Posts Tagged ‘Aboriginal ceremony


Book review: ‘The Lumen Seed’ by Judith Crispin (2016)

January 2018

Publisher: Daylight Books

Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers should be aware that the posting on this book contains images and names of people who may have since passed away.



Judith Crispin. 'Sonya Napaljarri Cook Painting' 2015


Judith Crispin
Sonya Napaljarri Cook Painting
Warnayaka Arts Centre, Lajamanu Community NT, December 2015


Judith Crispin. 'Tabra Nakamarra's Puppy' 2015


Judith Crispin
Tabra Nakamarra’s Puppy
Lajamanu Community NT, June 2015



Truth and consequence in red dirt country

Australia has a long tradition of social documentary photography, dating back to the late nineteenth century. From Fred Kruger’s photographs of the Aboriginal community at Coranderrk in the 1870-80s through, variously but not exclusively:

Frank Hurley‘s photographs of the First World War, Antarctic exploration, Aboriginal communities and Australian industry

F. Oswald Barnett and his photographs of the slums of Melbourne in the 1930s

Charles P. Mountford (1890-1976) was an ethnographer and photographer, working from the 1930s-1960s who “showed a keen interest in and respect for Aboriginal culture, a fact that is evident in his archive. Although peppered with the vernacular and attitudes of the times, Mountford’s writing, and more tellingly his photographs, are indicative of his belief that Aboriginal life was richer and more complex than most white Australians conceded.” (State Library of South Australia)

Mervyn Bishop (born 1945), followed in 1974, an Australian news and documentary photographer whose work combines journalistic and art photography. Joining The Sydney Morning Herald as a cadet in 1962 or 1963, he was the first Aboriginal Australian to work on a metropolitan daily newspaper and one of the first Aboriginal Australians to become a professional photographer. Focusing on Indigenous self-determination, Bishop’s work “covered the major developments in Aboriginal communities throughout Australia, including the historical moment in 1975 when the (then) Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, poured a handful of earth back into the hand of Vincent Lingiari, Gurindji elder and traditional land owner. This image – representing the Australian government’s recognition of Aboriginal land rights – became an icon of the land rights movement and Australian photography.” (Art Gallery of New South Wales)

Harold Cazneaux and Max Dupain‘s photographs of Australian life from the 1920-1980s

Jim Fitzpatrick and his Drouin series from WW2

Rennie Ellis‘ photographs of celebrity and Melbourne life

William Yang‘s photographs exploring issues of cultural and sexual identity

Female photographers of the 1960s-90s, such as Micky Allan, Sue Ford and Carol Jerrems who all crossed over into art photography

Robert McFarlane (1960s onwards) who specialises in social issues

John F. Williams who photographed Sydney in the 1970s

Jeff Carter who photographed all around Australia from the 1950s onwards

Ian North and Gerrit Fokkema who photographed Canberra in the 1980s

Joyce Evans (1980s onwards) who took important portraits of a diverse cross-section of Australian intelligentsia and personalities and documented Australian country towns and events for the National Library of Australia

Glenn Sloggett who photographed Australian suburbia with a startling mix of warmth and melancholy from the 1990s onwards

More recently, the war photographs of °SOUTH members such as Tim Page, Stephen Dupont, David Dare Parker, Jack Picone and Michael Coyne

Trent Parke who is the only Australian member of the Magnum Photo Agency, whose work moves beyond the strictly documentary to sit between fiction and reality, offering an emotional and psychological portrait of family life and Australia that is poetic and often darkly humorous

And Juno Gemes Indigenous social documentary photography, who documents the changing social landscape of Australia

Unlike America, where social documentary photographers are well known, hardly a name from the above list (save perhaps Max Dupain and possibly Frank Hurley) would be recognised by a wider Australian public and there is little evidence or acknowledgement of their work in Australia. I believe that this is because social documentary photography has never been heavily promoted in this country and that this type of photography is a slice of many people’s work without becoming the driving force behind their oeuvre.

As my friend and curator Nick Henderson observes, “Perhaps the lack of visibility is in part due to many of the social documentary photographers undertaking work for the various state libraries, who regularly commission work documenting place – sometimes external, but also staff photographers – whose work is then not exhibited: many of the institutional galleries haven’t devoted much time to displaying and promoting that work.” While there may have been social documentary photographers in each country town and embedded within federal and state institutions, their work never seems to reach the audience it deserves.


And that is the true

Into this amorphous arena comes a brilliant book Sydney based poet, photographer and composer Judith Crispin titled The Lumen Seed (Daylight Books 2016), a book of that addresses the stories of the Warlpiri people of Lajamanu through conversation, poetry, drawings and photographs, a book that should be compulsory reading for all Australians.

This smallish book (in size, 23.5cm wide by 15cm high) of 120 pages has good strong boards, excellent typography, nicely weighted paper and feels solid in the hand. The book is well printed, although some of the highlights of the photographs have gone missing in action. The layout of the images and text is engaging, challenging the reader to comprehend, contemplate and consider what is being shown and spoken to them. Use of negative space, as can be seen in the example pages below, is excellent. The reader does not feel overwhelmed by comatose verbiage, but empowered when listening to the stories, proposed: “This book is about magic. Not the magic of Kabbalists, Theosophists, or conjurers, not Crowley’s magick with a k, not the magic of the New Age or Western religion – but magic that describes the world hidden inside this world, a world seen only by Aboriginal elders and the dying.” (Judith Crispin, Introduction, p. 12)

As Crispin states, this book is not a book of photojournalism and is the most subjective it can be, the photographs growing out of her love for this community. The multi-dimensional photo essay, for that is what it is in more traditional terms, represents some of the views and customs of the Warlpiri people and for Crispin, her journey started in the centre of Australia’s Anglophile government, Canberra, and ended at Wolfe Creek Crater, birthplace of the rainbow snakes, the Warnayarra, which underpin all Australian Aboriginal cultures. The peoples of this ancient culture speak to the earth, they tend it and understand it; they believe in the deep magic of the landscape, and strengthen the land through gardening and the trees through song. They speak to the spirits of the waterholes and have a deep respect for the spirit of the animals that inhabit the land. “The deep love that Warlpiri people have for the landscape, its mountains and waterholes, is almost incomprehensible for white people.” (Juno Gemes, Foreword, p. 9)

I’m British and I have been here in Australia since 1986 and I have never understood the non-relationship Australia has with its Indigenous people. Growing up on a farm for the first twelve years of my life in England gives me some understanding of a life lived well on the land. We were working class poor, my mother having to boil water on a stove so us kids could have a bath in a copper on the kitchen room floor; and we lived on what we could shoot from the land – pigeons, pheasants, rabbits and hares – and we were acutely aware of the providence and blessings of nature for our sustenance. A totally different connection to land than an Aboriginal one, but a connection none the less, as I found out when I visited the old farm on a recent visit to the UK in August. Walking up the cart path where I had played as a kid brought all the magic rushing back… the flowers, the forest, the trees, the animals and the earth.

Therefore, when I read of the white man’s abuse of the traditional lands of the Aboriginal people I am appalled. If you read the extract from Five Threnodies for Maralinga printed below, you begin to understand the pain and anguish of these people, killed by the atomic cloud of over 7 major tests and 700 minor trials involving plutonium, uranium, and beryllium at the Maralinga site which occurred between 1956 and 1963, part of the Woomera Prohibited Area in South Australia and about 800 kilometres north-west of Adelaide. “In 1948, Warlpiri people were forcibly relocated almost 600 kilometers from their spiritual homeland to Hooker Creek, now Lajamanu, in Gurindji country. Old people, afraid to live among Gurindji ancestors and spirits, tried to walk back to Yuendumu but were rounded up and returned.” (p. 45)

This beautiful, powerful and deeply personal book tells some of their stories. It saddens me beyond belief that these wonderful people have been estranged and displaced from their traditional lands; decimated, killed, and abused; have been exposed to nuclear radiation, poverty, and untold harm and deprivation, both physical and mental. That they endure is a testament to their courage and culture. Juno Gemes observes that, “Crispin’s images are filled with compassion and tenderness. This is not an easy work… The Lumen Seed is a tough and powerful work in photographs, narrative texts, drawings, and poems it sings stories off the Warlpiri at Lajamuna at five minutes to midnight.” (p. 9)

The book needs to be tough to tell the true. But through poetry, love and light a new cosmology emerges that brings hope for a better future. Truth and consequence in red dirt country.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

Many thankx to Myrtille Beauvert, Daylight Books and the artist for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.


The Lumen Seed by Judith Crispin (Daylight Books), a cultural dialogue that is taking place before a backdrop of offences against the Australian continent, as well as a history of systematic discrimination against Indigenous peoples on the part of the country’s white population.



