Andrew McLellan spends his days working with children, opening their eyes and imagination to other cultures, just as his were when, as a boy, he spent many happy hours among the strange artefacts housed in Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum, where he is now the education officer.

“I remember opening drawers and finding that they were full of spoons, and the next one was full of chopsticks, which was really weird, but kind of made sense,” he recalled.

But which of the museum’s 80,000 exhibits would Andrew choose to take with him to our desert island? Andrew has some prior experience of selecting useful items.

To engage and inspire young visitors he asks them what they would take with them if they had to survive alone on a remote island.

“I ask children who visit the museum on family activity days to complete this sentence: ‘Help, I am stuck on desert island and I’ve only got a…’ “We do get the odd child who wants to take a Gameboy, but many of the suggestions are thoughtful and charming. One I particularly like was ‘A compass, a bottle of water and a book of poems.’ Unfortunately the author didn’t put a name to his suggestion.

But Elizabeth O’Connor chose a blanket and three toys while another suggestion, signed by ‘Rita’, was ‘A bone knife, a machéte and a ukelele’,” Andrew revealed. “The Pitt Rivers shows children that what is most needed is the imagination to use what is around you,” he added.

“This museum doesn’t organise objects like other museums, grouping things from one country together. It arranges them by their function. There is not just one way of making a light or a fish trap.

“Visitors can see that the natural and manufactured things around us can have multiple uses. A frisbee can be used to play games — or as a bowl or a scoop. Things can be beautifully-crafted, nostalgic and practical at the same time.”

“The Pitt Rivers gives an idea of how rich the world is — and how adaptable human beings are. We encourage children to develop craft skills. With the family activities we try to make things from scrap materials. These are skills you can apply in any environment.

“On a desert island a coconut shell can be used as a water carrier. One popular family activity is making musical instruments and coconut shells can make music and be decorated. Art and music are also common to people everywhere.”

But what item from the museum’s collection would he want to find on our desert island?

“Marooned on a desert island, I would need food, water, fire and shelter. I would consider taking with me a machéte. I think of it as an equivalent to the Swiss army knife. With a machéte and a credit card I could provide all I need to live. What I can’t make with a machéte, I could buy with a credit card, but most airlines frown on people with machétes! So, I would want to find on the beach is the late 19th century machéte from the Congo, which is part of the teaching collection here.

“I could use it to chop trees to make a shelter and chop firewood. With it I could make a bow drill to make fire more easily than rubbing sticks together. I could even use it to make a boat. “But if I was allowed to take anything from the museum, I would take the boat with outriggers and sail that hangs in the centre of the museum. Outriggers act as stabilisers, so the boat doesn’t need a keel and can be sailed in shallow water. A boat with a keel would have its bottom ripped apart on coral reefs. This boat, from Zanzibar, is stable in rough ocean waters too.

“The museum is so rich in examples of humankind’s flexible thinking, and I think the outrigger is one of the great designs. It would give me some freedom to island hop and go fishing. On Saturday, August 1, we shall be challenging families to build a better boat to hold the most cargo or stay afloat in choppy waters.”

The outrigger is old and beautiful but I wondered whether we should allow our castaway to escape quite so easily!

The Pitt Rivers has a fine collection of textiles and Andrew showed me some he particular admired.

“I taught for five years in South East Asia and have spent a lot of time travelling in that part of the world. One craft I saw being applied and particularly admired that is also beautiful to look at, is Batik.

“One of its uses was made famous in this country by footballer David Beckham — the sarong.

“There is an attractive sarong from Java in the collection. The dyes used are natural and this one was dipped 30 times to build up the depth of the colour. As well as being an attractive piece of fabric, it is adaptable. It is a comfortable garment, which can be used as a rug or blanket and could shade me from the sun.

“But I shall have to opt for the machéte, because it would be the most useful tool for using local materials to make other tools and objects. I think I could use it to make anything I would need including a boat.”

Andrew was also very particular about the kind of island he wanted to be abandoned on.

“Most volcanic islands don’t have metals, but volcanic glass makes great knives.”

It appears that Andrew will have no problems surviving on our desert island.

Andrew’s journey to our desert island.

Andrew was born in 1966 and is a local boy. He attended Abingdon School from 1977 to 1984 and then read history at Sussex University. He went on to get his PGCE at Nottingham University. He taught in secondary schools for eight years, including five in Singapore. After travelling and scuba diving a lot in South East Asia and exploring in the Himalayas, he returned to the UK in ???. After taking an MA in Museum Studies, he applied for the post of education officer at the Pitt Rivers where he manages a team that delivers a range of programmes. Readers can renew their acquaintance with Andrew’s world by exploring the mysteriously dark corners of Oxford’s newly refurbished and quite unique Pitt Rivers Museum.

The Pitt Rivers Museum is open on Mondays from noon-5pm and Tuesday-Sunday from 10am-5pm. Admission is free. Visit the website for details of family activities, or pick up a leaflet at the museum.