Posts Tagged ‘Fred Kruger Aboriginal cricketers at Coranderrk

12
Apr
16

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…

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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.

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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.

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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

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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
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  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.

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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
c.1876
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
c.1877
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
Nd
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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01
Jul
12

Review: ‘Fred Kruger: Intimate Landscapes’ at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 4th February – 8th July 2012

Please note: This posting may contain the names or images of people who are now deceased.  Some Indigenous communities may be distressed by seeing the name, or image of a community member who has passed away.

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
Winter scene, Lake Wendouree, from Botanic Gardens, Ballarat
c.1866-88
albumen silver photograph
13.3 x 20.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl M. Curl, 1979

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
View on the Moorabool River, Batesford
c.1879
albumen silver photograph
18.4 x 27.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl Curl, 1979

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
Bush scene near Highton
c.1879
albumen silver photograph
18.4 x 27.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl Curl, 1979

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“Kruger’s sweeping view shows his sophisticated understanding of how an image can be constructed to encourage viewing. He positions people strategically throughout the photograph and at a slight remove so that they are part of, rather than dominant figure in, an intricate visual imaging of the populated landscape. Kruger was also careful to articulate each element clearly, and this clarity greatly appealed to nineteenth-century tastes…

The expectation in the 1870s and, to a lesser degree, today is that the documentary nature of most early photographs makes them ‘transparent’ in meaning. However, this is invariably not the case. Kruger’s photographs are complex constructions embedded as much in the political and social circumstances in which he lived as formed by his own creative talents and imaginative attitudes towards his adopted homeland. It is this combination of rich context, strong sense of time and place, and distinctive creative expression that makes Kruger’s work so notable in the history of Australian photography, and which gives his photographs the potential to engage with us more than 130 years later.”

Dr Isobel Crombie. Fred Kruger: Intimate Landscape, Photographs 1860s – 1880s. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2012, pp.122-125.

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Fred Kruger: Intimate Landscapes is an interesting large-scale exhibition of the work of the one of Victoria’s leading early photographers. Accompanied by an erudite and well researched catalogue by Dr Isobel Crombie, Senior Curator, Photography, the exhibition and book provide the viewer with one of  their first chances to interrogate German-migrant Kruger’s pictorial style, images that  form an integral part of the National Gallery of Victoria’s nineteenth-century Australian collection.

Arriving in 1854 with his family from Berlin, Kruger changed profession from an upholsterer to a photographer in the mid-1860s, his work then widely ranging from picturesque views of Victoria (especially around his home town of Geelong) to portraits of properties both public and private and images that deal with topical events. Dr Crombie argues that it is his relationship with the landscape that shapes his creative vision, the origins of which are based on his childhood growing up in industrialised Berlin. “Kruger’s images offer a historical perspective on how European settlers altered the environment through farming and other developments, and also how they began to appreciate the picturesque qualities of the bush. Kruger’s images of the Aboriginal settlement of Corranderrk are a fascinating cased study in how photography was used to articulate and mythologise colonial race relations,” observes Dr Crombie. Above all, she continues, ” …the range of Kruger’s photographs of Victoria tell a creative story of place: a distinct and intimate study of a region by a photographer whose command of the medium has a unique quality… Through his orchestration of people within the landscape, his images draw us into a particular experience of the landscape in specific, even self-conscious ways.” (Fred Kruger: Intimate Landscape, Photographs 1860s – 1880s, p.3)

The importance of Kruger’s visual actuity (his clearness of vision) and his place in the pantheon of Australian colonial photography are things that can be called into question. Personally I think that he has a lazy eye; the word that comes to mind when looking at most of his photographs is: banal. Claims made for his picturesque renditions of landscape – some of which remind me of Peter Henry Emerson’s Arcadian photographs of the Norfolk Broads (see Winter scene, Lake Wendouree, from Botanic Gardens, Ballarat, c.1866-88, top) – and excursionists as “complex constructions embedded as much in the political and social circumstances in which he lived” require a contemporary structural exegesis. When looking at the photographs without such theorising his images are mostly basic, straight forward photographs with few perceptive camera angles and which display an emotional and observational distance from the place being imaged. I felt most of the photographs lacked a unique insight into the essence of the land. Perhaps this emanates from an emotional detachment from, and lack of a relationship to, the land; a felt, emotional response to place. Certainly I did not get the feeling of an intimate relationship with the landscape.

