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a pictorial anthology of indigenous australia 1847-2008

john ogden

T H E J I M M Y L I T T L E FO U N DAT I O N would like to acknowledge the book sponsors‌

All proceeds from Portraits from a Land Without People will go to the Jimmy Little Foundation’s national program dedicated to improving Indigenous health, particularly in regard to kidney disease. Kidney failure is as much as fifty times the national average and is responsible for at least one in three deaths. Jimmy Little AO has been an entertainer and national inspiration for just on fifty years. He has performed for people from the humblest outback veranda to the Sydney Opera House. Since his kidney transplant, Jimmy has dedicated himself to making a positive contribution to Indigenous health.

GOODRIDGE Foundation Pty Ltd

The Transfield Foundation is a philanthropic foundation established jointly by Transfield Services and Transfield Holdings.

dedicated to my parents veronica arabella ogden 1920-2006 and jack cooper ogden 1915-1977


Jane Hodson at the Central Land Council; Vicki Gillick at the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council; Miriam Rose Baumann at Nauiyu Nambiyu; Mick Starkey at the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park; Gus Williams and Jane Rosalski at the Aranda Community Council; Garry Donnelly at the Daguragu Community Government Council; Susan Locke at the Warlpiri Media Association; Jeff Perz and Leanne Steadman at the Ngaanyatjarra Council; Elizabeth Caldwell at the Angurugu Community Government Council; Barry Clarke at the Northern Lands Council; the Tiwi Land Council; the Larrakia Nation Aboriginal Corporation; Bobby Tjuppurula West at the Kiwirrkura Council Aboriginal Corporation; Wes Morris at Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre; the Wandjina Aboriginal Corporation; WA Dept of Indigenous Affairs; Liz Janney at Broome Museum; Sarah Yu; Peter Strain; the Broome Public Library; Sally Clifford at Warlayirti Artists, Balgo; Lionel Fogarty; Dr Eve Fesl; Benny Gutchen at the Ngoonbi Aboriginal Co-operative; Cherbourg Aboriginal Council; Cape York Land Council; North Queensland Land Council; Vincent Mundraby; Brian Yambal; Girringun Aboriginal Corporation; Nathan Williams; Alan Broughton at the Cairns Historical Society; the Roma Regional Council; the Palm Island Aboriginal Shire Council; the Torres Strait Island Coordinating Council; Denis Walker; the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC); the Birpai LALC; Grace Beetson and the Brewarrina LALC; Cobowra LALC; Bathurst LALC; Kevin Atkinson at the Cummeragunja (formerly Yorta Yorta) LALC; Noelene Briggs-Smith; Greg Davison at the NSW Reconciliation Council; Sue Newman at State Records, NSW, State Archives; NSW Dept of Aboriginal Affairs; John Paul Janke and Bev Manton at the NSW Aboriginal Land Council; Elaine Perkins; Lola Edwards; Maurie Mather at the Grafton Ngerrie LALC; NSW Dept of Corrective Services; Joy Murphy at the Wurunderie Council, Boolgarra; the Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust; Katie O’Bryan at Native Title Services Victoria; the Koorie Heritage Trust Inc Cultural Centre; Reg Abrahams at the Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-Operative; Mick Harding; Betty Phillips and Don Green; Merle Jackomos; Jacqui Ward and Bill Bleathman at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery; Tom Trevorrow at the Ngarrindjeri Heritage Committee (SA); Gladys Sumner at the Chowilla Living Murray Aboriginal NRM Project; Reg Dodd at the Marree Arabunna Peoples Committee; the Kaurna Aboriginal Heritage Committee; John Dallwitz and the Pitjantjatjara Council; Simon Merritt at the Oak Valley Aboriginal School; Margaret Simpson at the Church Missionary Society; Father Tony Caruana and Sister Shirley Bates from the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart; Sue Butler at Macquarie University Press; Debbie Wilson at Macquarie University; Jabal Films; Rolf de Heer and Vertigo Productions; Doug Stanley at Nomad Films; the Canberra Times; Fairfax; Newspix; Sport the library; Andrew Stephenson at Wildlight; Reuters; Jeff McMullen; Richard Lubner; Nicolas Petersen (ANU); Alana Harris; Dr P.J. Torzillo; Buzz Bidstropp; Mark Ragg; Sue Cook; Peter Baume; Fred Chaney; Paul Wand; Penny Taylor; Jeff Doring; University of Western Australia Press; David Huggonson; Leonarda Kovacic; Samuel Furphy; Helen Tolcher; Max Quanchi; Jonathan Richards; Joan Ogden; Cazz Ogden; Elizabeth Whelan; Teresa Charchalis; Tim Hixson; Margherita Tracanelli; and the Smithsonian Institution (USA). Special thanks to all the photographers who generously allowed the Jimmy Little Foundation to reproduce their work, and to Pat Dodson and Larissa Behrendt for their wonderful contributions. Also to Louise (Lou Lou Belle) Whelan for her patience and encouragement; Don Palmer from the Jimmy Little Foundation for his unstinting support; Gianni Frinzi for his wonderful design work and enthusiasm; Din Heagney, Penny Taylor, Gael Newton, Mark Ragg, Maurice O’Riordan and Felicity Pontoni for their valued work editing the text; Fiona Upward for her proofing skills; and Danielle Farrow-Pryke for her tenacity in the face of apathy.