“Yeah, it make me real sad and cry for my country. Because God bin put me there, God put my people there. Why someone could move us, because of his power, because of his idea? Cutting off God’s power, God’s idea here. God’s word, God’s light… and that is the true. Cut off like this electric wire, if you cut him off, like that.”

Jerry Jangala, senior Warlpiri elder and Law man from Lajamanu in the Tanami Desert


“The Lumen Seed is a tough and powerful work. In photographs, narrative texts, drawings, and poems it sings stories of the Warlpiri at Lajamanu at five minutes to midnight. Who will hear, who will see, who will act?

Judith Crispin’s experience echoes mine 40 years earlier, although I could not always get back to the same teachers. We belong to a long photographic tradition. It is the tradition of Tina Modotti and Josef Koudelka – a generation of documentary photographers who believe fervently that if you show people what is actually happening in the world, they will understand and be moved to demand change. Activist social documentary photography has always been defined by this passionate subjective belief in democracy and action.”

Juno Gemes, Introduction to The Lumen Seed, 2016




Judith Crispin. 'The Lumen Seed' cover

Judith Crispin. The Lumen Seed book cover

Judith Crispin. 'The Lumen Seed' p. 29

Judith Crispin. The Lumen Seed p. 29

Judith Crispin. 'The Lumen Seed' p. 32

Judith Crispin. The Lumen Seed p. 32

Judith Crispin. 'The Lumen Seed' p. 46

Judith Crispin. The Lumen Seed p. 46

Judith Crispin. 'The Lumen Seed' p. 55

Judith Crispin. The Lumen Seed p. 55

Judith Crispin. 'The Lumen Seed' p. 74

Judith Crispin. The Lumen Seed p. 74





Foreword: Five Minutes to Midnight

There is nothing like twilight in red dirt country – the soft crackling of fire warming your billycan as the Seven Sisters begin their dance across the night sky. Or the camaraderie around a campfire as people speak in their indigenous languages – the women making jokes about the day’s goings-on or about mistakes made in the intricate protocols of a Law you are learning, day by day. Everything that lives has meaning here. Upholding knowledge is a lifelong obligation for First Nation Custodians – not only in the present but into the future. How can we Australians know this land or our place in it, if not through relationship with our hosts, the Aboriginal people?

When inviting me to write this foreword, Judith Crispin explained her choice, saying, “You are uniquely positioned, as Australia’s premier and longest-serving photographer who has worked collaboratively with Aboriginal people in communities around the country making their culture and struggle for justice visible.” Truly, in both a professional and a practical way, I know the difficulties and the deep satisfactions of working in community. I understand the privileges of learning about the Law, the reciprocity of gratitude, and the obligation to stay true to the received teaching over a lifetime.

As a photographer of long experience, with friendships in Aboriginal communities, I know how everything depends on one’s openness to experience, on the give and take inside relationships that informs how one sees and feels. Photographers in this tradition work in slow time. You learn to move with the people, move within the rhythm of their days, within their country, their wind and sky. What is learned through these relationships can change how one sees forever. By invitation, we become messengers from the frontier of interpersonal experience, conveying urgent messages from our teachers and hosts.

Into this collaborative tradition of relational interpersonal documentary photography – which began with the work of committed photographers in Australia during the 1970s – now steps Judith Crispin with her important book about magic, knowledge, and history. She relates teachings of the Law men who adopted her, who gave her the skin name Nangala, a name that defines her relationship to everyone in the community. In this way, she is being “growed up,” learning how to see the universe according to Warlpiri Law.

“There is a particularly miraculous vision of the world that comes only with the diagnosis of serious illness. . . . Something is different now – because I know there is a secret world nested inside this one. I’ve seen it.”

The Lumen Seed
opens onto an apocalyptic scene. A hardwood mulga tree, reaching for the sky, holds a placard: “The Lord’s Return is Near.” In Coober Pedy, a curved handmade house rendered in warm mid-tones is edged with the sign “Welcome to Nowhere.” Dusty desert roadscapes unfold into the giant sacred stones of Karlu Karlu. An emu wanders nonchalantly into a gas station. We’re in Emu Dreaming Country now, meeting Crispin’s traveling friends.

A UFO mural at the gas station resonates later in the book with stories of Wolfe Creek Crater, where the meteorite landed. In the Jukurrpa we are told two rainbow snakes created that country, way back at the beginning. UFOs “zipping around the trees” form part of our desert lore. Funky and surreal, these images are imbued with humour. The images that follow lead us onward into a country of visual narratives – foretelling beginnings and endings. Intuitions manifest unpredictably. We enter a thousand kilometres of “bull dust and bone-jarring track, into the Tanami Desert,” which is as nothing compared with the howling grief of Crispin’s first poem…

Foreword extract by Juno Gemes, Hawkesbury River, April 11, 2016, pp. 6-7.



In late 2015 I was diagnosed with cancer. Before then, I’d not understood how five words could change everything. “I’m sorry, Judith,” my doctor told me, “it’s cancer.” It’s a cliché that you only learn to value life when death is walking beside you, but it was absolutely true for me. I remember driving over Clyde Mountain to bring the word cancer to my parents’ home. Every tree on the range seemed invested with vital force. Every leaf was vibrant, iridescent. Gray mountain gums, in headlights, seemed to manifest ancient intelligence – bearing witness to the fleeting existence of human beings. The threat of death reminds you how precious people are – your oldest friends, children, lovers, parents – you wonder how you’ll bear to leave them. There is a particularly miraculous vision of the world that comes only with the diagnosis of serious illness.

The interval between diagnosis and surgery is an eternity. The surgeon showed me a chart – “If the cancer falls into this range,” he said, “you’ll live; this range and you’ll die.” I felt like Schrödinger’s cat, neither living nor dying. People who see their own death live in two worlds, one mundane and one miraculous. Later, when the cancer had been removed and my death sentence lifted, I watched that other world diminish day by day. No matter how I clung to that miraculous vision, it faded – just as the certain knowledge of my death faded. But something remained. Something is different now – because I know there is a secret world nested inside this one. I’ve seen it. …

The earliest photographs in this book were taken in 2013, when I still believed the Warlpiri needed my help – to promote literacy and health, to outline positive pathways toward reconciliation, and so on. The later photographs were taken in December 2015, when I knew, without a shadow of doubt, that I was the drowning woman and the Warlpiri were the lifeboat. Lajamanu’s elders, especially Wanta Jampijinpa, Henry Jackamarra, and Jerry Jangala, were kind to me. They gave me a skin name1 and showed me how to be a “policewoman” for Jdbrille Waterhole. They seemed genuinely delighted by my interest in Warlpiri cosmology, which they illustrated with stories and drawings – some of which are reproduced in this book. The older women took me “hunting” for wattle seed and bush potato. They told me stories of covenants entered into with ancient star-beings and showed me places along the Tanami Track where min-min lights had chased travellers. Fairy tales and mysteries take on new importance when your life feels precarious.

Lajamanu in 2016 is a meeting of two universes. Elders check their Facebook status on iPhones while explaining, in matter-of-fact tones, about a landscape that will hold you or kill you, depending on your scent – where spirit snakes live in the waterways and the dead walk side by side with the living. In Lajamanu I lost my fear of dying, and more importantly, I lost my fear of living. This is a book about magic. Not the magic of Kabbalists, Theosophists, or conjurers, not Crowley’s magick with a k, nor the magic of the New Age or Western religion – but magic that describes the world hidden inside this world, a world seen only by Aboriginal elders and the dying.

This is not a book of photojournalism and makes no attempt to be objective. Quite the contrary, in fact, I wanted this book to be as subjective as possible. These photographs, especially the portraits, have grown out of my love for this community – the poetry of these often physically fragile people, whose unshakable belief in the deep magic of the landscape gives them a strength rarely evident in the city. Warlpiri culture is gentle; it leaves no tracks on the earth. The history of Aboriginal Australia is largely a record of gardening – “cleaning up country” with firestick farming and ceremonies to strengthen trees through song. When Warlpiri people move through the landscape, they introduce themselves. They apologise to that country for breaking twigs. They ask permission to take water from the creeks. If humanity ever transcends its selfish and murderous nature, it will be because of people like the Warlpiri.

Introduction extract by Judith Crispin pp. 11-13.



You shall not trap me in this fish-trap of yours in which you trap the dead,

because I know it, and I know its name,

I know the name in which it came into being.

