State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 85 May 2010


Maxine Briggs, Jane Lydon and Madeleine Say
Collaborating: photographs of Koories in the State Library of Victoria

IT IS DIFFICULT to overstate the importance of historical photos to Aboriginal descendant communities: such images frequently represent otherwise unknown ancestors and relatives, often lost as a result of official processes, as well as information about places, history and relationships unavailable from other sources. Most significantly, rather than seeing the subjects of photographic portraits as simply a representation, as in the Western visual tradition, some Aboriginal people consider that they embody the spirit or essence of the person shown – in Koori Liaison Officer Maxine Briggs' words, 'they are in fact the actual person caught in a frozen moment'. These factors ensure that such photographs are now a valuable part of Aboriginal heritage.
In the aftermath of colonialism, one of the major steps toward reconciliation has been acknowledgement of its effects and concrete attempts at restitution. The State Library of Victoria was established in 1854 with a charter to provide access to information to all the public, but developments over recent decades have underlined its responsibilities to Indigenous communities. For example, the introduction of technology to create and display digital copies of library images has been of great benefit in making library materials more easily accessible. However, digitization has also highlighted the need to engage expertise from the Aboriginal community to ensure that moral and intellectual property obligations are met. The Library acknowledges that ethically the descendants of the images' subjects have a strong claim to access to the photographs and control over their display. This claim is grounded in the often exploitative circumstances of their production, within a colonial context over which the Aboriginal subjects had little control, as well as in their important role in constituting Indigenous identity in the present. Today, descendants make creative and dynamic use of the historical archive, using the information captured by white photographers in teaching, reconstructing traditional cultural practices, and building identities. As Maxine Briggs details below, the Library is currently building upon existing programs and relationships with descendant communities, developing appropriate cultural protocols within a research framework, and linking institutional priorities and processes with the needs of Indigenous descendant communities.
In some respects, this practice parallels the 'repatriation' of historical artefacts and human remains held in museum collections, a process in which Australian institutions have been world leaders.1 However, in the context of colonial photographs, the term
'repatriation' has been challenged by some archivists, librarians and historians pointing out that the photographs were originally created by white photographers, who held copyright under Australian law. To avoid confusion, in this article we adopt the term 'collaborating' to refer to the process of making such material available to descendant communities, working together with them to collate information about the images, developing guidelines for their use, and involving communities in exhibition development and record management.
Another important shift has been in the interpretation of visual material from a traditional art historical framework toward exploring photography's role within colonialism and culture. Currently, the Library is working with researchers from Monash University's Centre for Australian Indigenous Studies to review photographs of Aboriginal people in its collection, aiming to collaborate with descendants to incorporate Indigenous perspectives. Historical research will take an ethnographic approach that examines the role of the images in everyday lives, and traces photographs as cultural documents through circuits of production, exchange and consumption. Archival research in the Library's collection will provide new information that will improve and expand institutional records, as well as forming the basis of a social history of photographing Indigenous people in the colony of Victoria. Indigenous views will inform analysis of the images at the same time that the historical context provided by the overarching research project will enhance the value of the images to descendants and strengthen relations between archives and communities.2
In this article we begin by reviewing the historical production of photographs of Koories (Victorian Aboriginal people), and especially the Library's important role in collecting information about Indigenous people and culture from the colony's first decades. We then explore the transformation in settler-Indigenous relations over the last 150 years that has produced a fundamental shift in how such images are viewed, including ways that Koories themselves have regarded and re-valued historical photographs. We also examine the development of new cultural protocols for use of the Library's pictorial archives, and review recent initiatives to represent Victoria's Indigenous people in more inclusive ways. Specifically, Madeleine Say wrote the first section, reviewing the history and scope of the Picture Collection's holdings; Jane Lydon wrote the second section, tracing changing views of the photographic archive; and as Koori Liaison Officer, Maxine Briggs wrote section three, regarding new initiatives. This collaboration brings together our three very different perspectives and in some ways can be seen as a dialogue as we explore the complex factors that have shaped the archive and determine how these images are viewed today.