The process of research, identification and gaining permissions has been long and arduous. Many people and institutions have assisted, and a few have been less generous. The process of cataloguing the vast archives of so-called ‘ethnographic’ photography stored in libraries and museums around the country is in its infancy, as is the work to identify the original subjects and record their history. Among a raft of factors, tracing links to improve the record is limited by poor record-keeping by photographers, the limited resources of the institutions involved, and the floating nature and dispersal of groups of Indigenous people. Many institutions and individuals must be acknowledged: BHP Billiton; The Transfield Foundation and Transfield Services; The Goodridge Foundation; Baxter Healthcare; Gilbert + Tobin; Melinda Buckland; Elizabeth Jurman; Nora Goodridge; Danny Gilbert, Tamara Sims and Sonia Sharma; Therese Kelly; Linda Burney; Louis Nowra; Reconciliation Australia; David Jeffery and AIATSIS; National Archives of Australia; Sylvia Carr and the National Library of Australia; Roslyn Poignant; the National Gallery of Australia; the Société de Géographie; Bibliothèque nationale de France; David Kaus, Carol Cooper, Anne Kelly and George Serras at the National Museum of Australia; Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, UK; the Australian War Memorial; the National Film and Sound Archives; NSW Dept of Corrective Services; Alan Davies at the State Library of New South Wales and Mitchell Library; Inara Walden and Annie Campbell at the Museum of Sydney; James Wilson-Miller and Kathleen Hackett at the Powerhouse Museum; Rebecca Conway at the Macleay Museum, University of Sydney; Jan Brazier, Barrina South and Rose Docker at the Australian Museum; Nerida Campbell at the Justice & Police Museum, Sydney; NSW State Archives; the Sydney Morning Herald; Isobel Crombie, Jennie Moloney and Judith Ryan at the National Gallery of Victoria; Mary Morris, Rosemary Wrench and Philip Batty at Museum Victoria; Madeline Say at the State Library of Victoria; the Age; Nerissa Broben, Andrea James and the Koorie Heritage Trust; Wayne Atkinson from the Yorta Yorta Nation; Andrew Piper and Patricia Moorery, the State Library of South Australia; Lea Gardam and Philip Jones at the South Australian Museum; Paul Hughes at the University of South Australia; Jim Sykes at the South Australian Police Historical Society; the Advertiser; Andrew Wilson at State Records of South Australia; John Dallwitz at the Ara Irititja Project; the Art Gallery of South Australia; Dr Moya Smith and Ross Chadwick at the Western Australian Museum; Clo Bullen at the Art Gallery of Western Australia; David Whiteford, Jennie Carter, and Zofia Carter at the State Library of Western Australia; Bob Tonkinson at the University of Western Australia; the Berndt Museum of Anthropology, Perth; the State Records Office of Western Australia; Tania Schafer at the State Library of Queensland; Bruce McLean at the Queensland Art Gallery; Michael Aird at Keeaira Press; Trish Barnard, Angelo Comino and Michael Quinnell at the Queensland Museum; Lisa Jones at the Queensland Police Museum; Fryer Library, University of Queensland; the Courier-Mail; Andrew Wareham; Tony Brown, Bill Bleathman and Jacqui Ward at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery; Ian Morrison at the State Library of Tasmania; Ian Pearce at the Archives Office of Tasmania; the Northern Territory Library and Information Services, and Mandy Trealor at Alice Springs Public Library; Dr Micky Dewar at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory; Gary Lee; Leon Morris; Cathy Flint and Francoise Barr at the Northern Territory Archives Services (NTAS), Darwin; Pat Jackson and Carolyn Newman at the NTAS, Alice Springs; Robert McDonald at the Arid Zone Research Institute; Graham Shaughnessy and Scott Mitchell at the Strehlow Research Centre, Alice Springs; Dick Kimber; Alice Springs National Trust;


No English words are good enough to give a sense of the links between an Aboriginal group and its homeland … our word ‘land’ is too spare and meagre. We can now scarcely use it except with economic overtones unless we happen to be poets. The Aboriginal would speak of ‘earth’ and use the word in a richly symbolic way to means his ‘shoulder’ or his ‘side’ … When we took what we call ‘land’ we took what to them meant hearth, home, the source and locus of life, and everlastingness of spirit. At the same time it left each local band bereft of an essential constant that made their plan and code of living intelligible … There was no more terrible part of our 19th century story than the herding together of broken tribes, under authority, and yoked by new regulations, into settlements and institutions as substitute homes … We are watching a little miracle when we see men who, having been made homeless, again pull their world together sufficiently to try to make another home for themselves, like the Gurindji at Wattie Creek.

professor w.e.h. (bill) stanner in his 1968 boyer lecture, ‘after the dreaming’

The failure by Governor Arthur Phillip to follow the instructions of the British Crown to take possession of the land with the consent of the natives must now be set right. The theft of the land and its resources and the destabilising of its people must be acknowledged and appropriate recognition be given to the Aboriginal peoples within the constitution.

pat dodson in his sydney peace prize lecture, 2008

Australia’s treatment of her Aboriginal people will be the thing upon which the rest of the world will judge Australia and Australians – not just now, but in the greater perspective of history.

australia’s prime minister gough whitlam, 1972

True reconciliation between the Australian nation and its indigenous people is not achievable in the absence of acknowledgement by the nation of the wrongfulness of the past dispossession, oppression and degradation of the Aboriginal peoples.

australia’s governor-general sir william deane, 1996

Leaving wounds unattended leads to them festering, and eventually causes greater injury to the body of society. Denial of the hurt of the other is even more damaging than denial of one’s own transgressions.

nelson mandela in his keynote address on world reconciliation day, 2000

We simply cannot sweep injustice aside. Even if our own conscience allowed us to, I am sure, that in due course, the world and the people of our region would not. There should be no mistake about this – our success in resolving these issues will have a significant bearing on our standing in the world … If we improve the living conditions in one town, they will improve in another. And another … If we raise the standard of health by 20 per cent one year, it will be raised more the next. If we open one door others will follow … There is one thing today we cannot imagine. We cannot imagine that the descendants of people whose genius and resilience maintained a culture here through 50,000 years or more, through cataclysmic changes to the climate and environment, and who then survived two centuries of dispossession and abuse, will be denied their place in the modern Australian nation.

prime minister paul keating in his redfern speech, 1992

The Europeans thought of us just as Neanderthals and barbaric. As far as we were concerned, the Europeans were the barbaric ones. What gives another the right to kill just because they want that bit of land you’re living in.

wonidgie (speaker of the dead) from ‘elders’


On perusing the contents of this collection of images of the Indigenous peoples of Australia taken since the arrival of the British I was caught between the emotions of anger and pity. Anger at the denial of the existence of proud, cultured peoples full of their own sense of worth and value by interlopers from other lands intent on the theft and reallocation of the Indigenous peoples’ estates. And anger that the invaders found it expedient to deny the existence of a prevailing system of law, culture, language and ceremony in favour of the nonsense of terra nullius. The second emotion was of pity for those same interlopers and their descendants who when confronted with the strength of our laws, the depth of our cultures and the vibrancy of our languages failed to comprehend their beauty and value. The images compiled for Portraits from a Land Without People are a glimpse of the external nature of the Indigenous society in the almost two and a half centuries since the arrival of James Cook and Arthur Phillip. A fleeting glance at the exterior of the world of the Indigenous Australians who were perceived as a curiosity rather than the owners and custodians of the lands, rivers and seas of the continent now known as Australia. Those who read and admire this photographic tale of some of the first Australians must look beyond the often stark and beautiful images of a people and their lands. They must endeavour to look beyond the exterior images into the soul of the world that these first Australians represent. Here was a system of law and culture that had within it the capacity to sustain, use and enjoy the land, seas and rivers of this continent for millennia. There was a system of rights and responsibilities that ensured the stability of diverse societies in harsh environments and allowed for constant renewal of the land and its peoples. There are lessons for all modern societies to learn by looking into the values and practices that sustained Indigenous Australians since well before the first great Intervention. The images compiled for Portraits from a Land Without People are but a window into the Indigenous society. The challenge for those who read this collection is to look beyond the window and gaze into the heart and soul of the nation.

