More objects to celebrate The Centre’s past



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.


  1. A book to have and read: The native tribes of Central Australia by Baldwin G. Spencer.

  2. It is quite fitting that this extremely valuable photographic record has been placed in the Strehlow Research Centre.
    There are many significant tribal photographs in this collection. The breakdown of tribal traditions had been going on in the Territory from the beginning of European occupation.
    As part of that process we have the appearance of Aboriginal children of mixed descent. After the passing of the 1911 ordinance these children were forcibly taken from their mothers and placed at “The Bungalow” in Alice Springs and Kahlin Compound in Darwin.
    The unbelievable trauma inflicted on these children and their mothers as a result of this removal has been acknowledged in the “Bringing Them Home” report of 1997. However, the findings of this report are not enough to properly acknowledge what happened at “The Bungalow” from 1915 to 1963.
    As I have already advocated a detailed, definitive history of “The Bungalow” needs to be written up by a group of professional historians with the project being financed by the Federal government. This is a process of further fully acknowledging such a very disturbing chapter in Australia’s history.

  3. @ John P McD Smith: The Bungalow ceased to be used as an institution for “half-caste” children in 1942, not 1963.
    Control of the former Alice Springs Telegraph Station was then transferred to the Native Affairs Branch of the NT Administration, and the place was initially used for accommodation for Aboriginal people employed by the Army during the war.
    The Bungalow (as it remained known) continued in use as a settlement for Aboriginal people until 1960 when the entire population was transferred to the new government showcase community of Amoonguna; however, the Native Affairs Branch continued to use the old telegraph station for storage purposes until final control was transferred to the NT Parks and Reserves Board by 1963.
    The Minister for Territories, Paul Hasluck, made it explicitly clear on the occasion of the official opening of Amoonguna in early October 1960 that the Bungalow site would be reserved as a historical park for Alice Springs.
    My mother, incidentally, was offered a position as a kindergarten teacher in the final years of the Aboriginal settlement at the Bungalow but opted to be a governess on a South Australian pastoral property; however, she came to Alice Springs in 1961 as the first preschool teacher at Amoonguna and has remained here ever since that time.

  4. Alex Nelson informs us that the Bungalow eased to be used as an institution for “half-caste” children in 1942.
    Are there any survivors from that time still alive and able to tell their stories?
    Seems to me that it is too late to get reliable, first hand accounts to inform a history of The Bungalow.

  5. I’d love to see those pictures and wonderful stories of our history. Anyone know of a time when they will be available? Such an amazing and brave group of people.


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