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Historic collection arrives home

21 May 2021

Hundreds of photos taken by renowned anthropologist Frank Gillen around the turn of the twentieth century will be delivered to their new home in Alice Springs this week.

Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said the Government of South Australia has agreed to repatriate a collection of 278 photographs taken by Gillen during a year-long trek through Northern Australia with then-National Museum of Victoria Director Walter Baldwin Spencer.

“In 1901, Baldwin Spencer and Gillen began an expedition from Oodnadatta to Borroloola that would see them travel through Charlotte Waters, Alice Springs, Barrow Creek and Tenant Creek,” Attorney-General said.

“They kept journals, and took numerous photographs along the way while studying local Aboriginal communities.

“Many of the photos taken depicted secret or sacred subject matter, which has been identified through extensive research undertaken by State Records SA.

“Following discussions with the Aboriginal communities that had been involved in Gillen’s work, the Government has agreed to repatriate the State Records collection to the Museum of Central Australia in Alice Springs, where it will be housed with the Strehlow collection.”

Attorney-General Chapman said the repatriation would enable greatly improved access to the collection from those Aboriginal communities depicted in the photos.

“This has been a significant piece of work for both the communities involved and State Records, and I’m pleased we have been able to reach a point where these historically important photos will be housed in a location that is considerably more convenient for those communities,” she said.

The photos will be handed over at a ceremony on Friday morning at the Museum of Central Australia.