PATRICK DODSON Broome, 8 August 2008



and with the process of sitting for the picture. The results are a haunted, hunted look, understandable from subjects that were viewed with curiosity, as relics of a disappearing world. The intrusive eye of the camera, with its demand of a returned gaze, is an anathema to a culture that traditionally would avoid direct eye contact as a sign of respect. While the photographic record may be limited in what it can inform us about the actual cultural practices of Aboriginal people, it reveals a lot about the Europeans who posed the photographs, particularly about the way they sought to construct an image of Aboriginal people. In the earliest photographs, subjects were positioned in Arcadian dioramas with props such as boomerangs, spears and possum coats. This staging was often done with little regard for any cultural correctness of the artefacts or the area they were supposed to represent. The need to construct the Aboriginal image in idealised and romantic ways was evident in the studio tableaux and portraits of the late 19th century. Aboriginal artist and curator Brenda Croft observes the mix of dejection with glints of defiance that resonate through the, often unnamed, subject’s stare. Croft, in her essay ‘Laying Ghosts to Rest’, speaks of the “determined individuality, their anger” and admires the fact that they seem to be “pissed off and I like them for it, these young warrior women”. Croft reminds us that the subjects were not in fact passive but engaged in overt and subversive acts of resistance on a multitude of levels. Studio portraits of family groups show bark shelters, cultural clothing and artefacts, men in their possum or kangaroo coats and women bare-chested, all facing the camera directly in a European attempt to catalogue a people and culture that were assumed to be inferior to that of the colonisers. Even if the subjects were posed as romanticised ‘noble savages’, the underlying assumption was to capture a dying race, a race that would inevitably disappear into the mists of time.

TERRA NULLIUS It is now dismissed as a quaint superstition that Aboriginal people did not like having their photograph taken when they first came into contact with Europeans because they feared that their souls would be taken. More than a century later, it is easy to see in the photographic records of Aboriginal people that, even if the soul was not taken, photographers constructed images of Aboriginality with a non-Aboriginal gaze. The attempt to capture the ‘authentic’ Aboriginal person before he or she passed away became an ironic rebuttal to the legal fiction of terra nullius that would come to form part of the Australian Government’s justification of proprietorship over Aboriginal land until the 1970s. This concept had its origins in international law and was used to describe a land that was without people or without a sovereign. Of course, the spirit of the doctrine of terra nullius existed long before the Australian legal system adopted it as a way of justifying the British claim to sovereignty over Australian soil. This was no more evident than in the Gove Land Rights case where Aboriginal experience and voices were kept out of the dominant national narrative, excluded from the story of Australia. These earliest of Australian portraits, created to capture a ‘dying race’, would eventually come to mock those who thought that the superiority of European civilisation would overwhelm the Aboriginal nations that populated Australia. There is much irony in seeing these images being used as proof of prior occupation during Native Title cases. These photographs have now become links with the past, through which Aboriginal people today can connect to the nations and lands of their ancestors. This collection celebrates the tenacity and resilience of Aboriginal people against the many ravages of colonisation.

THE NOBLE SAVAGE The Aboriginal people in the older photographs have an eerie vacant appearance, displaced with the impact of colonisation. Early photographic technology required subjects to pose for a period of seconds and this would contribute to a rigid demeanour, heightening any subject’s sense of being uncomfortable with their surroundings

Plate A - Portrait of Minnegie or Mary River woman, Limingan, Northern Territory, c.1880s. Photograph by Paul Foelsche. Plate B - ‘Lizzie’, Coranderrk, Victoria, c.1865-66. Photograph by Charles Walter.


The desperation to capture Aboriginal people before they became extinct highlights the European love affair with the stoic ‘noble savage’. This obsessive fascination with Aboriginal people in a ‘pure’ and ‘untouched’ state overlooks or ignores the fact that many Indigenous peoples have transformed their cultural practices in an attempt to resist and survive colonisation and dispossession. The ‘untouched noble savage’ is an Aboriginal person who does not bear the scars of the colonisation process: dispossession, genocide, rape, assault, and poverty. The person who deals with the ‘noble savage’ is not confronted with the ugly face of colonisation. Nobility comes from a gallant, heroic acceptance of fate; perceived as inevitable, it is faced with informed consent. There is no political agenda and no anger expressed by the ‘noble savage’. Instead, the harsh realities of life for Aboriginal people are masked with a contrived picture of serenity and stoicism. As E. Leon Higgenbotham points out in Shades of Freedom (Oxford University Press, 1998), those who are oppressed may have the capacity to be brave and noble like everyone else but oppression itself is not what makes them brave and noble. He observes that: “… those who insist on seeing beauty in oppression often do so in order to assuage their guilt for contributing to that oppression. That is why the temptation to find beauty and nobility in suffering and oppression has a long and distinguished history.” The construct of the ‘noble savage’ wraps Aboriginal people in an unspoiled innocence that symbolises their naturalness and purity, untouched by the knowledge and power of the European world. Within this mindset, once the innocence of the native is lost, so too is the Aboriginality. However sympathetic those who construct the ‘noble savage’ image think they might be, the image is a dangerous one. Far from being a ‘positive stereotype’, the ‘noble savage’ image is one that seeks to capture and display Aboriginal people as a relic of the past that is, like a photograph, caught in time. It denies the capacity of an Aboriginal person to adapt, evolve and modernise. It also denies Aboriginal people any agency to act, to resist the encroachment of colonisation. It denies the Indigenous ability to reclaim sovereignty, land, cultural vitality, family cohesiveness and the ability to be self-reliant after the onslaught of invasion. The passivity of the ‘noble savage’ sits in direct contradiction to an Aboriginal person who is self-determining.

As colonisation spread across the continent, the fascination with the ‘authentic’ and ‘untouched’ Aboriginal person saw the photographic focus shift to the tribes that were on the fringes of white settlement. Photographs would be posed in the natural environment, as if to emulate the ‘untouched native’ experience. The men would be captured on film before or after the hunt with the accoutrements of their expedition, the women carrying their digging sticks and their children, juggling both. There was also a fascination with the ceremonial and, while Aboriginal people appear to have been adept at preventing the prying gaze of outsiders from these ceremonies, photographers were keen to capture the images of painted men and women and to document their distinctive ceremonial scars. On the mainland and in the Torres Strait, this ‘fetish’ would be sated by the striking rows of men in ceremonial costumes painted with elaborate headdresses or crocodile masks. But these photographs, even when engaged with activities such as hunting and fishing, remain stilted and posed. As Penny Taylor, editor of After 200 Years: Photographic Essays of Aboriginal and Islander Australia Today (Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1988) has written: “The cultural bias of the photographic perspective has reinforced the two major mythologies of Aboriginal Australia: that of the ‘noble savage’ on the one hand, living a ‘traditional’, pre-contact pattern of life, on the other, the passive, broken ‘victim’, living on the fringes of non-Aboriginal society.” The fascination with the ‘noble savage’ image, and the need to capture Aboriginal culture in a ‘pure’ form before its anticipated destruction, explains the attraction of the Aboriginal subject for the colonial photographer. Some photographs were also used for anthropological and ethnographical study as well; research material for academics to ponder and analyse within the walls of their universities.

