenting and conserving Cambodian heritage since 1994, has died
Cambodian wooden homes. Kiripost via Pixabay
Cambodian wooden homes. Kiripost via Pixabay

Tributes have been paid to esteemed Australian scholar, author and historian Darryl Collins, who spent decades documenting and conserving Cambodia's cultural heritage.

"Cambodia has lost one of its long-standing and most influential scholars, with the passing of Darryl Collins," long-term Cambodian expat and blogger, Andy Brouwer, wrote on his Facebook page, going on to cite a blog post he wrote about their first meeting in Cambodia in October 2009.

He referred to Collins as "one of the most interesting people you are likely to meet in Cambodia" and a "mine of information".

Collins graduated with a Master's of Arts from the Australian University in Canberra and went on to spend two years at the Department of Fine Arts and Languages Studies at Sophia University (Tokyo), before moving to Cambodia in 1994,

where he spent several years working as a lecturer at the Royal University of Fine Arts.

According to his profile on Angkor Database, in 2002, he co-authored with Helen Grant Ross and Hok Sokol the book "Building Cambodia: New Khmer Architecture (1953-1970)". This continues to be a reference for architects and architecture lovers.

Author and historian Darryl Collins. Kiripost via Facebook account of Lim Sokchanlina
Author and historian Darryl Collins. Kiripost via Facebook account of Lim Sokchanlina

In 2004, he started the Collection Inventory Project as a cultural consultant for the National Museum of Cambodia.

Recalling their 2009 conversation about the Collection Inventory Project, Brouwer said, "The Collection Inventory Project is a labour of love that has been on-going now for a few years and which Darryl has been instrumental in training the project team of nine people.

"It is the first real attempt to catalogue, photograph and stock-take the museum's collection and an absolutely vital task to ensure the provenance of the collection as well as a window on the artifacts that have disappeared over the years."

Collins also actively contributed to the restoration of several iconic houses across Cambodia, including the Hanchey House in Siem Reap and the 'Chinese House' in Phnom Penh.

In 2022, he released his latest publication, a comprehensive study on Khmer traditional wooden houses and the talented craftsmen who built them. His passion for these homes is evident in his efforts to relocate a Chinese-Khmer wooden house that dates back to 1915 from a river island in Kampong Cham to Siem Reap. This was carried out by dismantling and reconstructing the stilted house piece by piece.

Gay apsara dance troupe, Prumsodum Ok & NATYARASA, also paid tribute to Collins, who it said “so generously welcomed us to perform at his beautiful Khmer-style wooden home in Siem Reap many years ago”.

“At that time, we were but a newly-formed company gaining journalistic attention, and Darryl represented a crucial juncture in our journey,” wrote dance troupe founder, Prumsodun Ok.

Long-term expat, Nick Ray, who has lived in Cambodia for more than two decades, also paid tribute to Collins. In a Facebook post, he said, “Darryl was always a source of knowledge and insight when seeking a deeper understanding of key aspects of Khmer history.”

Among the many other online tributes, Treeline Urban Resort in Siem Reap, said in a Facebook post, “Today our hearts are heavy. We would like to honour a special friend of ours and to many, Darryl Collins.

“Darryl was a kind and generous man, who did so much for Cambodia and achieved a lot in his life. Historian, archivist, educator, curator, author, art custodian and much-loved friend. Thank you for all you have done for Cambodia.”

Collins died in Siem Reap on Wednesday at the age of 76.