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DISPLAYING POSTS TAGGED: arrernte (3)

Launch of Spencer and Gillen website

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
8 May 2013
Comments
Comments (1)

The Spencer & Gillen: A Journey through Aboriginal Australia website was launched last Friday at a celebration at Melbourne Museum. In attendance were MV staff, representatives from several partner institutions, Central Arrernte Elders, and descendants of the two ethnographers, Walter Baldwin Spencer and Frank Gillen.

Screenshot of spencerandgillen.net Screenshot of the newly-launched website, spencerandgillen.net.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

People at launch of Spencer and Gillen Descendants of Sir Baldwin Spencer with MV curator Dr Phillip Batty and three visiting Central Arrernte Elders.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Central Arrernte Elders performing The spencerandgillen.net launch included speeches by project partners and collaborators, and a performance by three Central Arrernte Elders. L-R: Martin McMillan Kemarre, Ken Tilmouth Penangke and Duncan Lynch Peltharre.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The website has been several years in the making and brings together over 50,000 objects, photographs, documents, recordings and drawings that are housed in institutions in Australia, Europe and the United States. Research coordinator Jason Gibson calls it "one of the most comprehensive collections to do with a group of Aboriginal people. Certainly there’s nothing else like it on the web. It covers life on the frontier in Central Australia between 1875 and 1912."

Among the treasures are rare and wonderful audiovisual recordings, including the earliest film footage taken on mainland Australia. "Most of this material isn’t available on the web anywhere else, so we had to digitise and compile it at the same time," explains Jason. With a new mapping function and many ways to sort and filter the collection, you can now access these vital ethnographic records in ways never before possible, which is particularly important for members of Arrernte communities. "We spoke to over 80 different individuals from five different language groups, mainly in Alice Springs and Tennant Creek and overwhelmingly everyone is really excited and proud to have their heritage on display for all to see."

Men watching film The Central Arrernte Elders watching the footage on spencerandgillen.net of the 1901 Unintha corroboree at Charlotte Waters. This is the earliest film footage shot on mainland Australia.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria
 

 

View the Unintha corroborree footage on spencerandgillen.net

Spencer and Gillen worked in Central Australia for 30 years. "Although they have been criticised by many people for their social evolutionist attitudes, this collection demonstrates the collaboration with local people," explains Jay. "Gillen’s very close relationship with Arrernte people was unusual at the time and they were among the first non-Indigenous people to grapple with the concept of the Dreaming. 'Dream time' was a Gillen interpretation of the Arrernte word Altyerr and this interpretation became important internationally in terms of thinking about religion and society."

The website is the product of a collaborative project that was funded by the Australian Research Council and led by the Australian National University. It would not have been possible without the partner organisations especially the South Australian Museum, Northern Territory Library, and the Pitt Rivers Museum.

Links:

spencerandgillen.net

Media News: Putting Spencer and Gillen back together

MV Blog: Following the travelling Tjitjingalla

MV Blog: Rare scene of first European contact

Following the travelling Tjitjingalla

Author
by Jason Gibson
Publish date
9 September 2011
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Comments (4)

Jason Gibson is a Senior Research Coordinator with the Australian National University and the Indigenous Cultures Department at Museum Victoria.

In 1894 Walter Edmund Roth heard about a performance, called the 'Molong-go' that had been shared by the Wakaya people from the upper reaches of the Georgina River in the Northern Territory with the Pitta Pitta people in outback Queensland. As an ethnographer, Roth was fascinated to hear that the dance had 'originated from a point east or south-east of Darwin'; some hundreds of kilometres from the Queensland desert country where he was stationed. Two years later in 1898 Alice Springs Special Magistrate F.J. Gillen wrote to his friend and collaborator in anthropological studies, the then Professor of Biology at the University of Melbourne Walter Baldwin Spencer, explaining that a corroboree almost identical to the one seen by Roth had appeared in Alice Springs. Gillen explained to Spencer that the dance, known as the Tjitjingalla altharte (corroboree) to the local Arrernte people, had been 'brought down' into the region by a 'northern group'.

Tjitjingalla Corroboree performed in Alice Springs, 1901 Tjitjingalla Corroboree performed in Alice Springs, 1901. The picture depicts one of the dance sequences of the Tjitjingalla as performed by Arrernte people at Alice Springs.
Image: Sir Walter Baldwin Spencer
Source: Museum Victoria
 

After attending the performance, which extended over five nights, Gillen reported that the repertoire had indeed originated 1500kms north, in the 'country of the Salt water' and that 'the implements carried by the performers' were 'in all cases the same as described by Roth'. Three years later, during the Spencer and Gillen Expedition of 1901 Spencer collected two of the dancing sticks used in the performance.

Two Tjitjingalla dancing sticks Two Tjitjingalla dancing sticks wrapped in human hair string. These dancing sticks were used in one of the dance sequences of the altharte or what Spencer called an ‘ordinary corroboree’.
Image: Justine Philip
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Tjitjingalla dancing stick detail Detail of a Tjitjingalla dancing stick.
Image: Justine Phillip
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Earlier in the expedition, whilst camped by the Stevenson Creek in the remote north of South Australia, Spencer and Gillen were visited a small group of Lower Arrernte men. Gillen writes, 'we gave them a good feed and after tea rigged the phonograph up and got them to sing into it a number of corroboree songs' and Spencer also noted that the men 'were very much excited and interested, especially as we let them hear the instrument repeating what they had said.' It was here, almost by accident, that one of the Tjitjingalla song verses was recorded. A few weeks later when the expedition reached Alice Springs Spencer spent considerable time photographing and filming the altharte using his Warwick motion film camera. The sound and film recordings made of the Tjitjingalla are some of the earliest ever made on the Australian continent.