Plate C - Untitled (unidentified Aboriginal man and woman with kangaroo), c.1873. Photograph by John William Lindt. Plate D - Wapperty, Bessy Clarke and Maryann, Oyster Cove, Tasmania, c.1858. Photograph most likely by F.R. Nixon, the first Bishop of Tasmania.


THE COLONIAL GAZE Among the earliest of these images are the posed photographs from around 1847. They illustrate how Aboriginal people were a source of fascination from the time that the photographic medium made its way to Australia. The first known photographs taken of Aboriginal people in Australia, by Douglas T. Kilburn in 1847, marks a point where colonisation had been aggressively underway for over sixty years, dramatically and irrevocably transforming the lives and cultural practices of those Aboriginal nations who bore the brunt of first contact. While we make much of the historical record left in written and verbal form, the photographic archive does not always get the same attention. Yet as much as the diaries of white explorers and pastoralists have been used as reference points to assist the colonial understanding of Aboriginal culture and Aboriginal people, the photographic record enlightens the modern viewer about the role Aborigines saw themselves playing in the colonial project. For this reason alone, the early colonial photographic catalogue remains an important historiographic record. As Margo Neale, Aboriginal Senior Curator and Principal Adviser to the Director on Indigenous matters at the National Museum of Australia, has written: “… the photographic record is a visual mode of historical practice which is underrated in Australian historiography. It also focused on how the historic archive created by non-Indigenous photographers has become a powerful political and cultural tool for use by Indigenous people in our struggle for reclaiming rights, reaffirming relationships and correcting historical erasures.”

of the camp. A group of men and women are standing and, at the front, aged about eight or nine, is my grandmother. Her dark face stands in stark contrast with her white dress. She looks serious but innocent, her head tilted up to the camera. As if to confirm the identification, she has the same shape around her brow bone, eyes and mouth as my father. As Aboriginal people became confined to missions and reserves, they had every aspect of their lives regulated: what they could eat was rationed, work, marriage and movement all required permission. They were a pool of labour but also, in their confinement, were observed and photographed. Family groups were huddled together, holding the mission-distributed blankets, men at the back, children dressed in white and seated at the front with legs crossed. Men posed for the camera with breastplates, an artefact that came to symbolise the imposition of colonial structures, laws and regulations on Aboriginal people and the arrogant oppression that sought to impose artificial hierarchies within Aboriginal communities. Jane Lydon, in her groundbreaking book Eye Contact: Photographing Indigenous Australians (Duke University Press, 2005), discovered that the story is not quite so simple. In the work she undertook on the Coranderrk Aboriginal Station in Victoria, Lydon found that the subjects were far from passive sitters. They engaged in a complex set of negotiations with those who wanted to capture their imagery in a way that progressed their own political ambitions. Lydon writes that the photographic archive: “… tells us how western society came to understand Aboriginal people through the authority, accessibility, and impact of visual imagery. Yet it also reflects indigenous objectives and values, and configures an intimate form of crosscultural communication.” Lydon asserts that rather than seeing photography as simply a “tool of

THE MISSIONARY GAZE When my father went on the search to find his family, he found the documents in the state archives that related to my grandmother’s removal. The removal certificate gave the name of her brother and the place she had been taken away from – Dungalear Station – and so gave him the tools to find his family. The only known photo that survives of my grandmother is the shot

Plate E - Untitled (group of Victorian Aboriginal women), 1847. Photograph by Douglas T. Kilburn. Plate F - Dungalear Station, date unknown. Photographer unknown.


horses, forces an acknowledgement of the contribution of unwaged Aboriginal labour in the establishment and success of the pastoral industry. The posed photos of young Aboriginal women in their white uniforms, working in the homesteads of white Australians, also reveal an unacknowledged chapter in the Australian national story. Indigenous contributions have only been belatedly chronicled, though much of the unpaid or ‘stolen’ wages have yet to be paid. These images of assimilation into the mainstream are now reminders of the lost childhoods, the lost families, the lost innocence and the lost wages that remain the tragic legacy of the experience of children’s removal from parents and families, and their forced integration into white society. Indeed, as Aboriginal families struggled against this inherent discrimination, the enormous strength that held Aboriginal families and communities together became their own way of celebrating the joys that they were able to find in their lives. Wedding photos and debutante balls celebrating the modern rites of passage that merged with, or replaced, the former traditions were being captured as Aboriginal people began their own photographic catalogues; shots that even now get reproduced for family albums in the Aboriginal community. But they are so much more; as Aunty Agnes Shea has said: “… photos are strongly linked to community and culture. Photographs are like people, they hold our memories; they are ways of seeing our history.”

the colonial project”, there was a “dynamic and performative relationship between photographer and Aboriginal subject”. She writes: “Mission-era photography communicated a range of ideas about Aboriginal people in their intended absence from mainstream Australian society – a discourse perhaps shaped most obviously by the mission environment and the interests of bureaucrats, scientists, and tourists. It cannot be denied that the goal of colonial governments was to isolate, know and manage Aboriginal people, and many images produced by this regime remain testament to such a distancing gaze. But it was also created, in less obvious ways, by the mission residents themselves.” In this sense, a compilation of photographs such as this can also be considered as a catalogue of deprivations. The photographs of young children, dressed in dormitory-issued white, assembled in single file formation or clustered in groups, are a haunting reminder of the fate of children under the assimilation policy. These images may have become a chronicle of the impact of colonisation, but it is a mistake to assume that Aboriginal people were passive in the photographs that were taken of them.

THE MODERN GAZE The images of Aboriginal people changed profoundly with the images of protest from the 1960s and 1970s. From the staged, uncomfortably posed photographs motivated by the misguided paternalism of the colonial photographer, modern photography began to capture the fluid energy and momentum of the civil rights movement. The flags and banners in these late 20th century photographs have real movement, capturing the unmistakable, unstoppable feeling that the tide was turning and justice might be a step closer. Even the photographs of police clashing with protesters seem to encapsulate a feeling of the jostling, desperate and physical struggle of Aboriginal protest. The seismic shift in focus and subject matter in the photographic archive complemented the changing political environment and the emerging struggle for land rights, access to opportunities within Australian society, and the self-determination that became the hallmarks of the civil rights era. There is no passivity here and nothing is staged; white observers were no longer the only ones creating images of Aboriginality. Aboriginal people had begun not only to reclaim their political voice during this period; they were also reclaiming their own images, beginning to take their own photographs, to stand behind the lens, rather than simply being subjects.

