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A symposium revisiting a landmark international venture – the 1948 American–Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land – and exploring the vast collections with an emphasis on Indigenous perspectives.

Book launch: Exploring the Legacy of the 1948 Arnhem Land Expedition

Launch of Exploring the Legacy of the 1948 Arnhem Land Expedition, co-edited by Martin Thomas and Margo Neale, which extends on the papers presented at the Barks, Birds and Billabongs symposium held in November 2009.
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Presenters: Anne McGrath, Shane Mortimer, Margo Neale, Andrew Sayers, Mandy Thomas and Martin Thomas

The forgotten collection: Baskets reveal histories

Louise Hamby examines the dispersed collection of fibre objects collected by the 1948 expedition, as well as the process and politics of their collection.

Yolngu ways of knowing Country: Insights from the 1948 Expedition to Arnhem Land

Whereas the 1948 expedition presented vast collections of plant and animal life classified according to Linnaean taxonomy, Ad Borsboom explores how the Yolngu organise and present knowledge through mythological Dreaming stories.

Forget the barks! Bring on the string figures! The String Figures of Yirrkala: Activating a legacy

Robyn McKenzie examines Fred McCarthy’s celebrated collection of Yirrkala string figures as artefacts of cross-cultural exchange, looking at problems of definition, description, interpretation and analysis.

From Fish Creek to the Mann River: Hunter-gatherer transformations in western Arnhem Land, 1948–2008

Jon Altman describes transformations in the customary economy of Aboriginal people in Western Arnhem Land over 60 years – a comparative analysis made possible because of research undertaken by Frederick McCarthy and Margaret McArthur in 1948.

The forbidden gaze: The 1948 Wubarr ceremony performed for the American–Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land

Murray Garde considers the Wubarr ceremony performed in 1948 and examines the tangled cross-cultural politics of non-Aboriginal involvement in secret Aboriginal religious ceremonies in Western Arnhem Land.

Missing the revolution! Negotiating disclosure on the Pre-Macassans (Bayini) in North-East Arnhem Land

Ian McIntosh examines how Yolngu people negotiated disclosure and concealment in relation to Bayini bark paintings. What did they tell Charles Mountford about it and why? What did they tell other anthropologists and how is that issue significant?

Closing remarks

Closing remarks from the Barks, Birds and Billabongs symposium.

The ‘exciting thing was the landscape’: Raymond Specht, a botanist in the field

Lynne McCarthy explores the work of Raymond Louis Specht, expedition botanist, and considers his botanical collection as both a process and a product.

Launch of Collecting Cultures, a book about the 1948 expedition

Museum Director Craddock Morton introduces, contextualises and launches the book by Sally K May, Collecting Cultures: Myth, Politics and Collaboration in the 1948 Arnhem Land Expedition.

Making a sea change: Rock art, archaeology and the enduring legacy of McCarthy’s research on Groote Eylandt

Anne Clarke and Ursula Frederick revisit Frederick McCarthy’s research in relation to their own more recent analyses of rock art sites on Groote Eylandt, using sites that were not recorded in 1948, and focusing on cross-cultural interaction.
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Presenters: Anne Clarke and Ursula Frederick

Hidden for 60 years: The motion picture films of the American–Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land

Josh Harris describes the rediscovery in the National Geographic Society’s archives of 12,000 feet of film shot by Howell Walker during the 1948 expedition, and the in-depth steps that were taken to preserve and bring the footage back to life.
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Presenters: Josh Harris (paper read by Mark Jenkins)

Birds on the wire: Colin Simpson and the emergence of the radio documentary feature

Tony MacGregor examines the 1948 ABC radio feature about the 1948 expedition, both as a remarkable contemporary account and as a media object of an emerging form: the radio documentary feature.

Collecting Australia at the Smithsonian: 150 years and still going

Adrienne Kaeppler, Curator of Oceanic Ethnology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, provides an overview of the museum’s Australian collections, focusing on the Arnhem Land collection which comprises more than 400 artefacts.

Appraising the legacy of the Arnhem Land Expedition: An insider’s perspective

Raymond Louis Specht, botanist on the 1948 expedition, reflects on the influence of the expedition and discusses his botanical investigations.

Beneath the billabongs: The scientific legacy of Robert Rush Miller

Robert Rush Miller was one of the youngest members of the 1948 American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land. Miller’s son, Gifford Miller, and son-in-law, Robert Cashner, provide insight into his life and work.
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Presenters: Robert Cashner and Gifford Miller

The responsibilities of leadership: The records of Charles P Mountford

Suzy Russell describes the Mountford–Sheard collection at the State Library of South Australia, shares insights recorded by Bessie Mountford in a journal she kept during the expedition, and considers some expedition controversies.

‘Bastard barks’: A gift from the 1948 Arnhem Land expedition

Margo Neale explores Charles Mountford’s collection of works on paper, locating them as a useful starting point for reassessing Mountford’s reputation as a collector of Aboriginal art and stories.

Fossicking memories

Expedition botanist Raymond Louis Specht is interviewed by Martin Thomas.
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Presenters: Raymond Louis Specht and Martin Thomas

‘A Robinson Crusoe in Arnhem Land …’: Howell Walker, National Geographic, and the 1948 Arnhem Land Expedition

Mark Jenkins explores the role played by the 1948 expedition’s primary American sponsor, National Geographic, and its intrepid representative, Howell Walker.

The Smithsonian’s participation in the Arnhem Land Expedition

Paul Taylor offers some historical context for the Smithsonian Institution’s participation in the 1948 expedition, especially in light of prior Smithsonian partnerships, involvements, and sponsorships of domestic and international scientific expeditions.
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Presenters: Paul Taylor (paper read by Martin Thomas)

Locating the expedition politically: 1948 American–Australian Relations

Kim Beazley situates the 1948 expedition in the context of postwar international relations.

Unpacking the testimony of Gerald Blitner: An Indigenous perspective on the Arnhem Land Expedition

Gerald Blitner served as a guide and translator for the 1948 expedition. Here, Martin Thomas explores his oral testimony alongside archival evidence, including observations recorded by the expedition party, to unpack their intercultural exchanges.

A history of the 1948 expedition

Sally K May provides a historical overview of the 1948 expedition, its planning and execution.

Inside Mountford’s tent: paint, politics and paperwork

Charles Mountford lacked formal credentials as an anthropologist or scientist, yet he led the largest and most complex scientific expedition to remote Australia. Philip Jones explores Mountford’s contribution and the controversy around his leadership.

Terra incognito no more – reflecting on change

At the time of this ‘last great expedition’, many plants, animals, aspects of human culture were unknown to science. Robyn Williams launches the symposium Barks, Birds and Billabongs with a broad-ranging talk on science since 1948.
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Presenters: Robyn Williams
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