II. The State Library of Victoria and photographs of Indigenous people: historical background

As historians of Australian photography have noted, Aboriginal people and culture were an enduring source of interest from the earliest days of photography in Australia.3 The history of both photography and the colony of Victoria are interlinked. They were developed at approximately the same time in the 1840s and photography was a witness to the white settlement of Victoria after its formal separation from New South Wales in 1851.
The State Library of Victoria was founded in 1854 by a number of visionary colonists including Charles Joseph La Trobe, Victoria's first Lieutenant-Governor, and Sir Redmond Barry, an avid collector and patron of the arts who laid the foundation of the great collection now held by the Library. Barry was quick to recognize the educational value of photography to record and create history, and sought material for the collection through purchase, donation and commission. Barry was involved in many societies and organisations in the colony.4 Among his great interests were the Intercolonial Exhibitions of the 1850s and 60s, and the first photographs of Victorian Aboriginal people to enter the Library collection were produced for display at the 1866 Exhibition. The exhibitions displayed locally-produced items, art works and framed photographs showing the progress of the colony on many levels. Included in the Victorian Court at the 1866 Intercolonial Exhibition in Melbourne and the 1867 Paris Universal Exhibition, was a photographic display commissioned from photographer Charles Walter, titled Portraits of Aboriginal natives settled at Coranderrk, near Healesville, about 42 miles from Melbourne. Upper Yarra. Also views of the Station and Lubras Basket-Making.5
This large framed photographic composite is almost one metre by one and a half metres. Inside the frame, 104 oval portraits of the men, women and children resident at Coranderrk mission are arranged in a grid with the names of the sitters inscribed below each one. Following a pseudo-scientific racial taxonomy derived from his botanical collection practices, Walter arranged these portraits, according to their bloodline, from 'pure blooded' Elders, to 'half caste' children, graphically predicting the extinction of the race. This work is an extraordinary artifact of the nineteenth century: it constitutes both a valuable photographic record of the residents of Coranderrk in the 1860s, and a document of how their lives were interpreted by white colonisers.6
From this beginning, the Library's photographic collection has grown to a conservatively estimated 300,000 items, providing an historical snapshot of the development of photography. The collection includes all types of printed photographic
mediums, photographic slides, and both glass and film negatives. Images of Aboriginal people can be found in all parts of the collection. A quick survey by Maxine Briggs, when she began working as the Koori Liaison Officer in 2008, identified over 120 photographers, or collectors, whose work included images of Aboriginal people. In the following sections, the nature of the Picture Collection is outlined, a brief overview of both nineteenth and twentieth century images is given, and the challenges in caring for images of Aboriginal people discussed.

The Library's Pictures Collection

The section of the Library's vast collections now known as the Pictures Collection is of somewhat artificial construct. All types of images, including photographs and published images are found in other parts of the Library collection, most notably within the Australian Manuscript Collection. However, this discussion will be confined to the photographic material formalized as a 'Picture Library' when the Australiana Collection was developed within the Library in the 1950s. The overall aim of the Pictures Collection is to document in images the social history of Victoria. It is built from works created for sale on the open market, from the archives of commercial photographers or businesses, or as photographs created by private individuals for their own purposes. The Library does not usually collect the photographs made by people in Government employment, that is, as Government records. Such individual photographs and collections are the responsibility of the Public Record Office Victoria.7
Photography democratised the recording of social history.8 The Victorians were the first generation to be familiar with their own photographic portraits, and public events were often recorded for history. Photography remains celebratory in nature, most often recording major events in people's lives. But the mass reproduction and circulation of the photograph today means we are now accustomed to seeing many aspects of ordinary life documented.

