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The exhibition

The exhibition

Warning: This exhibition and website contain some images of nudity and people in distressing circumstances. Visitors should also be aware that the exhibition and website include names and images of deceased people that may cause sadness or distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.


A Different Time: The Expedition Photographs of Herbert Basedow 1903–1928

One of the Museum's contributions to 2008's Vivid photography festival is A Different Time: The Expedition Photographs of Herbert Basedow 1903–1928. A Different Time is an exhibition that showcases one of the Museum's little-known treasures — photographs taken by Dr Herbert Basedow mostly in central and northern Australia between, as the title suggests, 1903 and 1928.

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Elderly Aboriginal man sitting in front of a hut, Northern Territory, August 1920. The hut is decked with porcupine grass and stands about the same height as an adult. It has a domed form with a simple opening providing access. The man sits on the ground in the opening. He has his left leg folded under him and his right leg bent so that his right knee is at chin height. He has long hair and a full beard. His body is very thin and gaunt. the ground directly in front of the opening is bare. In the foreground are rocks and stones. A large bundle of porcupine grass sits on the ground to the right of the hut opening. In the right background can be seen another hut. The horizon can be seen in the left background. The landscape around the huts is flat and featureless.
Hut decked with porcupine grass, Eastern Arrernte people, Arltunga district, Northern Territory, August 1920. Photo: Herbert Basedow. Reproduced from glass plate negative.

Basedow always took a camera with him on his numerous trips into what were then remote areas of Australia. On about half of his trips he used more than one camera and on expeditions in 1916, 1920 and 1922 he used three. On the trips in 1903 and 1926, Basedow had two cameras and both took film negatives. On other expeditions where he had two or more cameras, one camera took glass negatives and the other camera/s took film negatives.

His photographic collection begins with the 1903 Government North-West Prospecting Expedition into the far north-west of South Australia and the Northern Territory. On this expedition he took two Kodak cameras, one that took square negatives and the other was a panorama camera.

Aboriginal children in a rock pool, Sunday Island, Western Australia, 1916. The six children are on and around a partially submerged mangrove stump. Two of the children stand out of the water on the stump. The rest are visible from about their waists up. The water is rippling in concentric circles around the children. In the background is part of the rock pool bank. It is a rocky slope with large flat weathered sections. Bushes grow in places along the slope. A larger and more dense patch of bush can be seen at the right side of the image. The reflections of the children and bank on the water are broken up by the rippled surface.
Children resting on a mangrove stump while bathing, Sunday
Island, Western Australia, May 1916. Photo: Herbert Basedow. Reproduced from film negative.

Basedow's next expedition, in 1905, investigated the geology of the coastline between Port Essington and the mouth of the Victoria River, and from Darwin south to Katherine, with South Australia's Government Geologist, HYL Brown.

Unfortunately, the Museum only has a few photographs from this expedition. Basedow was later based in Darwin for a short period in 1911, when he took a small number of photographs.

Between 1905 and 1907 Basedow made a number of short visits to the Flinders Ranges, again undertaking geological investigations. On the first he came across Aboriginal rock engravings which he continued to document on subsequent trips.

Between April 1907 and July 1910 Basedow undertook postgraduate studies in Europe. After returning, he continued investigating rock engravings in the Flinders Ranges and in 1914 published his findings. This was one of many articles, as well as two books, that Basedow published on Aboriginal cultures between 1904 and 1935. He also published articles on geology and zoology.

A group of men standing in front of two cars, 1923. The eight non-Aboriginal men all wear trousers, jackets, shirts, shoes, and hats. They stand in front of three 1920s open-wheeled cars. One man leans against the front of the middle car. Another stands at the side of that car, his left hand on its steering wheel and his left leg up on its running board. The man at the far left in the image sits on the front left tyre of the left side vehicle. He has his right leg drawn up on the car's suspension and rests his right elbow on the car's radiator. The ground around the men and cars is bare, with the exception of scattered small rocks. The horizon can be seen at the far right of the image; the rest of it is obscured by the men and cars.
Members of the 1923 vice-regal expedition to central Australia: (from left) Herbert Basedow, Captain Hambleton, Murray Aunger, Sir Tom Bridges (Governor of South Australia), WA Webb, Sir Henry Barwell (Premier of South Australia), Thomas McCallum and NG Bell. Taken by an unknown photographer using Basedow's camera at an unknown place. Reproduced from glass plate negative.

Basedow undertook further expeditions in search of mineral deposits; to the Kimberley in 1916 and the Victoria River district in 1922. His other major expeditions were to report on the health of South Australia's Aboriginal people in the state's settled districts and the south of the Northern Territory in 1919 and 1920, a vice-regal trip to central Australia in 1923, and two trips funded by wealthy grazier Donald Mackay into central Australia in 1926 and Arnhem Land in 1928.

Two non-Aboriginal men standing at the entrance to Wangalinnya Caves, Napier Range, Western Australia 1916. The cave entrance is made up of fantastic rock formations rising from the ground and hanging from the entrance roof. The formations hang in frond-like formations or appear to grow from the ground. The two men stand to the far right of the image.
Mr Sherwin and Gilbert St John Sanders at the entrance to Wangalinnya Caves, Napier Ranges, Western Australia, 1916. Photo: Herbert Basedow.
Reproduced from film negative.

A Different Time examines all of these trips through Basedow's photographs and some of the objects he collected. The exhibition also considers the technology of Basedow's photography and his work as a scientist, and provides an insight into the man himself.