(Coffin Texts)



Judith Crispin. 'The Lord's Return is Near' 2014


Judith Crispin
The Lord’s Return is Near
Coober Pedy SA, November 2014



The Stuart Highway is a bisecting line in a thousand kilometres of nothing. The sheer scale of the landscape is overwhelming. I’d driven for two days with only Leonard Cohen and David Bowie for company, and had never felt more isolated. I don’t know why I stopped, leaving the Land Rover idling in the middle of the highway, and walked over to the tree. Perhaps its tallness startled me – its length so exposed above the desert floor. I wanted to lay my palm against its bark. At first I didn’t notice the sign nailed high on its trunk: “The Lord’s Return is Near.”

This stretch of highway lies south of the rocket range at Woomera. There are oceans of blood on this land. The Woomera immigration detention centre continued a legacy of suffering that began years earlier, in the 1950s, when Maralinga’s radioactive clouds blew over Woomera, a military township, and killed all the children.

Between 1952 and 1963, British forces dropped nine nuclear weapons and nine thermonuclear weapons between Woomera and the Western Australian border, within contamination distance of urban centres. The Menzies-led Australian government of that time was wholly complicit and lied about the known dangers of nuclear tests. Between these bombings, Britain conducted continuous “minor trials,” which, according to the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia, additionally detonated 99.35 kg of beryllium, 23.979 kg of plutonium, and 7968.88 kg of depleted uranium. By contrast, Little Boy, dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 by the United States, contained only 64 kg of uranium-235, and Fat Man, dropped on Nagasaki in 1945 by the United States, contained only 6.4 kg of plutonium. Anyone who wishes to immediately lose faith in the human race should read the short transcript of the Royal Commission, which is freely available online. (pp. 16-18)


Judith Crispin. 'Welcome to Nowhere' 2014


Judith Crispin
Welcome to Nowhere
Coober Pedy SA, November 2014



I arrived in Coober Pedy the same week that dust storms tore the roof off the pub. This dugout, borrowed from friends in Alice Springs, was built from a disused shaft. I slept near the door separating their home from the remaining length of shaft, extending far into the rock. Strange sounds echoed behind that door – sounds of wind, or dogs howling. The door was nailed closed. When I first visited Coober Pedy, it was the farthest into the desert that I had ever ventured. Beyond it stretched the expanse of the Great Victoria Desert, Simpson Desert, Strzelecki Desert, Pedirka Desert, Tirari Desert, and Sturt Stony Desert. I was at the start of a journey that would follow Stuart Highway into nothingness and emerge in the huge Tanami Desert of the Northern Territory and Western Australia. Leaving the dugout, I stopped to photograph the words painted on its roof: “Welcome to Nowhere.” (pp. 22-23)


Judith Crispin. 'Karlu Karlu I' 2014


Judith Crispin
Karlu Karlu I
Near Ayleparrarntenhe NT, November 2014



Karlu Karlu, nicknamed “The Devil’s Marbles” by white people, was long considered too spiritually dangerous for anyone but Warumungu elders conducting ceremony. Between these giant stones, on a 48-degree day, the radiant heat is almost unimaginable. Near the skeleton of a burned office chair, I found patches of black glass. A Warumungu friend explained that the heat has, in recent years, become so intense at Karlu Karlu that the air itself ignites, fusing desert sand to glass. In Australia’s deserts the evidence of climate change is irrefutable. (p. 24)


Judith Crispin. 'Eemie at the UFO Roadhouse' 2015


Judith Crispin
Eemie at the UFO Roadhouse
Wycliffe Well Roadhouse and Van-park NT, December 2015



UFO enthusiast Arc Vanderzalm moved to the desert in 2004 to establish a UFO-themed van park. In the van park’s early years, Arc rescued an abandoned emu chick and raised him by hand. He named him Eemie. Travellers stopping for fuel at Wycliffe Well roadhouse are sometimes surprised by an adult emu staring in at them through the window. While a guest of the van park, I once startled Eemie by walking into the ladies’ shower block. He peered out at me through the shower curtain with an air of embarrassment, as though I’d intruded at a delicate moment. Later, as I drove toward Tennant Creek, I spotted Eemie chasing a farm dog down the highway, legs akimbo. (p. 29)


Judith Crispin. 'Sexy John' 2014


Judith Crispin
Sexy John
Alice Springs NT, November 2014



Sexy John was rescued as a small calf after his mother was culled as part of a government program to reduce feral camels. He was raised by artists in a collective on the outskirts of Alice Springs and befriended a wild blond-haired boy. More than 160 thousand camels were culled between 2009 and 2013, approximately one-fifth of the camel population of the central deserts. (p. 35)


Extract from Five Threnodies for Maralinga


At Woomera,
seventy-five identical graves
remember babies lost to the predation
of atomic clouds.

Their epitaphs are brief-

Michael Clarke Jones
died 24 August 1952,
aged eight and a half hours.

No one has been here for a long time.

Weeds struggle.
A military vehicle passes,
heading east toward the rocket range.

In the west, Woomera township
is a grid of air force housing.
Land Cruisers fill neat driveways,
lawns are trimmed,
blinds closed.

And no one ever steps out for milk,
no one walks a dog.

I photograph each headstone,
stooping sometimes to straighten a plastic posy,
a tilted ceramic bear.

Wind presses a faded greeting card
to the metal fence.
A matchbox car beside a small boy’s grave
is blue.

There are nineteen stones without toys or flowers,
for stillborns named only “baby”-

Baby Spencer,
Baby Dowling,
Baby Stone.

Don’t look at me

Baby Gower
Baby Roads

from a soldier’s gunny bag
with your eyes too white, too open
like the eyes of poisoned fish
in the Pilbara’s poisoned surf.


Judith Crispin. 'Warlpiri Family' 2015


Judith Crispin
Warlpiri Family
Lajamanu Community NT, December 2015



In 1948, Warlpiri people were forcibly relocated almost 600 kilometers from their spiritual homeland to Hooker Creek, now Lajamanu, in Gurindji country. Old people, afraid to live among Gurindji ancestors and spirits, tried to walk back to Yuendumu but were rounded up and returned. In the 1970s, Gurindji people held a series of unique ceremonies to hand over the area and its Wampana and Spectacled Hare Wallaby Dreaming stories to the residents of Lajamanu. While this gesture brought some relief to Warlpiri people, who viewed their involuntary occupation of Gurindji land as a breach of traditional Law, they continue to struggle with their relationship to the country. (p. 45)


Judith Crispin. 'Four Kurdu-kurdu [Kids] with Trampoline' 2015


Judith Crispin
Four Kurdu-kurdu [Kids] with Trampoline
Lajamanu Community NT, December 2015



Country [Gurindji country], hills… well, I put country first… hills, tree, don’t like you – even that water – and that is true. If you drink water from that, or if you not talking to that country because you don’t know, you got no songs with that area… and in the night, or during the day too, you got no language for to try to talk to that country.

When God bin put you there, in your country, that’s it. You got a right to live on there. You can get sick alright, but not too much. Yuwayi [yes], you know God? He say, “Yeah you get sick but you’ll be alright,” you know? “I’m with you there,” that God talking. And same thing for our ceremony too. You’re right to use your ceremony. You’re right to sing your own Dreaming song and talking to your country . . . and tell it true – real true.

Jerry Jangala (pp. 50-51)


Judith Crispin. 'Emu Roadkill and Portrait by Shemaiah Matthews' 2015


Judith Crispin
Emu Roadkill and Portrait by Shemaiah Matthews
Lajamanu Community NT, December 2015


Judith Crispin. 'Lily Nungarrayi Yirringali Jurrah-Hargraves Painting' 2015


Judith Crispin
Lily Nungarrayi Yirringali Jurrah-Hargraves Painting
Warnayaka Arts Centre, Lajamanu Community NT, December 2015



Without the connection between the land and the person, the individual is lost, empty inside, not connected to anyone or anything or the land. If the connection is lost, they won’t survive and their identity no longer exists. Jukurrpa is our life first. Jukurrpa connects us to our country. It is Law that makes it our right to our country. We can’t be sent away.

This art center [Warnayaka Arts Center] is for the young people to learn their culture and Law. It is important for our youth to learn the knowledge held by the Ngaliya and Warnayaka peoples. The art center is for the survival of culture from the grandfathers’ and grandmothers’ country. The children are getting lost, and there are not many old men left, some women but few men. Some of our important Dreaming sites are hundreds of kilometers from Lajamanu. The grandchildren and great-grandchildren who live in Lajamanu need to know their Jukurrpa; otherwise they will lose their inheritance to this really important country. They need to know the Warlpiri Ngalia Laws so they can go onto their great-grandfathers’ and ancestors’ land, especially where these important Dreaming sites are, like at Mina Mina, belonging to the Kana-kurlangu clan. This is why the art center is so important to the people of Lajamanu. At any time, children can see the works of the elders telling them the Kurdiji, the Law, and all that is tied into the Jukurrpa paintings.