STOLEN GENERATIONS This collection also forms a catalogue of the unacknowledged contribution of Aboriginal labour and sacrifice. Images of Aboriginal men and women in their uniforms are reminders of their participation in the armed services during war and peacetime, but they also evoke the lack of recognition for that contribution and their exclusion from the same benefits as other veterans. Similarly, photographs of Aboriginal people undertaking their work on pastoral property, dressed in their riding clothes and hats and posed on their

Plate G - Aboriginal stockmen at the Nappa Merrie stockyards, south-west Queensland. Left to right: Flash Tommy, Benny, Nappa Merrie Jack, Kudramitchie Jimmy, date unknown. Photographer unknown.


Collected here are also the striking images of the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people that were to become a more significant part of the photographic historiography in the post-1960s era: the protestors at the Tent Embassy in Canberra; the picture of the land flowing from the hands of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam to the hands of Vincent Lingiari; the portrait of Eddie Mabo; the hundreds of thousands of black and white Australians who marched over the Sydney Harbour Bridge at the turn of the millennium; the crowds of black and white Australians who would gather to hear Prime Minister Kevin Rudd deliver his historic apology on 13 February 2008. These images have become iconic. They are an expression not just of contemporary Aboriginality but an expression of contemporary Australia. They highlight how it is inevitable that Aboriginal history, knowledge and culture must be accepted and embraced as a key part of the Australian experience. But they also chronicle the ongoing conversation, the ongoing tension, and the ongoing struggle against coloniser and colonised in finding the right way to coexist in the land that we now share.

THE ABORIGINAL GAZE By the 1980s, Aboriginal photography had come into its own, contributing to the powerful counter-narrative about Australia’s history. In September 1986, the first exhibition of photographic works created exclusively by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was opened in the Aboriginal Artists Gallery in Sydney. The exhibition symbolised the emergence of photography as a new creative and political force. This collection of photographs is a catalogue of past wrongs, a celebration of Aboriginal empowerment and a testament to Aboriginal survival. It is also a story of how Aboriginal people have reclaimed the crafting of images of Aboriginality. These images have been embraced not just as definitively and contemporarily ‘Aboriginal’ but have also become part of the Australian story: Cathy Freeman holding both the Aboriginal and Australian flags after her Olympic win; the interlaced limbs and haunting painted faces of the dancers from the Bangarra Dance Theatre; AFL player Nicky Winmar holding up his shirt and proudly pointing to his chest; these famous images tell contemporary accounts of victory, survival and continual resistance. The other important contemporary layer to the photographic record is the emergence of Aboriginal artists that use the photographic medium as part of their work: the striking poses that Fiona Foley has made in her ‘Batjala Woman’ series parody the early photographic records but reclaim the nameless subjects with the clear identification of the subject and her distinct tribal affiliation. Other contemporary artists have extended the scope of the modern Aboriginal gaze: the aesthetic and delicate beauty of the images captured

by Michael Riley, whether the faces of children or a floating feather; Merv Bishop’s camera has captured Aboriginal public life and important public figures for decades; Brenda Croft has explored the warmth of family life, the connection between mother and child that was once so derided; Ricky Maynard’s haunting landscapes and warm portraits have reinterpreted the visual narrative through a distinctive Aboriginal lens. The provocative self-portraits of Gary Lee and the evocative, internationally recognised work of Tracey Moffatt have challenged the dominant narrative, stretching the parameters of how people see contemporary Aboriginality, redefining it unapologetically. Similarly, creative processes such as painting and sculpting were part of a storytelling tradition where fine arts were not produced for aesthetic reasons but for the purposes of ceremony, for a rearticulation of rites and responsibility. Particular patterns described distinct cultural groups, stories were told through intricate representation and, like the cultural stories, handed down from generation to generation. The use of the image to tell a story is a natural progression in a culture that has always used storytelling as a central part of its cultural practice. Aboriginal cultural stories, often referred to as ‘Dreamtime’ stories, were powerful ways of being able to transmit information of cultural norms, values and laws between generations. Even today, they are evidence of responsibility for country, of kinship relations and of community values.

Plate H - ‘I made a camera’, 2003. Tracey Moffatt.



attempts to eradicate them, and of the potential for a meaningful relationship of coexistence. It is not surprising then that a culture that has adapted to colonisation, with the resilience that Aboriginal culture has, would seek to incorporate aspects of colonial practice into their own cultural traditions. Storytelling is now passed down through the written word, through film, and through new media. It was inevitable that the creative expression of Aboriginal culture would find a voice through the use of photography. With these new visual interpretations, the viewer is now left with new stories and new understandings. Aboriginal historian and rights activist Gary Foley has said: “It will only be when many Koori historians have access to the academy to tell our history, from our perspective, in accordance with our cultural values, that a genuinely indigenous interpretation of the events of the past 200 years can emerge.” As Aboriginal people have reclaimed their images and stories by using their own gaze, there has also been a long struggle to reclaim the images that were constructed through the non-Aboriginal gaze. They tell stories and speak to the Aboriginal viewer like a contemporary songline, a contemporary cultural story. These stories are now protected by legal and cultural protocols attached to the reproduction of photographs. As Aboriginal groups are given access and a greater level of control as to how their images – and the images of their ancestors – can be used, some are refusing to grant permission for reproduction simply because they can. For the first time, Indigenous Australians have power over these images and they, understandably, want to exercise that power. This book is a photographic dialogue across cultures. The photographs sit in juxtaposition with each other, mediating the stories, contrasting the strange with the familiar, the tragic with the triumphant. We learn as much about the white gaze as we learn about the black subject and we see the empowerment of Aboriginal people as they move from being constructed by the gaze of the photographer to taking control of their own images and expressing themselves through the powerful visual medium of photography.

From the 1980s, particularly through the work of historians such as Henry Reynolds, Ann McGrath, Ann Curthoys, Lyndall Ryan and Peter Read, Aboriginal perspectives and experiences were being woven into the national narrative. It inevitably challenged the previously dominant way of speaking about Australian history that remained largely silent about the fate of Australia’s first peoples. During the Howard years, this emerging counter-narrative was attacked and labelled as a ‘black armband’ view of history. The tension between the ‘black armband’ and the ‘white blindfold’ was more than an ideological or academic battle. The tension became known as the ‘history wars’ and then the ‘culture wars’ and they raged through the fierce debates about the telling of history, the squabbling about numbers killed on the frontier, whether there were massacres of Aboriginal people or not, whether Aboriginal children were ‘stolen’ or removed for their own good and the debates over the proper legal definition of ‘genocide’. But these ‘culture wars’ were not about Aboriginal history. Aboriginal experience and perspectives remained unchanged by semantic and numerical debates by academics. They were, instead, a battle about white history and, more importantly, white identity. The ‘war’ was evidence of an identity crisis and of the deep tensions about the story Australia wants to tell. It was a struggle between a vision that Australian should be defined by tolerance, acceptance, coexistence and diversity and a vision where it is defined by intolerance, suspicion, fear and conformity. Carl Jung observed: “Certain Australian Aborigines assert that one cannot conquer foreign soil, because in it there dwell strange ancestor-spirits who reincarnate themselves in the new born. There is a great psychological truth in this. The foreign land assimilates the conqueror.” This assists in understanding the underlying psychology in the history wars and explains the tension between the two competing narratives. When a colonising culture seeks to find its place in a country that is not theirs, when the original custodians are an accusing presence, do they seek to silence that presence so that their own story will not be marred or do they find a way to incorporate the narratives of those they have displaced into their own story? The outcome of this ‘culture war’ is of profound importance to Australians because it decides the kind of society they live. It is also of significance in deciding the kind of relationship they wish to have with Aboriginal people.