Listen to Baldwin Spencer's introduction to the recording, courtesy of the Gillen Collection, Royal Geographic Society of South Australia  (Length 0:29)  
(Download MP3)

"This corroboree, the Tjitjingalla corroboree, was first described by Dr. Roth in north central Queensland. Subsequently was performed by the natives of central Australia [unknown] the Arrernte tribe at Alice Springs. This corroboree was sung on the Stevenson River on March 22nd, 1901."

The peregrination of the Tjitjingalla/Molongo, which was subsequently documented at various locations in South Australia, the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland, later became important to theories regarding the exchange of ideas, songs, dances and mythologies amongst the Australian Indigenous population.

More stories like this are being uncovered in a joint research project between the Australian National University, Museum Victoria and the South Australian Museum. The Reconstructing the Spencer and Gillen Collection Project will produce an online database of the W.B. Spencer and F.J. Gillen collaboration, including objects they collected, their photographs, manuscripts, diaries, correspondence and other material held in over 20 institutions, both in Australia and overseas.

Strehlow’s egg

Author
by Craig Robertson
Publish date
26 August 2011
Comments
Comments (5)
Craig is a Melbourne writer with an interest in natural history. He has been a museum volunteer in Birds and Mammals for several years.

Amongst the greatest treasures of the museum are its bird egg collections; their delicate beauty is outstanding. A number of the collections were made privately before the practice was ended by government in the 1950s, one the best of them by Norman J. Favaloro. He was a solicitor in Mildura and a leading field ornithologist. He published many papers on his work and was appointed an Honorary Associate in the Ornithology Department in the then National Museum of Victoria. His position enabled him to continue collecting, and towards the end of his life he presented his collection to the museum, complete with detailed documentation. It is one of the largest collections with 1500 clutches nestled in boxes neatly aligned within finely crafted glass-topped drawers in a cedar cabinet, one of the most beautiful in the bird room.

Favaloro's cabinet Favaloro's cabinet.
Image: Craig Robertson
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Amongst the thousands of specimens I find one particular treasure that draws my eye. Set marks were used by collectors to identify clutches. On this one is pencilled: "C.A. Red-tail Cockatoo, 17.5.1919, C.S." The Red-tailed Black Cockatoo, Calyptorhynchus banksii (once known as Banks' Cockatoo for Joseph Banks) is one of the most magnificent of the cockatoo family. It is under threat in parts of Australia, especially Victoria, but central Australia is one of its strongholds, where it is associated with rain in Indigenous culture.

  Calyptorhynchus banksii macrorhynchus Mounted specimen of Calyptorhynchus banksii macrorhynchus, one of five sub-species of the Red-tailed Black Cockatoo.
Image: Jon Augier
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Like most collectors Favaloro swapped items with others to build his collection. In this case he has acquired an egg originally collected by one "C.S.". The data slip states: "Chas. Strehlow. Egg rested on wood dust in a hollow spout of a Red Gum at height of 20 feet up. Bird seen leaving nest." In 1919 Strehlow, a tall, strong man was 47 years old. But without doubt the egg would have been collected by an Aboriginal companion.

Strehlow's egg Strehlow's egg.
Image: Craig Robertson
Source: Museum Victoria
 

'Charles' was the Reverend Carl Strehlow, a German missionary who ran the Lutheran mission at Hermannsburg from 1894 until his death in 1922. He was also an ethnologist, and has been a rather forgotten figure in the broader discipline of anthropology in Australia. Strehlow's mission was among the central Australian tribes, in particular the Arrernte (or 'Aranda' to use his own spelling). They were the same people studied by Walter Baldwin Spencer, a long serving (1899 to 1928) and perhaps the most famous of Museum Victoria's former directors, and his colleague Frank Gillen.

Strehlow published the results of his ethnological fieldwork in German only, in a series of tomes from 1907 to 1920. They were a major resource for such luminaries of the time as Emile Durkheim, Sigmund Freud and Bronislaw Malinowski. But continental schools of thought were rejected by British-oriented social anthropologists who saw themselves as supporters of Darwinian science.

In the early years of the 20th century there was much controversy over the nature and origin of  religion among tribal peoples. Strehlow became embroiled in it. His reputation suffered from a clash with Spencer. Then World War I came. He was shocked by the outbreak of anti-German sentiment. Alhough a naturalized citizen, he found himself obliged to register as an enemy alien. By the time he collected the egg near the mission in 1919, he was hardly even a footnote in the literature of Australian anthropology.

Spencer continued on his illustrious and productive career until his death at Tierra Del Fuego in 1929. Strehlow's fate was not just obscurity, but a painful end. Just three years after collecting the egg, in October 1922 the strains of his work and life in general brought on an attack of the condition then known as dropsy, a massive swelling of the body due to accumulation of fluid. Strehlow needed hospitalisation urgently. His body was so bloated he could only travel strapped in a chair perched in the back of the old horse-drawn mission cart.

He left the mission for the last time with an Arrernte choir singing a hymn derived from J. S. Bach. As he was taken down the dry bed of the Finke River every bump on the track caused pain in his body, every thought the torments of Job. His family and their Arrernte friends were trying to get him to Oodnadatta and the train down to Adelaide. But when they reached Horseshoe Bend he died. The episode is recounted by his son Ted Strehlow in a great memoir, Journey to Horseshoe Bend. The story has what may be thought of as an operatic tragedy about it, and indeed a cantata of the same name was written by the Australian composer Andrew Schultz with the librettist Gordon Kalton Williams, and performed at the Sydney Opera House in 2003.

It is a rich and fascinating part of Australia's history, all there in one little egg in that beautiful Favaloro cabinet.

Links:

Spencer and Gillen Project

Ornithology Collection

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