Warnayaka Art elders, recorded by Arts Center manager Louisa Erglis (p. 55)


Judith Crispin. 'Sacred Object #1' Nd


Judith Crispin
Sacred Object #1
Muffler painted by Warlpiri artists


Judith Crispin. 'Sacred Object #2' Nd


Judith Crispin
Sacred Object #2
Abandoned doll found in Lajamanu Park


Judith Crispin. 'Beth Nungarrayi at Jdbrille Waterhole' 2015


Judith Crispin
Beth Nungarrayi at Jdbrille Waterhole
Jdbrille Waterhole, Tanami Desert NT, June 2015



This area here, no river. It’s the same deal in this country, and so – what do you call it? Soak? [A soakage, or soak, also called a native well, is a source of water in the Australian desert.] You know . . . I’m trying to get that word there. Soak, yeah, you take all right down to find that water, that water make. Sometimes no water, like this time when it’s dry. Look for the water tree. That’s what my father, my grandpa, my great-grandpa, grandmother, they all look for that water tree. Rock holes down. That’s in our country. We can say it today in a Kardiya way, you know? We can say “Lajamanu is my country.” But that not true. It’s not true . . . yuwayi, Nangala. My country is back there . . . my area is back there.

Jerry Jangala (pp. 68-69)


Judith Crispin. 'Wirntali-Jarra [Friends]' 2015


Judith Crispin
Wirntali-Jarra [Friends]
near Emu waterhole, Tanami Desert NT, December 2015


Henry Jackamarra and Jerry Jangala have known each other since they were small children. More than a decade his senior, Henry treats Jerry like a little brother – still lecturing him on what he eats and wears, although both men are now respected elders. (p. 72)


Judith Crispin. 'Jerry Jangala Oversees Kangaroo Ceremony' 2014


Judith Crispin
Jerry Jangala Oversees Kangaroo Ceremony
Tanami Desert Outpost NT, November 2014



The animal is honoured by sprinkling handfuls of dirt over its fur before it is prepared for cooking in the traditional way. Jerry explains that in the old days the punishment for getting this ceremony wrong was death. In modern times, the penalty for making mistakes in this ceremony is exile. Wanta Jampijinpa, Jerry’s son, reassured me that exile did not necessarily mean death in the Tanami desert. A person could earn his or her place back in the community by accomplishing a special task. The exile must find the way to catch a wedge-tailed eagle and bring its soft underbelly feathers back to Lajamanu as proof. Wanta explained to me how such a seemingly impossible task could be accomplished, but I do not have permission to reproduce that here. (p. 78)


Judith Crispin. 'Henry Jackamarra Cook, Last Kangaroo Dancer' 2015


Judith Crispin
Henry Jackamarra Cook, Last Kangaroo Dancer
Lajamanu Community NT, December 2015



Light Trails of Henry Jackamarra Cook

Law is a gray kangaroo dancing
the thin landscape of Henry Cook into being,
somewhere in the Tanami,
where knucklebone winds scrape bare rock
and Henry stands marsupial
in firelight’s weird.

In Lajamanu, tin houses edge the street.
No one is outside,
no one.

In the arts center, old ladies paint seed-dreaming.
Breeze lifts the hem of a curtain,
then stillness.
It is still.

Henry doesn’t paint anymore. He sits alone,
watching ceremony from the 1970s.
Everyone in the videos is dead now, except him.
And the dead are in the desert,
faceless as the desert is,
and as remote.

Ten years ago it seemed nothing to walk
three days to his sacred country,
granite country,
where great salt lakes exhale their thirst
over spinifex and sand,
the rattling sun.

But arthritis and cataracts have caged him.
Inside the arts center,
the lights are switched off.

We drag chairs across a concrete porch
to watch the Tanami darken, shelf clouds
seal the crater at Wolfe Creek.

Rain wakens on his tongue
the angular syllables of displacement.

And home is the desert breathing over itself by night,
erasing tracks of all who walk there –
night’s emu rising savage in the Milky Way,
and eyes, eyes in the granite mines.

One day, he tells me, I’ll walk out
to my country and never come back.

At town’s edge, a kangaroo left by poachers.
Red dust thickens its pelt, as the red dust lies thick
on Henry’s Ray-Bans, stiffening his white hair to wires.

I photograph him disemboweling the buck,
its intestines knotted to ritual marks –
Henry and his flayed brother, backlit
against chained ridges,
and the last sun rearing.

Law is an old man dancing
the gray kangaroo into being,
sewing him back into the desert’s body,
into his own body, ochre and growl,
a hunting boomerang beaten on the ground.

Night erases this landscape –
slow trees, sand,
the saltbush has gone.

Just Henry’s heels rising and falling
along a wind-scored track,
utterances of a language which belongs to him
and to which he belongs.

Tomorrow, the Catfish Waterhole
will stretch his white hair out elastic,
as telephone wires vanishing into the Tanami.

Mud returns to him,
the cool slow memories of country
before the missions, before diabetes and grog
shrank his ancestors down so small
he holds them in a single cupped hand
like fireflies, tiny comets
crossing in the black.

Tomorrow he’ll thread gumleaves
through the hole in his nose,
and say, photo me like this Nangala
I am a beautiful man.

Judith Crispin (pp. 81-83)


Judith Crispin. 'Lily Nungarrayi Yirringali' 2014


Judith Crispin
Lily Nungarrayi Yirringali
Tanami Desert NT, November 2014



I was told Lily, when she was young, was in love with a Karadji man but couldn’t be with him because she didn’t want to leave her community. Her arms reveal the parallel ritual marks of someone on a “sacred path.” Now, despite caring relationships with her family, friends, and fourteen adopted dogs, somehow Lily is always alone. When, together with Molly and Rosie, Lily took me to see Catfish Waterhole, she explained that we were going to see her “mother.” I carried Lily, too frail to descend the bank, to the edge of the water. There she turned water over her palms, the traditional way of greeting the waterhole and avoiding surprising any Warnayarra who might be there. The deep love that Warlpiri people have for the landscape, its mountains and waterholes, is almost incomprehensible for white people. Here Lily sings quietly to Catfish Waterhole – not for any ceremonial or traditional reason, I’m told, but just because it makes the waterhole feel loved. (p. 95)


Judith Crispin. 'Molly's Flame-Tree Seed-pods' 2014


Judith Crispin
Molly’s Flame-Tree Seed-pods
Tanami Desert NT, November 2014


Judith Crispin. 'Molly Napurrula Sifts Wattleseed' 2014


Judith Crispin
Molly Napurrula Sifts Wattleseed
Tanami Desert NT, November 2014



Warlpiri people still supplement their diet with bush food. Ground wattleseed is mixed with oil and baked into a kind of flat bread. The older ladies took me out “hunting” for wattleseed and kurrajong seedpods. In a township with only one shop, where a head of broccoli costs more than a takeaway meal for a family, it is vitally important to supplement the community’s diet with “bush food.” White Australians have almost no idea of the variety of native fruits and vegetables that grow in the apparent desert – bush potatoes, bush tomatoes, bush bananas, honey ants, land crabs, wattleseeds, etc., can be gathered throughout the Tanami. (p. 104)



Buy Judith Crispin’s The Lumen Seed on the Daylight Books website


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Photographs: Historical Australia Part 1

December 2017

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the following posting may contain images of deceased persons.


The last posting of the year, because I am feeling rather exhausted!


Unknown photographer. 'George St. from King St., Sydney' Nd


Unknown photographer
George St. from King St., Sydney



Down the rabbit hole we go… into the world of Australian historical photography.

In photographs that were taken around the same time, the contrast could not be more evident: horse and trap travelling down fashionable George Street, Sydney while donkey and cart in Outback Australia fetch water; Nicholas Caire’s King Billy’s camp in McCree’s Paddock, Maloga, Victoria – King Billy ‘The Last of His Tribe’, the final remnant of a dying race and J. W. Lindt’s Untitled [Two men in rural Victoria], old men with beards and hats, swag and billy, possibly itinerant travelling workers.

And so I have sequenced these images as best I could.

The white men stand implacably outside the courthouses while the Indigenous feet touch the earth. They fight for their country, win the Military Medal and can’t even vote. The courthouses of the colonial white, those massive edifices of the law, jurisdiction and punishment tied with Australian Aborigines in chains and Aboriginal youth Dylan Voller, 17, shackled to a metal chair by his hands, feet and neck and wearing a spithood at Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in 2015. And so it goes…

Although there can be many contexts and interpretations within the photographic labyrinthine abyss, and even though these photographs were taken by colonial masters, the materiality of photography (as act of creation and as final printed product) and its relationship to the real is what is important here. These are beautiful photographs of peoples from the First Nations, peoples that all have their own specific names, and in many instances, speak/spoke their own specific language.