Nineteenth century commercial photographs

Pioneer nineteenth century commercial photographers such as Antoine Fauchery, Richard Daintree, Fredrick Kruger, J. W. Lindt and Nicholas Caire all included images of Aboriginal people in the photographs they mass produced for sale. Their works show a range of different styles, from the more naturalistic plein air photographs of the Yarra Valley and Franklinford people by Fauchery and Daintree, to the staged studio tableaux of Kruger and Lindt. It is now easy to be critical of these studio images where the photographers directed Aboriginal people to pose with artificial rustic backgrounds and stage props, or later asked them to dress in 'traditional dress' or stage mock battles for the camera.9 These subjects, however, were in demand by the contemporary market, and indeed nineteenth century photographs with Aboriginal people remain 'highly collectable' and still command a premium price in the commercial market.
Evidence of these photographers' desire to protect their commercial rights is found in a unique archive of commercial images held by the Library, now known as the Victorian Patents Office Copyright Collection. This collection provides a topical record of images circulating for sale, or images for which photographers sought copyright protection. From 1860, photographers wishing to copyright their images in Victoria applied for a patent and deposited a copy of the images with the Copyright Board. These copies were pasted into ledgers, and an index giving the applicant's name and time of registration was compiled. This collection was deposited with the Library in 1908, after responsibility for copyright protection passed to the Commonwealth Government. The accompanying registers, now held at the National Archives in Canberra, provide details on the date and creator or licensee who was planning to sell the photographs.
Photographs were, of course, often pirated, especially after the 1880s when printing processes allowed mass printing, and images were often produced as postcards and souvenirs. The Library collection exemplifies the uses, and misuses, of these images. For example, multiple copies of a well known scene – a Nicholas Caire image of a Cobb and Co. coach loaded up with Aboriginal passengers at Coranderrk – has appeared on a range of postcards and other popular media, marking the fascination it held for viewers.10
The expensive and cumbersome nature of early photographic equipment made photography difficult for amateurs. The best known series of photographs of Victorian Aboriginal people by a 'gentleman' photographer in the Library collection are the photographs taken of Taungerong people of the Loddon area by John Hunter Kerr.
Kerr was a young Scot, part of the wave of emigration to Port Phillip in the 1840s, more interested in the ideas and scientific developments of his time than farming. From 1850 he was photographing the world around him, including the Aboriginal people he had displaced as a squatter. These are among the earliest photographs of Victorian Aboriginal people.11
The Library is not the only custodian of these nineteenth century photographs. Other copies are held in public and private collections throughout Australia and overseas. The images have been reproduced in many publications, and there is a considerable body of literature relating to them. They form the basis for art created from images in the Library collection, as discussed below. The interest in these images creates a demand which must be managed by the Library. To protect the fragile originals, the Library has moved to digitizing the original photographs and displaying these facsimiles via the online catalogue. It is Library policy to present material as it is, as a historical document of its time. This can be difficult when material was originally printed, or annotated, with what are now judged to be socially unacceptable sentiments.
Until 2004, the Library was able to enlist the support of staff of the Melbourne Museum, and the Koorie Heritage Trust, for help in administering this collection. The
two institutions were both situated at the Swanston Street site established in 1854. The Library relied on the Museum staff's knowledge and connections to the Aboriginal community for advice on preferred titles for photographs, and for strategies on providing access to culturally sensitive material. In 1997 the Museum began the move to its current location in the Carlton Gardens, and the Koorie Heritage Trust, after some years at the State Library of Victoria, become an autonomous body. These moves highlighted the pressing need for the Library to employ its own Koori Liaison Officer, a position which was filled by Maxine Briggs in 2008.

Personal photography in the nineteenth century

The earliest forms of photography, the daguerreotype and later the ambrotype, produced expensive, unique images. The best known daguerreotypes of Victorian Aboriginal people are those produced by Douglas Kilburn during the 1850s, comprising a portrait series of people from the Kulin nation.12 No images by Kilburn are currently held by the Library. The only example of this early photographic form with an Aboriginal subject is an ambrotype. It shows an Aboriginal man with a head of dark hair, and a full beard, dressed in European clothing, seated front on to the camera. The photograph is beautifully hand-tinted, but the identity of the sitter, and the reason the photograph was created, are now unknown to us. The photograph has been in the Library collection since the 1930s, but currently nothing is known of its original provenance.
The development of the collodion print made production of multiple copies of photographs possible. As mentioned previously, commercial photographers made use of this technology to produce copies of their photographs for sale. But it was their use of a small format print, known as the carte de visite, which created a mass market for photography and thus the development of domestic collections.
In the carte format, a small photograph is pasted onto a stiff card the same size as a visiting card, and generally printed on the reverse with the photographer's name and address. Cartes are rarely collected by art institutions that focus on collecting artistic photography. Cartes fall outside this photographic construct; as they were mass produced, often of pedestrian subjects and with poor quality photography.
In contrast, the Library collection includes many thousands of the carte style of photograph, and of the later, slightly larger format, the Cabinet Card. For librarians, the practice of printing the photographers name and address on the card gives us vital information on the date and place of the photograph's creation. The images themselves are an important document of social history.
Numerous photographs of Aboriginal people are held throughout the collection in this format. The cards were produced to sell, so the collection provides a survey of the interests, both wholesome and prurient, of the times. Images created for the domestic
market show the community at Lake Tyres and its surroundings, mock battles, and studio portraits of Aboriginal 'Kings' and 'Queens'.
Many of the images depict now unidentified people who paid the studios to have their portrait taken, and then bought one or many copies to give as mementos or swap with friends and family. This mass produced inexpensive portraiture provides a photographic record of the Victorian population, as they chose to be represented.
Many commentators have noted that photographs of Aboriginal people in the nineteenth century were taken for exploitative purposes, or under coercion. The Library collection provides an alternative to this view. For example, a photograph on the card of Alfred Bock's studio in Sale shows an Aboriginal man, sitting in half profile for his portrait. The young man's confident bearing and engaged attitude suggests that he has chosen to take part in the act of having his portrait taken, and thus participate in a social ritual of the times.
An important part of library process is to provide access to material, initially through a catalogue record, and increasingly through digitization of the material. For pictorial material the catalogue provides a written version of the item. In this, librarians strive to be purely descriptive, to use neutral language and not extrapolating beyond the data provided. This is problematic with some Indigenous material, such as the photograph described above where it is a judgment call on the subject being an Aboriginal man, and if they would wish to be identified as such. In situations like these the Library increasingly seeks the opinion of the Aboriginal community, through the Koori Liaison Officer.