There are exceptions to the rule of course: the best of the landscape photographs have nothing to do with Arcadian, pastoral life at all. For me Kruger’s photographs only start to come alive when he is photographing gum trees against the sky. Anyone who has tried to photograph the Australian bush knows how difficult it is to evince a “feeling” for the bush and Kruger achieves this magnificently in a series of photographs of gum trees in semi-cleared land, such as Bush scene near Highton (c.1879, above). These open ‘parklike’ landscapes are not sublime nor do they picture the spread of colonisation but isolate the gum trees against the sky. They rely on the thing itself to speak to the viewer, not a constructed posturing or placement of figures to achieve a sterile mise-en-scène. A view of the You Yangs, from Lara Plains (c.1882, below) is a stunning photograph, locating the viewer in the expansionist world of late 19th century society. The ownership of the land is not displayed by the presence of people but by the occupation of the landscape – the fenced off domestic garden space delineated from the pastures beyond with their flock of sheep, buildings and water tower leading the eye to the distant vista of the You Yangs, all “taken” from the porch of the large homestead of the land owner. A beautiful, darkly-hued photograph of dis/possession, ownership and occupancy.

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Fred Kruger
David Barak at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station
c.1876
Museum Victoria

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Kruger’s most powerful and evocative photographs are, perversely, photographs of the people en situ at the Aboriginal settlement at Coranderrk near Healesville, Victoria. “Coranderrk was an Indigenous Australian mission station set up in 1863 to provide land under the policy of concentration, for Aboriginal people who had been dispossessed by the arrival of Europeans to the state of Victoria 30 years prior” (Wikipedia) which became victim of its own success (in growing hops) and institutional and social racism. “By 1874 the Aboriginal Protection Board (APB) were looking at ways to undermine Coranderrk by moving people away due to their successful farming practices. The general community also wanted the mission closed as the land was too valuable for Aboriginal people.” (Wikipedia)

Kruger was commissioned by the government to take photographs of Coranderrk to support an inquiry into the operation of the station (but secretly to support its dismantling). It is ironic that Kruger’s photographs, his only portraits of human beings in the exhibition, the thing he least liked photographing, have become his most memorable work and only through payment being made. Kruger photographs ‘real natives’ (“full-blood” Aboriginals) standing by their mia-mias (bark homes), their lived experience excised in favour of a traditional pre-contact re-creation. He then contrasts them with the European dressed natives at Coranderrk. These photographs, representing the “civilising” of the residents at Coranderrk, also suggest people’s survival strategies – and how this approach involved a loss of traditional culture. His static portrayals of life at the station and family groups (due to the long time exposures required by the film) deny the animated energy of the lived experiences of these strong people.

The photograph Aboriginal men in canoe, Coranderrk Aboriginal Station (c.1883, below) is an example of this pre-contact re-creation. This dark print, the darkest (in terms of tonality) in the exhibition shows two Aboriginal men in a traditional canoe wrapped in possum skin cloaks. The sad, wrapped Aboriginal men (especially the man on the right) with the threatening, effusive bush behind lead to the original inhabitants of this land almost disappearing into the landscape, being occluded and swallowed up by the bush and by history (don’t forget at this time the Aboriginal people were thought to be on the point of extinction). A disturbing photograph.

The ABSOLUTE reason why you must see this exhibition is just one photograph, David Barak at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station (c.1876, above). 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.

While claims will be made about the importance of Kruger’s photographs of the Australian landscape and their sense of ease in this environment, a relational concept predicated on security and familiarity, his photographs remain deeply detached from the reality of lived experience. To my eyes they are documents of their time that rarely rise above basic reportage despite claims of the importance of placing people within the environment and the unique vision of the photographer. A sense of travel, one of the most important aspects of Kruger’s work as he journeyed around Victoria, is also absent in this exhibition, mainly because of the thematic nature of the sections of the exhibition and the hang. Sections such as buildings, places, homesteads, Coranderrk, for example, leave little sense of the adventure of travel and the integration of all of these things into a holistic whole. Perhaps a more inclusive hang would have disavowed this disjuncture and given a greater sense of the excitement of travel in colonial Victoria, the exploration of newly colonised spaces. Only in the section on Coranderrk do I believe that we actually get a feeling for the enigmatic Kruger and his personal connection to other human beings and the land to which he migrated. The wonderful catalogue, a select group of beautiful photographs, the section on life at the Aboriginal settlement at Coranderrk and the small, intimate photograph of David Barak are the main reasons to travel this path in the 21st century. The last is especially poignant, moving and illuminating. Well done to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing us to see these rare photographs.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
A view of the You Yangs, from Lara Plains
c.1882
albumen silver photograph
18.4 x 27.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl Curl, 1979