You only have to look at the boy standing at the back of the photograph Aboriginal family group to recognise how his direct looking transcends the fixed gaze of the camera, the male gaze, the white gaze and the colonial gaze. His gaze, his return of serve if you like, speaks to us through time – of an individual, valuable and empowered human being assured in his own self. No colour, jurisdiction nor race is necessary for us recognise him as such.


Many thankx to Dennis Joachim for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.



“Think carefully: there can be no redundancy in photography, for a photograph, whatever it is, already speaks twice of time, once to seize it and another to say that it has passed; And there can be no trompe-l’oeil in it either; it is and will always be the mise en abyme par excellence; It is the mind that looks at the abyss, it is a piece of the abyss cut clear, with four right angles cut terribly sharp.”

Denis Roche




Trompe-l’œil (French for “deceive the eye”) is an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions. It refers to perspectival illusionism.

Mise en abyme

Mise en abyme is a French term derived from heraldry, and literally means “placed into abyss”. A common sense of the phrase is the visual experience of standing between two mirrors, then seeing as a result an infinite reproduction of one’s image. Another is the Droste effect, in which a picture appears within itself, in a place where a similar picture would realistically be expected to appear… In Western art history, “mise en abyme” is a formal technique in which an image contains a smaller copy of itself, in a sequence appearing to recur infinitely; “recursive” is another term for this.


Unknown artist. 'Richmond Courthouse, Courthouses of New South Wales' c. 1870-80s


Unknown photographer
Richmond Courthouse, Courthouses of New South Wales
c. 1870-80s
Date built: 1877



Richmond is a town in New South Wales, in the local government area of the City of Hawkesbury. It is located on the alluvial Hawkesbury River flats, at the foot of the Blue Mountains. It is about 65 km by road from Sydney.

Richmond Court House and Police Station is located at 288 Windsor Street, Richmond NSW. The present building was designed by Colonial Architect, James Barnet in 1877 as a court house with associated police station. The front entrance is via an attractive arched colonnade with feature brickwork and the roof is supported by bracketed eaves. The raised roof of the court room may be seen in the centre of the structure. Note the similarity in style with the adjacent former post office, also the work of James Barnet. It replaced the watch-house built by William Cox in 1827. The watch-house was a four roomed structure with a detached kitchen. One of the rooms was barred and secure for the custody of prisoners. The other rooms were for the policeman on duty. The rear of the site was set aside for the first stock pound in the town. The court house is still in use but the Police Local Area Command is located in the nearby town of Windsor.

Text from the website


Alphonse Chargois (1860-1936) 'Cumjam Murdered Ferguson at Mentana March 1894' 1894


Alphonse Chargois (1860-1936)
Cumjam Murdered Ferguson at Mentana March 1894
Albumen print
16 x 10


Chargois, Alphonse. (father of Herbert Chargois. died Nov 1936)
Townsville, Qld 1879
Croydon, Qld 1892 – 96
Normanton, Qld 1896 – 97
Townsville, Qld 1897
McArthur St, Croydon Qld (base) 1898 – 1913
Georgetown, Qld (trav) 1900
Torres Strait Islands, Qld (trav) Oct 1913
“Touring the South” 1913 – 15
(owned Bicycle Business, Warwick, Qld, 1915, advertised for sale Feb 1915)
“Royal Studio”
“late Lyne Brown, McTaggart and Dobson”
Lake St, Cairns, Qld July 1915 – 36
(bought McTaggart & Dobson’s studio, July 1915)
Mareeba, Qld (trav) Oct 1915
(estate publicly Auctioned up Oct 1947)



Cumjam standing in front of a government issue tent. Cumjam was arrested for the murder of Mr Ferguson (aged 60) who worked for Donald Mclntyre at Mentana Station. Ferguson’s murder and the capture of Cumjam were reported widely in the Norman Chronicle, The North Queensland Register and The Brisbane Courier between 1894-1895. Records detailing the outcome of his arrest have not been located.


“An Aboriginal Desperado”

The “Norman Chronicle” says: “By the last mail we received from Mr. Chargois, who is at present at Delta, two photos of the blackboy “Cumjam.” who is supposed to have murdered Ferguson at Mentana in March, 1894. The details of the capture as given by Mr. Chargois are as follows: ‘Mr Jack Adford, who has been managing Loch-na-gar for Mr. McInytre, had received instructions to move cattle to Daigonally, and wishing to bring over with him some of the native curios, he told the blacks, ‘Me go away by-and-by take away altogether bullock, you fetch ’em up spear, shell, boomerang, me give you tumbac. Me come back one moon.’ One moon goes by and the blacks were there to the number of about 50, eager to exchange their native gear for tobacco. All were up at the station except one, who stayed at the camp, and Jack Alford, wishing to know why he do so, asked the others, ‘What name boy sit down longa camp?’ ‘That fellow name ‘Cumjam’; he sick long a cobra.’ Alford at once recognised the murdered of Ferguson, although he gave no sign of his discovery, but said to the other, ‘Poor fellow, you go fetch em up, me give him medicine make him alright.’ ‘Cumjam’ was accordingly conducted up. ‘What name belongs you?’ said Alford. ‘Cumjam,’ replied the black. Alford decided at once upon his plan of action, told the other blacks to step back and site down, then taking Cumjam aside he seized him and with the help of his own boys bound him up. The other blacks, not liking the look of things, began to get uneasy, and slipped away one by one down to the creek, leaving Cumjam captured. It was no easy task to bring him along. He ate through one strap, and when that was replaced by a chain and padlock he managed somehow to pick the latter to pieces.’ The photo which we have on view shows the prisoner to be securely bound.”

The North Queensland Register 16 October 1895

Text from the Thagaalbi: History of Australia’s Indigenous people Facebook page


The presence of Europeans along the gulf coast and south-western areas of the Peninsula was met with Aboriginal resistance. When J.T. Embley surveyed the Mitchell River in 1886-7 he counted “skirmishes with the blacks” to have been the cause of delays in the completion of his work.136 The death of Ferguson, an elderly white stockman, in March 1894 followed his spearing on Mentana station by the Aboriginal, Cumjam.137 Only a few months before Ferguson’s death one party of survivors of the steamship, Kanahooka, after its capsize off the Mitchell River in January 1894, were able to make their way through the Kokobera country through to safety at Mentana station.138 This was despite popular fears that they would be exposed to the “hostility of the blacks”.139

Philip L. Freier. Living with the ‘Munpitch’: The history of Mitchell River Mission, 1905 – 1967. James Cook University, Dr of Philosophy Thesis, 1999, pp. 86-87.


Unknown artist. 'Windsor Courthouse, Courthouses of New South Wales' c. 1870-80s


Unknown photographer
Windsor Courthouse, Courthouses of New South Wales
c. 1870-80s
Date built: 1821



Windsor is a town lying North-West of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Windsor is located in the local government area of the City of Hawkesbury. It sits on the Hawkesbury River, on the north-western outskirts of the Sydney metropolitan area.

Windsor Courthouse is a rare surviving Colonial Georgian public building that originally dates from the early nineteenth century. The building has a fine and impressive form which uses an adapted Palladian plan to suit the Australian climate. It is of considerable historical, social and aesthetic significance as one of the earliest surviving courthouse buildings in Australia. The courthouse now [1967] ranks as Greenway’s best preserved building. The Building and Maintenance Branch of the NSW Department of Public Works carried out restoration work in 1961 to remove unsympathetic rendering of the external brickwork which was an attempt to reduce the problem of damp. The building now stands in its original and unspoiled form in Windsor, the most prosperous and successful of the towns then founded by Governor Macquarie. The courthouse was insisted upon by Governor Macquarie, designed by Greenway (himself originally a convict) and built for A₤1,800 by William Cox, using convict labour. It is a combination and the result of all the forces directly at play during the Australia’s early development. The oldest existing local court in New South Wales. Cox later served at Windsor as a magistrate.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Unknown photographer. 'Pitt St. looking S. from Bridge St., Sydney' 1895


Unknown photographer
Pitt St. looking S. from Bridge St., Sydney
Albumen print


Unknown photographer. 'Getting Water' 1892


Unknown photographer
Getting Water
Albumen prints


Unknown photographer. '"At the well" Station Hands' 1892


Unknown photographer
“At the well” Station Hands
Albumen print


Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Aboriginal ceremony]' c. 1892


Unknown photographer
Untitled [Aboriginal ceremony]
c. 1892
Albumen print


Unknown photographer. 'Court House Bathurst N S Wales, Courthouses of New South Wales' c. 1870-80s


Unknown photographer
Court House Bathurst N S Wales, Courthouses of New South Wales
c. 1870-80s
Date built: 1880



Bathurst is a regional city in the Central Tablelands of New South Wales, Australia. It is about 200 kilometres north-west of Sydney.