Twentieth century photography

Photography after 1900 differs from earlier photography in two major aspects. Put simply, technological improvements allowed the mass media – of newspapers and magazines – to reprint directly from photographic formats, giving rise to the practice of 'photo journalism'. Photographers were aided by the use of smaller and more portable photographic equipment, leading to more naturalistic photographs. The development of smaller cameras, such as the pocket Kodak, and use of film negatives, allowed photography to be used by non-professionals, and many people documented their own lives. Both these developments have made photographic images ubiquitous. Photographs from both these sources, the professional and the amateur, are collected by the Library.
Photographic archives created for media publication have been donated to the Library when no longer required by their original owners. The Fairfax and Murdoch press have donated extensive collections of photographic prints used in media production. Other collections include the negatives from the Le Dawn studio, operated by Bob Beale in northern Victoria from 1960 to 1980, and some work by the
photographers whose stories were published in Walkabout Magazine during the 1950s.
These collections contain many images of Aboriginal people in Australian public life, including activists, performers, sportspeople and beauty queens. The photographs were created for the mass media, and generally people remember being photographed, or seeing their own image in print at some time. They may not have expected the images to end up in the archives of a public institution, but my experience is that people are generally pleased to discover the material has been preserved.

Unknown Argus photographer

Aboriginal men from Lake Tyers wait outside the Quarter Master's Store for 2nd A.I.F. uniforms, c.1940 Silver gelatin photograph, Picture Collection, H99.201/284
For example, in 2008 when, in my capacity as Picture Librarian at the State Library, I was visiting the Koorathunkalong Keeping Place in Bairnsdale I noticed a newspaper clipping on display. It showed a group of men from Lake Tyers enlisting in the Army in 1940.13 Now fifty years old, it was a treasured souvenir, kept for many years by one of the families of those photographed. I recognized the photograph immediately, as the Library holds a print in the Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs.14
The Library has an active program to catalogue and digitize this material as copyright expires. The intention is to make the material available, but never to cause distress to the people photographed or to their families. These collections are widely used by authors, historians and academics, and also by the people featured in the photographs and their communities. Conversely, requests to suppress the display of images are followed up as soon as they are brought to our attention.
In contrast to these collections, many of the other twentieth century photographs in the Picture Collection were created by non-professional photographers for their own purposes. These collections are important documents of social history. Examples of contemporary collections which include photographs of Indigenous people are those taken by Ian Morrissey during the 1950s and by Viva Gibb from the 1980s and 1990s. Both photographers came into contact with the Indigenous community through their

Genevieve Grieves, 'Warriors', still from her video and sound installation, Picturing the Old People (2006).