CONCLUSION Against the backdrop of current historical and cultural tensions sits the photographic record, a constant reminder of past misdeeds, of the tenacious survival of Aboriginal people despite the literal and figurative



After publishing Australienation in 2000 I started to research this project in earnest, combing through the picture collections of every state and national library, museum, archive and art gallery, plus many newspaper files and a few private collections. I viewed over 250,000 photographs, finding the occasional gem surfacing amongst this avalanche of prints, slides and glass plates. It became an obsession driven by the concern that an important image may be overlooked. The majority of photographers and institutions understood the nature of this book and I thank them for their support. A few chose not to be involved in the project or gave limited access, but this did not impede the project significantly. Only a small amount of research could be done in offshore collections and I am certain that ample material could be unearthed in the United Kingdom, Europe and the USA to produce a sequel edition. Portraits from a Land Without People does not attempt to be the definitive photographic history of Indigenous Australia. Many warriors and leaders in politics, protest, sport, art, music, dance and letters have been omitted here either because they preceded or bypassed the invention of the camera, or because there were just not enough pages. Perhaps one day we will have a national Aboriginal portrait gallery, including portraits of Pemulwuy, Windradyne, Jandamarra, Yagan, Bennelong, Maryann, Mosquito, Mathinna, William Cooper, Doug Nicholls, David Unaipon, Gary Foley, Kevin Gilbert, Robert Bropho, Clifford Possum, Wanjuk Marika, Harold Blair, Pat O’Shane, Mum Shirl, Evonne Goolagong, Reg Saunders, Dave Sands, Lionel Rose, Anthony Mundine, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Sally Morgan, Arthur Beetson, Michael Long … too many to list here. There are many gaps in the photographic record. By their very nature, many travesties were not photographed. Massacres and other heinous crimes and injustices usually occurred in isolated locations, and a photographic record would not have been desired by the perpetrators. Other omissions include editorial decisions not to include images with an overbearing European presence, and images for which consent to use was not given, often because of the sacred or profane nature of what had been recorded. Despite limited resources, a great amount of work has been undertaken to try and identify those portrayed and provide an appropriate credit for all images, but it has not always been possible to uncover the histories behind these photographs. The process of cataloguing the vast archives of what was once labelled ‘ethnographic’ photography stored in libraries and museums around the country is largely in its infancy. Tracing links to improve the record is limited by a of factors, including poor record-keeping by photographers, the limited resources of some institutions, and the floating nature and dispersal of groups of Indigenous people. While researching Portraits from a Land Without People it became obvious that there are both published and archival materials containing secret or sacred information which should not be made generally available. There are other materials, both historical and contemporary, that are offensive to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. These materials may be racist,

Portraits from a Land Without People is unashamedly a book of photography. It is a comprehensive anthology that charts the photographic history of Indigenous Australia from the first photographs by Douglas T. Kilburn in 1847 through to Prime Minister Rudd’s ‘Apology’ statement in 2008. It is also a book for reconciliation. The images selected reveal much about the past, right or wrong, but they must all be here because they help us understand our nation. These portraits depict the First Australians as a collective of First Nations comprising a dignified people united by their ancient and unique culture. The collection is a celebration of the richness, diversity and resilience of Indigenous culture. It is also a record of the struggle against dispossession, displacement and dispersal. These powerful images will help promote understanding and tolerance of, and respect for, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life, both at home and internationally. It is appropriate that Portraits from a Land Without People has been released on the first anniversary of the ‘Apology’, a symbolic moment in Australia’s history with its message about inclusion, acceptance, goodwill, and hope for the future. The book serves as a reminder that this was only a step on the path to reconciliation. The title of this book alludes to the doctrine of terra nullius, meaning ‘land belonging to no one’. It is a concept criticised by some as a legal fiction, a term referenced by Justice Kirby during the Mabo native title proceedings, but it was in fact at the heart of colonial attitudes. It is somewhat ironic that European colonisation of the continent led to vast tracts of the land being denuded of people who had looked after it for thousands of years. This extensive collection of photographs looks not only at the work of professional photographers, but also that of anthropologists, evolutionists, missionaries, settlers, government agencies and local communities. Images have been chosen on their aesthetic qualities or historical importance, either in regard to Indigenous culture or photography itself. The seed for this project was planted in 1978 while I was studying anthropology at the Western Australian Institute of Technology. Researching the collection held by the Battye Library in Perth I came across a photograph that made me acutely aware of our past. Taken in Kurnalpie, Western Australia, around 1900, it showed two white police troopers holding rifles and standing next to their resting camels. Behind them, dressed in the same style of tunic, but without a camel, was a black tracker. In the foreground, sitting in the dirt, was an Aboriginal prisoner wearing neck chains. I knew little of this history and wondered what other images were lost in the archive wilderness. In 1983 Marcia Langton and Wes Stacey released their book After the Tent Embassy (Valadon Publishing, 1983), and this provided further inspiration to compile a comprehensive anthology on the visual representation of Indigenous Australia.