Bathurst Courthouse is one of the finest Victorian Court House buildings in New South Wales. Built as part of a precinct of Victorian public buildings, it is a landmark building prominently sited in the town centre of Bathurst. The building has a lengthy association with the provision of justice in the district. The wings, built as the postal and telegraph offices, were opened in 1877. The entire structure is 81 metres (266 ft) long and 45 metres (148 ft) wide. The west wing is now occupied by the Central Western Music Centre. The east wing is now the Historical Society Museum.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Unknown photographer. 'King Billy Maloga' Nd


Nicholas Caire (1837-1918, photographer)
King Billy Maloga (King Billy’s camp in McCree’s Paddock, Maloga, Victoria)



Photograph of four Aboriginal Australians, two men and two women, seated on ground in front of a shelter. Older man on left holds wooden sticks or spears, and a dog sits next to him. The three main local tribes were named after their “country” (or district), being “Burrumbeet” from Lakes Burrumbeet and Learmonth, “Keyeet” from Mt Buninyong and “Tooloora” from Mt Warrenheip and Lal Lal Creek. The last well recognised leader of the district, was “King Billy” from Burrumbeet, whose death surprisingly made the newspapers in mining areas and big cities right round the country.

Ballarat’s Mullawallah (also known as King Billy or Frank Wilson), was buried in 1896 to considerable civic interest as a result of being nominated as ‘The Last of His Tribe’.


J. W. Lindt. 'Untitled [Two men in rural Victoria]' c. 1880s


J. W. Lindt (John William 1845-1926, Melbourne, photographer)
Untitled [Two men in rural Victoria]
c. 1880s
Cabinet card
Albumen print



John William Lindt (1845-1926), photographer, was born at Frankfurt on Main, Germany, son of Peter Joseph Lindt, excise officer, and his wife Justine, née Rambach. At 17 he ran away to sea and joined a Dutch sailing ship. He deserted at Brisbane; by 1863 he was at Grafton as a piano-tuner and then worked in a photographic studio. He visited Germany in 1867 and on his return bought the business. Using the wet-plate process he photographed the Clarence River district and its Aboriginals, producing albums in 1875 and 1876. He then sold out and went to Melbourne where he opened a studio in Collins Street. He soon won repute for his society, theatre and landscape photographs. In 1880 he photographed the capture of the Kelly gang at Glenrowan. When the first commercial dry plates arrived in Melbourne he went to Europe to seek agencies for the latest photographic equipment. On his return he worked in the studio and the Victorian countryside; many of his photographs were used in the railways. He also designed and modified cameras as well as ‘advising in matters photographic’.

Read the full biography on the Australian Dictionary of Biography website


Unknown photographer. 'Darlinghurst Gaol & Court House, Sydney Oct. 1870' 1870


Unknown photographer
Darlinghurst Gaol & Court House, Sydney Oct. 1870
Date built: 1844



The Darlinghurst Court House and residence is the finest, and only erudite Old Colonial Grecian public building complex surviving in Australia. Commenced in the 1830s, it has a long and continual association with the provision of law and order along with the neighbouring Darlinghurst Gaol complex. The imposing sandstone building is prominently sited at Taylor Square. The Court House, designed by Lewis and built between 1837 and 1844, is the first purpose designed court house to be built in NSW. The pavilions on either side were designed by Barnet around 1886. The extension facing Victoria Street was designed by the Government Architect’s Office and completed c. 1963. The central block was adapted from an 1823 design in Peter Nicholson’s ‘The New Practical Builder’.

Text from the Wikipedia website


Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Australian Aborigines in chains]' Nd


Unknown photographer
Untitled [Australian Aborigines in chains]
Albumen print


Dylan Voller


Aboriginal youth Dylan Voller, 17, shackled to a metal chair by his hands, feet and neck and wearing a spithood at Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in 2015


Unknown artist. 'Unknown Courthouse, Courthouses of New South Wales' c. 1870s


Unknown photographer
Unknown Courthouse, Courthouses of New South Wales
c. 1870-80s


Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Aboriginal man smoking a pipe]' Nd


Unknown photographer
Untitled [Aboriginal man smoking a pipe]


Unknown photographer. 'Untitled [Aboriginal making fire]' Nd


Unknown photographer
Untitled [Aboriginal making fire]


Anonymous photographer. 'Untitled [Aboriginal with spear]' Nd


Anonymous photographer
Untitled [Aboriginal with spear]


Edwards & Errington (Adelaide, South Australia) 'Studio portrait of 2597 Private (Pte) Frederick Prentice, 12th Battalion, and later 1st Australian Pioneer Battalion' (detail) c. 1914 - 1918


Edwards & Errington (Adelaide, South Australia)
Studio portrait of 2597 Private (Pte) Frederick Prentice, 12th Battalion, and later 1st Australian Pioneer Battalion (detail)
c. 1914 – 1918
Gelatin silver print on postcard



Northern Territory born WWI veteran Frederick Prentice, an Indigenous serviceman who won the Military Medal. On the verso of the photograph is an original message “Just a little card to remember the good times at Paratoo.” This postcard was sent to a friend, Gertrude Fitzgerald, who he knew at Paratoo, SA. Born in Powells Creek, Northern, NT, on 18 January 1894, Frederick Prentice was educated at Kyre College (later part of Scotch College), Adelaide, from 1905 to 1908. Following schooling, Prentice worked as a station hand and was employed at Manunda Station, South Australia at the time of his enlistment on 7 May 1915 in Keswick. Pte Prentice won a Military Medal for his actions on 19 July 1916 at Pozieres, France, where he showed great courage, resource and ability in bringing machine guns and ammunition through the enemy barrage in the dark and across broken ground. Frederick Prentice returned to Australia as a Corporal on 12 May 1919.

Text from the Australian War Memorial website


Anonymous photographer. 'Untitled [Aboriginal with scars]' Nd


Anonymous photographer
Untitled [Aboriginal with scars]


Kerry & Co., (Sydney) 'Aboriginal chief' c. 1900-1917


Kerry & Co., (Sydney)
Aboriginal chief
c. 1900-1917
13.7 × 8.5 cm (image and sheet)


Portrait of Aboriginal chief, Barron River, Queensland, with body paint and head decorations, in ceremonial dress.


Unknown photographer. 'Court House Orange N.S.W., Courthouses of New South Wales' c. 1870-80s


Unknown photographer
Court House Orange N.S.W., Courthouses of New South Wales
c. 1870-80s
Date built: 1883



“On a site where local Wiradjuri people are said to have once held corroborees stands the Orange court House. A slab and bark watch-house was erected in 1849 and used as a court house from 1851. Early church services and the first council meetings were held. A larger sandstone Court House was erected in 1860-62 by Kennard and Snow. Bushranger Ben Hall was tried here in the early 1860s. This building made way for the present Neo-classical building designed by James Barnet in 1883. A new wing was constructed a the rear of the site in 2001.” Orange Heritage Trail, a pamphlet produced by Ross Maroney in conjunction with the Orange City Council, the Orange Visitor Information Centre.

The current Orange Courthouse building was designed by the Colonial Government Architect James Barnet. Construction was completed in 1883. Previous buildings existed on the site, the first being erected in 1847, around the time of the town’s settlement, and operated as a Court of Petty Sessions, being the usual arrangements in those times. Orange was proclaimed a municipality in 1860, the first meeting being held in the Courthouse, located on the same site as today, but a different structure.

Text from the Willshub website 2 Jan 2015 [Online] Cited 20 November 2017


Anonymous photographer. 'Untitled [Aboriginal group]' Nd


Anonymous photographer
Untitled [Aboriginal group]


Anonymous photographer. 'Untitled [Aboriginal family group]' Nd


Anonymous photographer
Untitled [Aboriginal family group]


Alphonse Chargois (1860-1936) 'Daisy Belle, Jack Kinmont Moir and Rose-Marie, Delta Downs' Nd


Alphonse Chargois (1860-1936)
Daisy Belle, Jack Kinmont Moir and Rose-Marie, Delta Downs
14 x 10.5 cm




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Carte de visite: William Bardwell, photographer – Alfred William Howitt, William Barak and unidentified man

April 2016

Caution: Art Blart advises that the subject of this posting may include images and names of deceased people that may cause distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.



