By ERWIN CHLANDA
The second consignment in a week of Aboriginal objects that are permitted to be seen, for the time being, by only a very small number of elders, arrived in Alice Springs yesterday.
But their secrecy and enduring importance is adding to their allure and serve as a powerful demonstration of the town’s traditional past.
Yesterday’s delivery of 280 photographs by Francis James Gillen (pictured), taken during an expedition from Oodnadatta to the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1901 and 1902, was made by the Deputy Premier and Attorney General of South Australia, Vickie Chapman.
She was clearly surprised about the small crowd witnessing an occasion enhancing the town’s attraction to tourists, in addition to much else.
Acknowledging the handful of VIPs Ms Chapman said: “Mayor Damien Ryan … is Damien here? No? I note that. (Laughter.) Anyway, he is presumably doing some [inaudible] council business.”
Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Chansey Paech gave the event a passionate note, saying the photographs and cultural objects repatriated this week from the UK and South Australia are “historical gems. They are our heritage.
“Returning historical and cultural material to where they belong is fundamental to strengthening Aboriginal communities and culture.
“People can learn from them. They can see them, be amazed by the richness of Aboriginal culture. [They are of] vital importance to understanding our history and are an extremely valuable account of Aboriginal people as they began to merge into the world created by those who colonised the lands.”
However, those items being seen by the public is still well in the future, and subject to their examination by senior elders.
Only two sets of prints were ever made of the negatives and lantern slides by Gillen who was travelling with Sir Walter Baldwin Spencer.
Until this week both sets were in the hands of the SA Government who bought them in 2011.
One of the sets will now be stored in the Strehlow Research Centre in Alice Springs.
No further prints will ever be made.
“Contextual information” to determine which of the images are secret or sacred began with traditional owners “in the late 20th century” according to the catalogue produced.
The route of Gillen and Baldwin Spencer was: Oodnadatta, Charlotte Waters, Alice Springs, Barrow Creek, Tennant Creek, Powell Creek and Borroloola.