NMA collection record

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Lantern slide - Man scraping boomerang with a sharp stone flake, Luritja people, central Australia, photographed by Herbert Basedow, 1920

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Man scraping a boomerang with a sharp stone flake, 1920

Description

This is a photograph by Herbert Basedow of a man sitting in the entrance to a shelter, scraping a boomerang. He is painted across his face, chest, shoulders and upper arms, and is wearing a bundle of feathers tied into his hair.

Educational value

This Luritja man's paint, and the feathers in his hair, might indicate that he has taken part in a ceremony. The feathers are most likely from a black cockatoo, but could also be from a hawk.

He is seen here smoothing down a boomerang with a stone flake. This would be the final stage of manufacture apart from adding grooved lines on one side (characteristic of boomerangs in this area) and applying red ochre mixed with animal fat, which worked as a preservative. To make this form of boomerang a piece of hardwood would have been removed from a tree, quite likely mulga, with a hand-held stone chopper. This may be used to roughly shape the 'blank' which could be further shaped by a chisel, a stone blade set in a wooden handle or the end of a spearthrower. The final smoothing then takes place.

The above account describes the manufacture as it would have occurred in pre-contact times. By the time Basedow visited this area, in 1920, people had had access to metal tools for a considerable time. While this man almost certainly would have been knowledgeable about stone implements, he most likely used metal tools to make tools. Accordingly, Basedow probably asked this man to pose as if using the stone flake.

The digital copy of this photograph was made from a lantern slide. In the early twentieth century, if you wanted to project a photograph onto a large screen, you would use a lantern slide. Creating a lantern slide involved transferring an image onto glass. To protect the emulsion (which contains the image), a second piece of glass was taped to the first.

The reason this image was produced from a lantern slide rather than a negative is because the National Museum of Australia does not hold the original negative. The Museum's Basedow photograph collection comprises negatives and lantern slides, but there is not always a negative for the image.

Herbert Basedow was a doctor, anthropologist and explorer. From 1903 to 1928 he ventured to remote regions of central and northern Australia - places rarely seen by Australians even today. Aboriginal people often feature in his photographs. Basedow wanted to document Aboriginal cultures as they had been before British colonisation, and often went to some lengths to craft his photographs to appear as such.

This photograph was taken during Basedow's third medical relief expedition in central Australia.

© Education Services Australia Limited and the National Museum of Australia 2010

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