This carte de visit (top below) was offered for sale recently and went for a large sum of money. I have never seen this photograph before and, although I have searched for it on the National Library of Australia Trove website and online, I cannot find it anywhere. But I thought I recognised the figure in the middle of the photograph. Some research ensued…

Firstly, according to Alan Davis’ seminal 1985 book The mechanical eye in Australia: photography 1841-1900 William Bardwell, photographer, operated from 21 Collins Street East, Melbourne between 1880-88. So we can date this carte de visite accurately to between those years, although I feel the image would be closer to 1880 than 1888 due to the colour of Barak’s hair.

Secondly, I recognised the distinctive countenance and piercing stare of that inspirational Indigenous leader, William Barak (c. 1824 – 15 August 1903), in the centre of the image. We can see he is wearing a roughly hewn jacket with waistcoat, stripped shirt and zigzag patterned necktie. His presence dominates the photograph – central, frontal, tallest and flanked by two sitting people, all placed idyllically against a lush backdrop of trees and an Arcadian stone fence. “Those who knew Barak described him unanimously as wise and dignified, with penetrating eyes and firm principles.”

At the time this photograph was taken, Barak would have been anywhere between 56-64 years old, depending on the exact year it was taken. Barak would have been Ngurungaeta (elder) of the Wurundjeri-willam clan since 1875 and would lead his people living on the Coranderrk Station, near Healesville. But these were unsettling times with 60 people being evicted from the station in 1886 and the station loosing half its land in 1893. So much for the Aboriginal Protection Board, what a misnomer the title of that organisation turned out to be. As Barak famously said, “Me no leave it, Yarra, my country. There’s no mountains for me on the Murray.”

All of this was happening, including the taking of the photograph, when Barak was going through the most tremendous personal hardship as well. In 1882, his son David (see photograph by Fred Kruger below) fell ill from tuberculosis and arrangements were made to admit him to hospital in Melbourne. These were thwarted by Captain Page, secretary of the Aboriginal Protection Board, and Barak had to carry his sick child all the way from Coranderrk to Melbourne and the home of his supporter Anne Bon. David was admitted to hospital but died soon after, with his father not even allowed to be by his bedside. After David’s death there is a heavy sadness noticeable in Barak’s eyes (see the book First Australians by Rachel Perkins, Marcia Langton, p. 104).

I have much admiration for this man, for the hardships he personally endured and which his people went through, and continue to go through to this day.

And thirdly, the pith helmet was the give away to the identity of the person sitting at left in the photograph: Alfred William Howitt (1830-1908), explorer, natural scientist and pioneer authority on Aboriginal culture and social organization. As an explorer, Howitt led the relief exhibition to rescue Robert O’Hara Burke, William Wills, John King and Charley Gray, only to find only King alive and bring him back to Melbourne. He then returned a second time to Cooper’s Creek to repatriate the bodies of Burke and Wills.

In 1863 he began a distinguished career of thirty-eight years as a public official, twenty-six of them as magistrate. In 1889 he became acting secretary of mines and water supply and in 1895 commissioner of audit and a member of the Public Service Board. But his real passion was as an anthropologist, his work stretching through fours phases between 1861-1907 (see the full biography for details).

“On his expedition to the Barcoo Howitt had met members of the Yantruwanta, Dieri and other tribes while they were uninfluenced by Europeans. He learned, though inexpertly, something of their ecology, languages, beliefs and customs. The experience confirmed in him a dissociation between the Aboriginals as an object of scientific interest and as a challenge to social policy. Family letters show that he went to central Australia sharing the racial and social prejudices of the day. His attitudes softened later but nothing in his writings suggests that he ever agreed with the condemnation of Europeans for their treatment of native peoples expressed in his father’s polemical Colonization and Christianity (1838). Even in official roles – he was for a time a local guardian of Aboriginals in Gippsland and in 1877 sat on the royal commission which inquired into their whole situation – his attitude appears always to have been that of the dispassionate scientist. His view of their problems did not extend beyond charitable paternalism and segregated training in institutions. His dealings with Aboriginals were cordial and appreciative if somewhat calculated, and he had no difficulty in finding long-serving helpers among them in all his inquiries. But he saw them as a people doomed to extinction by an extraordinary primitivity, and this quality aroused his scientific interest…

“More appreciative eyes … now recognize that Howitt greatly widened the base, improved the methods and deepened the insights of a nascent science. He wrote in a careful, informed way on a wealth of empirical topics – boomerangs, canoes, name-giving, cannibalism, migrations, wizardry, songs, message-sticks, sign-language – but most valuably on the kinship structures and intergroup relations of social life.”1

This is a fascinating carte de visite for its cultural implications… and for what it leaves unsaid of the attitudes and history of the men pictured in this bucolic scene. William Barak was a man, a leader and an elder who kept the flame of his people and his culture alive. Who after all of his travails, turned to creativity and painting to record his culture for future generations. Culture and creativity in any language is a powerful healing force in what is an ongoing story of injustice and persecution. I would have very much liked to have meet this wise man.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

  1. W. E. H. Stanner. “Howitt, Alfred William (1830-1908),” on the Australian Dictionary of Biography website Volume 4, (MUP), 1972 [Online] Cited 09/04/2016.


William Bardwell. Untitled (Alfred William Howitt, William Barak and unidentified man)' Melbourne, 1880-1888


William Bardwell
Untitled (Alfred William Howitt, William Barak and unidentified man)
Melbourne, 1880-1888
Albumen photograph
Carte de visite


Talma & Co. 'Barak, Chief of the Yarra Yarra Tribe. [Barak drawing a corroboree]' c. 1895-98


Talma & Co. (1893-1932) 119 Swanston St. Melbourne
Barak, Chief of the Yarra Yarra Tribe [Barak drawing a corroboree]
c. 1895-98
gelatin silver photograph
13.3 x 8.5 cm., on mount 22.7 x 16.5 cm
Inscribed in ink on mount l.l.: From Mrs. A. Bon, / “Wappan”.
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

Barak working on a drawing attached to the wall of a vertical slab hut. There is a wooden picket fence at the right hand side.



William Barak (c. 1824 – 1903) and Coranderrk

William Barak (or Beruk), was the last traditional ngurungaeta (elder) of the Wurundjeri-willam clan, first inhabitants of present-day Melbourne, Australia. He became an influential spokesman for Aboriginal social justice and an important informant on Wurundjeri cultural lore.

Barak was born in the early 1820s at Brushy Creek near present-day Croydon, in the country of the Wurundjeri people… Barak attended the government’s Yarra Mission School from 1837 to 1839. When he joined the Native Mounted Police in 1844, he was given the name of William Barak. He was Police Trooper No.19. In early 1863, Barak moved to Coranderrk Station, near Healesville, Victoria with about thirty others… Upon the death of Simon Wonga in 1875, Barak became the Ngurungaeta of the clan. He worked tirelessly for his people and was a successful negotiator on their behalf. He was a highly respected man and leader, with standing amongst the Indigenous people and the European settlers.

Coranderrk Station

Coranderrk Station ran successfully for many years as an Aboriginal enterprise, selling wheat, hops and crafts on the burgeoning Melbourne market. Produce from the farm won first prize at the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1881; and other awards in previous years, such as 1872. By 1874, the Aboriginal Protection Board (APB) was looking for ways to undermine Coranderrk by moving people away due to their successful farming practices. Neighbouring farmers also wanted the mission closed as the land was now deemed ‘too valuable’ for Aboriginal people to occupy. Photographer Fred Kruger was commissioned to document the site and its inhabitants.

Coranderrk Petition

In the 1870s and ’80s, Coranderrk residents sent deputations to the Victorian colonial government protesting their lack of rights and the threatened closure of the reserve. A Royal Commission in 1877 and a Parliamentary Inquiry in 1881 on the Aboriginal ‘problem’ led to the Aborigines Protection Act 1886, which required ‘half-castes under the age of 35’ to leave the reserve.

Activist William Barak and others sent a petition on behalf of the Aboriginal people of Coranderrk to the Victorian Government in 1886, which reads: “Could we get our freedom to go away Shearing and Harvesting and to come home when we wish and also to go for the good of our Health when we need it … We should be free like the White Population there is only few Blacks now rem[a]ining in Victoria, we are all dying away now and we Blacks of Aboriginal Blood, wish to have now freedom for all our life time … Why does the Board seek in these latter days more stronger authority over us Aborigines than it has yet been?”

As a result of the Aborigines Protection Act of 1886, around 60 residents were ejected from Coranderrk on the eve of the 1890s Depression. Their forced departure crippled Coranderrk as an enterprise, with only around 15 able-bodied men left to work the hitherto successful hop gardens. Almost half the land was reclaimed by government in 1893, and by 1924 orders came for its closure as an Aboriginal Station, despite protests from Wurundjeri returned servicemen who had fought in World War I.

