Philip Batty

Senior Curator - Anthropology (Central Australia)

Phillip Batty
Phillip Batty
Source: Phillip Batty

Dr Philip Batty works with the communities, material culture and history of Central Australian Aboriginal people to develop the museum’s Central Australian Collection through research and community consultation.


Dr Philip Batty first become interested Aboriginal culture in 1977 when he left Sydney for a teaching post at the remote Aboriginal community of Papunya in Central Australia. During his three years at Papunya he developed a close working relationship with the now famous Papunya Tula artists and travelled extensively through their traditional lands. Dr Batty first came to Museum Victoria in 1998 as an Exhibition Producer, and was appointed curator in the Indigenous Cultures Department in 2003.

During his time in Central Australia, Dr Batty co-founded the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA).  He worked as a Director of CAAMA, helping to establish both the first Aboriginal radio station and the first Aboriginal satellite television service in Australia.  Philip created a training program for indigenous film and television producers (including Warwick Thornton, Director of Samson & Delilah and Rachel Perkins, Director of Bran Nue Dae). 

In 1991 Philip became Director of the National Aboriginal Cultural Institute (Tandanya) in Adelaide, overseeing numerous exhibitions and performances. 

Dr Batty’s wide range of professional interests includes:  Aboriginal political organisation; cultural theory; intercultural history; Aboriginal media and communications; history of anthropology; Aboriginal art and material culture.

Dr Batty has produced several television documentaries (broadcast on the ABC, SBS, and the UK’s Channel 4) and has contributed to various published anthologies and journals.  He has also edited three books and curated several exhibitions.

Dr Batty has received a number of awards for his work including:
• Churchill Fellowship (1984)
• Northern Territory History Award (1992)
• UNESCO (Canada) McLuhan-Teleglobe Award (1994)
• Australian Postgraduate Research Award (1995)
• Two AIATSIS Research Grants (1995-96)
• Australian Screen Directors Association's Cecil Homes Award (1997)
• Broadcasting Association of Australia's Michael Law Award (2000)

Current activities

Spencer and Gillen

An Australian Research Council funded project entitled 'Reconstructing the Spencer and Gillen Collection: Museums, Indigenous Perspectives and the Production of Cultural Knowledge'. Working in partnership with the Australian National University, this project aims to digitise the entire collection of the anthropologists, Baldwin Spencer and Francis Gillen and make it accessible on-line. While working in Central Australia between 1894 and 1926, Spencer and Gillen amassed perhaps the most influential collection of Australian ethnographic material ever assembled. The collection includes over 2000 glass plate photographs; 5000 objects, 50,000 pages of expedition diaries, correspondence and journals as well as some of the earliest ethnographic film and sound recordings. Spencer and Gillen’s  work had a decisive influence on the early development of anthropology, particularly in Europe. Just as importantly, it provides an invaluable cultural archive for the descendants of the Aboriginal people with whom Spencer and Gillen worked in Central Australia more than one hundred years ago. The project will be completed by the end of 2012.


A large scale exhibition entitled, Origins: Old Masters of the Western Desert. The exhibition is a joint project between Museum Victoria and the National Gallery of Victoria. The exhibition will feature the first paintings produced by the Papunya Tula artists. These seminal works - created in 1971/2 - sparked the development of the Western Desert Art movement, now internationally recognised as one of the most important events in Australian art history. The exhibition will include up to 250 paintings selected from leading institutions and private collections both in Australia and overseas. It will also feature material culture objects from Museum Victoria’s Indigenous Cultures collections; decorated artefacts and body ornaments, a ground painting and select photographs depicting traditional body art. The exhibition will open at NGV's Federation Square gallery in September 2011.


Other projects include two books with the working titles, Rites of Passage: Spencer and Gillen in Central Australia and Tangled Lives: An Intercultural History of the Western Desert.

Last updated 31 August 2010