extinguish Aboriginal life on this continent. The photographic process was developing about the same time. In 1816 Joseph Nicéphore Niépce combined the camera obscura with photosensitive paper, and in 1837 Louis Daguerre created the daguerreotype process, but it was another decade before photography arrived in the Antipodes. By that time, many historically important events in Indigenous ‘contact’ history had passed, and traditional Aboriginal culture had been irreversibly changed around the first settlements. The gap between first contact and the arrival of photography varies from region to region. It was about seventy years after first settlement in Van Diemen’s Land before photography was to make an appearance, while in Central Australia records of first contact with Central Australian tribes occurred some fifty years after the advent of photography. It is therefore easy to overrepresent such areas when looking for images of traditional lifestyles. This has clearly been the case in many books where photographs from desert areas abound, so it often comes as a surprise to see traditional Aboriginal people wearing fur coats, or photographed in rainforests. Australia had no great master photographer to champion Indigenous culture to the extent of Edward Sheriff Curtis, a passionate recorder of Native American culture whose monumental and iconic photographic work, the 20-volume publication The North American Indian (1907-1930), is held in the US Library of Congress. But Australia, the world’s largest island, separated from the rest of the world partly through geography, and certainly through history, attracted and developed its own unique band of photographers. The Victorian gold rush lured many enterprising men to try their luck in Australia and Melbourne enjoyed a reputation as ‘the richest city in the world’.1 Photographers such as English-born Douglas Thomas Kilburn and Richard Daintree, and the Parisian bohemian Antoine Fauchery, found wealthy customers eager for their new art form. Kilburn would soon take the first recorded photographs of Australia’s Aboriginal people. Photographic historian Leonarda Kovacic writes: “Melbourne became the Mecca of Australian photographers of distinguished social reputation”, while “Sydney, a smaller cultural, commercial and political centre at the time, claimed the works of English-born Henry King and Australian-born Charles Kerry”.2 Due mostly to its relationship with the Northern Territory, Adelaide was a focal point for a collection of photographers and anthropologists documenting Aboriginal Australia: men like George Aiston, Herbert Basedow, E.A. Colson, Paul Foelsche, F.J. Gillen, Charles Pearcy Mountford, Samuel White Sweet and, in later years, N.B. Tindale and the missionary J.R.B. Love. Many of the early photographers who took pictures

sexist, derogatory or abusive, and have been excluded from this anthology to avoid giving offence. There were also quality issues. While aiming for the highest reproduction quality there were many inconsistencies with the source material. At times there would only be a small, dog-eared print surviving, sourced from an old family album. Usually institutions would only provide scans, and not always of the highest quality. There were also marked differences between scans from prints and scans from negatives. A good example of this is plates 47 and 48, where a scan from the negative revealed information outside the print frame. Where original prints were in sepia this has been reproduced. Cropping and reconstruction of images was avoided, and air brushing was kept to a minimum. The permissions process was complicated. It involved not only seeking permissions from photographers and institutions, but also approvals from the many Indigenous people and communities that appear in the book. Aboriginal community councils are so democratic that it is often difficult for council members to make a decision on the behalf of others. Cyclops Press and The Jimmy Little Foundation have ensured that all reasonable endeavours have been made to obtain the relevant community consents and have avoided using the images in a manner that is detrimental to the traditional owners. While seeking approvals it was noted that there was a discernable upsurge of ‘shame’ in some communities regarding nudity in early photographs. This appears to have been brought on largely as a reaction to the ‘intervention’ initiated by the Howard government. The success of Rolf de Heer’s movie Ten Canoes had in recent years relaxed the more prudish missionary attitudes, but the intervention and accompanying accusations concerning the open access of pornography has created some confusion between this problem and the use of images displaying traditional Indigenous lifestyle. Compounding this is the policy taken on by some institutions to no longer publish images of bare-breasted traditional women. These issues are part of the current wider general debate about art and censorship, but if this particular form of censorship was to be vigorously enforced it would serve to create a huge gender imbalance in any (published or public) pictorial history of Indigenous people. The European occupation of Australia began soon after Captain James Cook claimed possession of the east coast for Britain in 1770. The First Fleet brought more than one thousand people, introducing diseases and beginning a process of legislated oppression that threatened to

Plate I - Iwaidja man, Port Essington, 32 years, 1877. Photograph by Paul Foelsche. Courtesy of the South Australian Museum.


in a hierarchy of superiority, often placing the Australian Aborigine at the bottom of the evolutional scale. These false theories gave rise to the belief that Indigenous peoples were ‘dying out’. Visiting photographers such as Dr Hermann Klaatsch and E.O. Hoppé brought with them the now discredited evolutionist thinking of that time and, while on first impression their work appears compassionate, the motivations were often more clinical. For many of the photographers documenting Indigenous Australians during this period it was the case that “some genuine anthropological study was mixed with plain curiosity and even nostalgia for the loss of the wilderness and the presumed fate of native peoples as western civilisation spread over the globe”.8 The common argument by critics of Australian colonial photography is that photographic images of Aboriginal peoples were complicit in the creation and perpetuation of negative attitudes and stereotypes. However, the work of these photographers needs to be understood within the context of their time, and “cannot be viewed exclusively as yet another imperialist agenda”.9 With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to criticise the attitudes and practices of the early photographers. They can, however, also be seen as men (I was unable to identify any early female photographers taking portraits of Aborigines) who made a valuable record, often under difficult circumstances. With their horse-drawn darkrooms they travelled through the countryside, battling dust, heat and cumbersome equipment, taking hundreds of views of the outback and the people who lived there. Often they were genuinely interested in learning Aboriginal customs, languages and cultural practices. Many invested considerable personal savings into the process in order to profit not only financially, but also creatively. Certainly many held views consistent with the ideology of the time, but having a point of view “does not negate the value of their work”.10 The photographic record has never been taken as seriously by historians as the written record. John Berger observed: “Historians include these photographs in their books as illustrations, acknowledging the archive or institution which owns them, but rarely giving a thought to the photographer or to the motivations which lay behind the picture taking”.11 To dismiss the photographic record is akin to dismissing an oral history, or one painted in ochres on a stone rockface, because the dominant culture records its own past with pen and paper. Photography is also an invention of the dominant culture, and it is interesting to see how it can not only raise historical consciousness, but also challenge popular beliefs over time, and even subvert accepted accounts of history. In the USA, Canada and Europe there have been comprehensive studies of the visual representation of Indigenous people either at home or in former colonies, but scholarly study of this field in Australia is a recent phenomenon, sparked in part by the history wars and new readings of Australia’s political and cultural landscapes. The medium of photography has often been largely dismissed by academia with the presumption that it can by definition only present a token or ‘novelty’ view. Prior to the 1970s photography had been

of Aboriginal people “were born in Europe and came to Australia as adults and … with cultural and ideological views quite different from those of the emerging Australian nation, as well as with the urge to contribute to the development of photography by their own inventions”.3 A large number of them were born in Germany, joining the great exodus of emigrants in the mid 19th century. Some were victims of religious or political persecution, and others sought better economic opportunities. Men such as Johan Friedrich Carl (Fred) Kruger, Johan Wilhelm (John William) Lindt, and Carl (Charles) Walter were greeted with a measure of xenophobia by the dominant Anglo Saxon population, but as anthropologist and curator Philip Jones writes in The Policeman’s Eye: “… by the mid-1850s the Australian colonies had become an attractive destination”.4 The motivation to photograph Aboriginal people varied, but the main drivers were money, art and science. It has been said that: “one of the notable features of nineteenth-century photography is the way in which an image could simultaneously fulfill creative, commercial and scientific roles”.5 The burgeoning colonial cities of Australia created a demand for the so-called ‘views trade’, “a reflection of the growing consumer demand for images of Australian subjects”.6

Financial rewards in ‘ethnographic’ photography accompanied the rise of physical anthropology, with its need for measurement, classification and cataloguing of ‘scientific specimens’. Post-colonial anthropologist Patrick Wolfe gives this insight into the impact of photography on colonial science: “Needless to say, the rise of photography revolutionised the question of evidence across a whole range of disciplines. So far as ethnography is concerned, field photography … made all the difference in relation to a particularly delicate evidentiary issue, since, unlike ethnographers, the camera could not tell a lie.” 7 Science loomed large in the late 19th century and Australia played a role in the development of the Darwinian theories which arranged races

Plate J - Iwaidja people waiting to be photographed, Port Essington, Northern Territory, 1877. Photograph by Paul Foelsche.