Barak is now best remembered for his artworks, which show both traditional Indigenous life and encounters with Europeans. Most of Barak’s drawings were completed at Coranderrk during the 1880s and 1890s. They are now highly prized and exhibited in leading public galleries in Australia. His work is on permanent display in the National Gallery of Victoria Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square, Melbourne.”

Text from the “William Barak” and “Coranderrk” Wikipedia web pages.


Fred Kruger. 'David Barak at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station' c.1876


Fred Kruger
David Barak at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station
Museum Victoria



“This small, carte de visite sized photograph says more to me than most of the other photographs in the exhibition put together. It is almost as though the photographer had a personal attachment and connection to the subject. This poignant (in light of following events) dark, brown-hued photograph shows the son of elder and leader William Barak about the age of 9 years old in 1876. In 1882, David fell ill from tuberculosis and arrangements were made to admit him to hospital in Melbourne. These were thwarted by Captain Page, secretary of the Aboriginal Protection Board, and Barak had to carry his sick child all the way from Coranderrk to Melbourne and the home of his supporter Anne Bon. David was admitted to hospital but died soon after, with his father not even allowed to be by his bedside. After David’s death there is a heavy sadness noticeable in Barak’s eyes (see the book First Australians by Rachel Perkins, Marcia Langton, p. 104).

Unlike other photographs of family groups taken at Coranderrk, Kruger places David front on to the camera in the lower 2/3 rds of the picture plane on his own, framed by the symmetry of the steps and door behind. David glasps his hands in a tight embrace in front of him (nervously?), his bare feet touching the earth, his earth. The only true highlight in the photograph is a white neckerchief tied around his throat. There is an almost halo-like radiance around his head, probably caused by holding back (dodging) during the printing process. Small, timid but strong, in too short trousers and darker jacket, this one image – of a child, a human being, standing on the earth that was his earth before invasion – has more intimacy than any other image Kruger ever took, even as he tried to engender a sense of intimacy with the environment.”

Dr Marcus Bunyan. Review of “‘Fred Kruger: Intimate Landscapes” at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne” on the Art Blart website 01/07/2012 [Online] Cited 08/04/2016.


Fred Kruger. 'Aboriginal cricketers at Coranderrk' c.1877


Fred Kruger (born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888)
Aboriginal cricketers at Coranderrk
albumen silver photograph
13.3 x 18.6 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl M. Curl, 1979


Unknown photographer. '[A group of Aboriginal men at Coranderrk Station, Healesville]' Nd


Unknown photographer
[A group of Aboriginal men at Coranderrk Station, Healesville]
Nd [perhaps c. 1895-1900 looking at the age of Barak]
Silver gelatin photograph
15.6 x 20.1 cm
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

Studio portrait of sixteen Aboriginal men, five standing, five seated on chairs, the rest on the ground, all except two full face, wearing European dress. William Barak back row 2nd left. Information provided by Aunty Joy Murphy, Wurundjeri Senior Elder confirming that Barak is correctly identified. Preferred title supplied by the Aboriginal Liaison Officer, Museum of Victoria.


William Barak (Yarra Yarra chief, 1824-1903) 'Aboriginal ceremony' c. 1880 - c. 1890


William Barak (Yarra Yarra chief, 1824-1903)
Aboriginal ceremony
c. 1880 – c. 1890
Brown ochre and charcoal on cardboard
73.2 x 55.5 cm
Collection of the State Library of Victoria


William Barak (Yarra Yarra chief, 1824-1903) 'Aboriginal ceremony, with wallaby and emu' c. 1880 - c. 1890


William Barak (Yarra Yarra chief, 1824-1903)
Aboriginal ceremony, with wallaby and emu
c. 1880 – c. 1890
Brown ochre and charcoal on cardboard
73.0 x 56.0 cm
Collection of the State Library of Victoria



Alfred William Howitt (1830-1908)

“Alfred William Howitt (1830-1908), explorer, natural scientist and pioneer authority on Aboriginal culture and social organization, was born on 17 April 1830 at Nottingham, England, the oldest surviving son of William Howitt and his wife Mary, née Botham. He was educated in England, Heidelberg and University College School, London. In 1852, under the press of family needs, he went with his father and brother Charlton to Melbourne where they had been preceded in 1840 by William’s youngest brother Godfrey. A reunion was one purpose of the visit but William and his sons also intended to try their fortunes on the new goldfields. They did so with modest success at intervals in the next two years. The experience turned the course of Alfred’s life. He learned to live with confidence in the bush, and its natural phenomena, so strange and as yet so little studied, stimulated his mind to their scientific study. In 1854 his father and brother returned to England but Howitt elected to remain, thoroughly at home in the Australian scene.

Young and handsome, of short and wiry build and notably calm and self-possessed, he fulfilled his mother’s prophecy that ‘someday Alfred will be a backwoodsman’. For a time he farmed his uncle’s land at Caulfield but, unattracted by the life, turned again to the bush and as a drover on the route from the Murray to Melbourne made the passing acquaintance of Lorimer Fison. An experienced bushman and ardent naturalist, Howitt was sent in 1859 by a Melbourne syndicate to examine the pastoral potential of the Lake Eyre region on which Peter Warburton had reported rosily. He led a party with skill and speed from Adelaide through the Flinders Ranges into the Davenport Range country but found it desolated by drought and returned to warn his sponsors. His ability as a bushman and resourceful leader came to public notice when, after briefly managing a sheep station at Hamilton and prospecting in Gippsland, he took a government party through unexplored alpine country to gold strikes on the Crooked, Dargo and Wentworth Rivers. He was an obvious choice as leader when in 1861 the exploration committee of the Royal Society of Victoria decided to send an expedition to relieve or, as the worst fears sensed, to rescue Robert O’Hara Burke, William Wills, John King and Charley Gray. Howitt’s discharge of this assignment was exemplary. Without blunder or loss he twice led large parties on the long journey to Cooper’s Creek. He soon found King, the only survivor, and took him to a public welcome in Melbourne but avoided the limelight for himself. Then, at request, he returned to bring the remains of Burke and Wills to the capital for interment. On the second expedition he had explored a large tract of the Barcoo country.

For his services Howitt was appointed police magistrate and warden of the Omeo goldfields, and in 1863 began a distinguished career of thirty-eight years as a public official, twenty-six of them as magistrate. In 1889 he became acting secretary of mines and water supply and in 1895 commissioner of audit and a member of the Public Service Board. He retired in January 1902 on a pension but served on the royal commission which in 1903 examined sites for the seat of government of the Commonwealth, and was chairman of the royal commission on the Victorian coal industry in 1905-06.

Such a career would have sufficed an ordinary man but Howitt attained greater things within it. Physical and intellectual fatigue seemed unknown to him. ‘What are they?’ he asked drily at 75 when Fison inquired if he never felt the infirmities of old age. In his long magistracy he travelled enormous distances annually (in one year, it was said, 7000 miles [11,265 km]) on horseback throughout Victoria. He read while in the saddle and studied the natural scene with such assiduous care that from 1873 onward he began to contribute to official reports, scientific journals and learned societies papers of primary value on the Gippsland rocks. He pioneered the use in Australia of thin-section petrology and chemical analysis of rocks. His fundamental contribution was his discovery and exploration of the Upper Devonian series north of Bairnsdale. He also made important studies of the Lower Devonian volcanics in East Gippsland and compiled magnificent geological maps of the area. In botany his Eucalypts of Gippsland (1889) became a standard authority and he collected hundreds of varieties of ferns, grasses, acacias and flowering plants. But his greatest eminence came from his work in anthropology, which was his main interest and relaxation after 1872…

Read the full biography by W. E. H. Stanner. “Howitt, Alfred William (1830-1908),” on the Australian Dictionary of Biography website Volume 4, (MUP), 1972 [Online] Cited 09/04/2016.


Batchelder & O'Neill. 'Alfred William Howitt' c. 1863


Batchelder & O’Neill
Alfred William Howitt
c. 1863
Albumen silver carte-de-visite
9.0 x 5.2 cm
Collection of the State Library of Victoria

Howitt full length in the photographers’ studio, leaning on a button-backed chair, wearing a three-piece winter suit, with a watch-chain and holding a pair of gloves in his right hand.


Batchelder & O'Neill. 'Alfred William Howitt' Nd


Batchelder & O’Neill
Alfred William Howitt
Albumen silver carte-de-visite
on mount 10.7 x 6.5 cm approx.
Collection of the State Library of Victoria




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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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