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
Aboriginal cricketers at Coranderrk
c.1877
albumen silver photograph
13.3 x 18.6 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl M. Curl, 1979

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
Aboriginal men in canoe, Coranderrk Aboriginal Station
c.1883
albumen silver photograph
19.9 x 27.1 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl M. Curl, 1979

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On 4 February the National Gallery of Victoria will open Fred Kruger: Intimate Landscapes, the first comprehensive survey of Fred Kruger’s (1831-88) photographs ever to be mounted. Fred Kruger was one of the leading landscape photographers of the 19th century in Australia, working extensively throughout Victoria. Kruger migrated from Germany in 1860 and a few years later opened a photographic studio in Carlton, Melbourne before moving his thriving practice to Geelong.

Fred Kruger: Intimate Landscapes features over 100 works drawn predominantly from the NGV Collection and incorporates loans from Museum Victoria, the State Library of Victoria and private collections. Many of the photographs in this exhibition depict iconic locations that will be familiar to Victorians, providing visitors with a glimpse back more than 130 years to scenes at the You Yangs, the Esplanade at Queenscliff and Point Lonsdale among others. This compelling exhibition also showcases Kruger’s highly distinctive command of photographic language, providing a fascinating insight into the political and social life of Victoria in the 1800s. Kruger’s photographs show how European settlers altered the environment through farming and other developments while also depicting their growing appreciation of the picturesque qualities of the bush. The contrast between Kruger’s heavily industrialised home city of Berlin and the spaciousness of his adopted home country intrigued him as he pictured the Victorian landscape as an environment of prosperity, productivity and ease.

Isobel Crombie, Senior Curator, Photography said:  “Kruger’s photographs draw us into an intimate experience of the landscape and are achieved through his orchestration of people within natural environments.”

Frances Lindsay, Deputy Director, NGV said: “Kruger’s photographs are complex constructions embedded as much in the political and social circumstances in which he lived, as they are formed by his own creative talents and imaginative attitudes towards the land that he had made his home.”

Kruger made the most of the photographic opportunities presented to him. From the late 1860s he drove a horse and cart around Victoria taking both scenic views and private commissions. His most political commission was to record life at the Aboriginal settlement of Coranderrk Station at the request of the Board for the Protection of Aborigines.

Working at a time of rebellion at the station, Kruger’s images highlighted colonial race relations and still have importance today. These photographs were also widely circulated at the time, being reproduced in illustrated newspapers, included in international exhibitions and sold as part of albums. It is this combination of rich context, strong sense of time and place and distinctive creative expression that makes Kruger’s work so notable in the history of Australian photography.

This exhibition is accompanied by a major publication comprehensively exploring Fred Kruger’s career. 
This exhibition may contain the names or images of people who are now deceased.  Some Indigenous communities may be distressed by seeing the name, or image of a community member who has passed away.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Victoria website

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
View on Barwon River, Queen’s Park, Geelong
c.1880
albumen silver photograph
18.4 x 27.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl Curl, 1979

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
Steamboat jetty and bathing houses, from Esplanade, Queenscliff
c.1878-82
albumen silver photograph
18.4 x 27.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl M. Curl, 1979

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
Coast scene, Mordialloc Creek, near Cheltenham
c.1871
albumen silver photograph
18.4 x 27.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl M. Curl, 1979

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Fred Kruger
born Germany 1831, arrived Australia 1860, died 1888
Wreck of the ship George Roper, Point Lonsdale
1883
albumen silver photograph
18.4 x 27.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Beryl M. Curl, 1979

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The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
10am – 5pm
Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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