There is great conceit in white invaders telling Indigenous people to listen to them about how the land should be used. After less than 250 years the continent is not looking too healthy: river systems are dying, forests have disappeared, entire species have become extinct, land has been degraded beyond rehabilitation, and whole reef systems are being destroyed. The Indigenous people of Australia were the custodians of this continent for tens of thousands of years: they did not own the land, the land owned them. The apology to Indigenous Australians from the Australian Government in 2008 went a long way towards rebuilding trust and establishing a partnership. It was not the words that mattered so much as the recognition of the pain of another. It was a long-awaited first step towards a united Australia which values the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage, and provides justice and equity for all.

the poor relation in Australian arts, unlike say France where photographers have a celebrated status and their work is collected in a national museum dedicated to photography. Indigenous Australians gained an active interest in the photographic process. During photographic trips to the Northern Territory in the 1940s and 1950s, Axel Poignant found a group from Goulburn Island Mission already busy photographing their community. He discovered that the arrival of the camera had “created quite a furore of excitement”.12 Its owner, Winuoidj, joined Poignant on several photographic expeditions and eventually became his camera assistant. It must be remembered that at this time relatively few Australians owned cameras. In recent years photography has been adopted by many Indigenous communities as an emotional and social tool, such as through the acclaimed community development process of ‘photovoice’. Portraits from a Land Without People features the work of many Indigenous photographers, and creates an ideal platform for their work. Brenda L. Croft writes: “Indigenous people are bonded/banded together by our shared experiences of displacement; once reduced (literally) to the picture postcard, now coming into focus through the media of print and electronic and digital waves”.13 It is inspiring to see the work of Aboriginal artists showcased here alongside other internationally recognised photographers such as David Moore, Max Pam, Trent Parke and Megan Lewis. These works are linked by their ability to reject stereotype and pictorial exploitation. There are many positives regarding the photographic record of Indigenous Australia. Kovacic points out: “Aboriginal people are becoming increasingly aware of their family records in various government institutions and, in rediscovering their lost heritage, they are able to, however superficially, reconnect with their ancestors and reunite their personal and communal lineages.” 14 Good examples of this are the Koorie Heritage Trust in Victoria, and the Pitjantjatjara Council’s ‘Ara Irititja Archival Project’, both of which make images widely available to their Aboriginal communities in an interactive way. Portraits from a Land Without People carries a strong unifying message. It shows an alternative history of this country, a history that for so long has been swept under the rug by what has been called the ‘great Australian silence’. Linda Burney states: “There are some uncomfortable facts to be faced … but it is not about making people feel guilty for what they have done in the past. As Paul Keating said in Redfern Park, there has never been a shortage of guilt and it has never been productive. But shame is a different story. If Australians can be proud of Don Bradman and Phar Lap, and Cathy Freeman now, there can be shame at Myall Creek, the calculated inhumanity of the Stolen Generations, all the petty inhumanities of protection and assimilation, and the officials who put those policies into practice. The point is that shame can motivate people to try to do the right thing now, to atone for the past, to make reparation.” 15 The visual record also helps identify how much the wider community has absorbed from Indigenous culture, and how much more can be learnt.

1. Jack Cato, The Story of the Camera in Australia, Melbourne Institute of Photography, 1979, p.71. 2. Leonarda Kovacic, ‘What Photographers Saw: Aboriginal People and Australian Colonial Experience’ from Rethinking Colonial Histories © Contributors and Department of History, University of Melbourne, 2006, p.93. Reproduced by kind permission of RMIT Publishing. All rights reserved. 3. Kovacic:2006, p.93. 4. Philip Jones, The Policeman’s Eye: Paul Foelsche’s frontier photography, South Australian Museum, Adelaide, 2005. 5. Isobel Crombie and Susan van Wyk, 2nd Sight: Australian photography in the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2002, p.25. 6. Crombie and van Wyk:2002. 7. Patrick Wolfe, Settler Colonisation and the Transformation of Anthropology: The Politics and Poetics of an Ethnographic Event, Cassell, London, 1999, p.151. 8. Gael Newton, Shades of Light: Photography and Australia, 1839-1988, Collins Australia, Sydney, in association with the Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1988, p.50. 9. Kovacic:2006, p.90. 10. Joanna Cohan Scherer, Edward Sheriff Curtis, Phaidon, 2008, p.13. 11. John Berger, ‘Ways of Remembering’, in Jessica Evans (ed), The Camerawork essays: Context and meaning in photography, Rivers Oram Press, London, and New York University Press, New York, 1997, p.42. 12. Yampi, ‘A Free-Lance in Arnhem Land’, The Australian Photo-Review 61, no. 10 (October 1954), p.595. 13. Brenda L. Croft, ‘Returning the Gaze’ from the essay ‘Laying Ghosts to Rest’. 14. Kovacic:2006, p.101. 15. Linda Burney, Foreword, in Paul W. Newbury (ed), Aboriginal Heroes of the Resistance, published by Action for World Development, Sydney, 1999.


Plate 1 - The Tindale Map, produced in 1974, is perhaps the simplest index of pre-colonial complexity. This map is a crucial document in Australian culture, giving graphic evidence that no part of Australia was terra nullius (empty land). It stands as a metaphor for this book. It recognises prior ownership by presenting the original way of viewing the nation, without the random state divisions and European place names to which the modern nation has become accustomed.



Plate 2 - Aboriginal rock carvings, Mount Cameron West, in north-west Tasmania, c.AD500. Photograph by Robert Edwards, 1969. Carbon dating at Kutikina Cave on the Fraser River puts Aboriginal habitation some 20,000 years before the arrival of Europeans. During the height of the last ice age, these glacier edge hunters of southern Tasmania were then the most southerly humans on Earth. Plate 3 - Wandjina Lightning Eagles with Nyimundum rock, Worora, The Kimberley, Western Australia, 1929. Photograph by J.R.B. Love.


Plate 4 - Woureddy (or Wooraddy), native of Brune Island, Van Diemen’s Land, 1837. Watercolour by Thomas Bock.


Portraits From a Land Without People  

by John Ogden (Cyclops Press; 2009). This is the Introduction as the main photography section has copyright restrictions. Visit http://www.a...

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