Courtesy of the artist.
work, Morrissey in his position as a primary school teacher at Lake Tyers, and Gibb while teaching photography at TAFE.
In direct contrast to media photographs, many of the people featured in these images may have only the slightest recollection of being photographed, and no expectation that the material would end up in the State Library Collection. For the Library to make this material digitally visible via the web site is a complex process. Currently, the Library is required under Australian law to seek the permission of the copyright holder (that is, the creator of the photographs), rather than the subject(s) of the image, before digitizing material.15 This is now changing, with photographic releases increasingly being sought from all subjects photographed. This level of administration is a major undertaking but, as Maxine Briggs explains below, it is a particularly important step for images of Aboriginal people.
In conclusion, it is timely to compare the most recent photographic commission involving the Victorian Aboriginal community. Described in more detail by Maxine Briggs in section IV of this article, the project brief requested that the photographer work with the subjects to photograph them in their own environment. In setting up this project the Library understood that it could not occur without the engagement and support of the East Gippsland community, and provided funding for employment of a local indigenous liaison person. The project also required legal release forms for each person photographed, and requested background contextual information be provided for the archive.

III. Changing views

Over the last fifty years as Australian society has undergone broad political shifts, the Aboriginal community has had increased power to reclaim its heritage. Changes such as Mabo and a mainstream appreciation of traditional Aboriginal culture have produced an evolving context for consumption of nineteenth century photographs. Although images of Aboriginal people were often produced within relations of great inequality, Aboriginal people greatly value historical photographs of their ancestors. Today they are used in very different ways, as descendants make creative and effective use of the photographs in their work and family lives.
There is a growing body of research regarding current Indigenous (re)valuations of photography. Since the ground-breaking bicentenary project After 200 Years, a collection of community-produced photo-essays, a handful of analyses by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal scholars has recently begun to emerge that demonstrates the distinctive ways the medium is deployed within Indigenous social relations and histories.16 Although there are few analyses of the changing role of photographs within
Indigenous communities, anthropologist Gaynor Macdonald's study of their important role for the Wiradjuri people of New South Wales shows how they establish the owner's world of social relatedness, meaning and history, exploring the 'meanings derived from the different cultural and historical context in which these photos have been owned and treasured'.17
Similarly, in Victoria, descendants make creative and dynamic use of the historical archive. For example, where bloodline was used in the 19th century against Aboriginal people to define them as either 'full-blood' or inauthentic 'half-caste', and used to force the latter from their homes, ironically today it is used as a source of Aboriginal authority. In the 1880s, the admixture of white blood was used to define a person as non-Aboriginal. But today, having Aboriginal blood is just as crucial to their descendants in defining Aboriginality, and consequently having rights to represent a community, benefit from resources, or to have a say in cultural politics. Photographs play an important role in this process, by demonstrating genealogical connections that give descendants rights to speak as traditional owners, as well as historical associations; the information captured by white photographers has proved useful to descendants in teaching, reconstructing traditional cultural practices, and building identities.18


Since the 1970s, Indigenous artists have drawn heavily on the archive to explore and reclaim their heritage. Some of the most prominent of these, including Brook Andrew, Brenda Croft, Darren Siwes, Julie Dowling, and Tracey Moffatt, have re-worked colonial photographs to generate new meanings.19 Leah King-Smith's 1990 photographic series, Patterns of Connections, remains one of the best known examples of this process. Originally commissioned by the Library to produce a book that would draw upon the Picture Collection, King-Smith instead decided to overlay nineteenth century images with her own landscape views with the intention of changing perceptions of Indigenous relationships to country. In the resulting images, the residents of Victoria's Aboriginal reserves such as Coranderrk and Ramahyuck emerge from the shadowy setting as ghosts that haunt the landscape, underlining a traditional, spiritual relationship with the land, and expressing 'a contemporary nostalgia for spiritual roots'.20
A more recent re-working of the Victorian colonial archive is Picturing the Old People, a video and sound installation curated in 2006 by Indigenous artist Genevieve Grieves when holding one of the Library's Creative Fellowships. This innovative project comprises five 'moving portrait' panels and a soundscape that literally re-animate the formal portrait format familiar through the work of photographers such as Fred Kruger or Charles Walter. The installation examines the picture-making process, and especially the encounter between white photographer – meddler, seducer, buffoon, would-be puppet-master – and the Indigenous subjects, who look, speak, and fight back. In Warriors, for example, we see an empty studio set reminiscent of Lindt's famous
Clarence River series – famous for its contemporary popularity, as well as for more recent analysis of its deadening, distancing portrayal of the Gumbainggar people.21 Suddenly, the back of the white photographer's head appears as he steps in to arrange the set. Two young Koori men enter and the photographer hands them artefacts, moves them about, fiddles with things; their growing resentment is palpable. But then they begin to beat time with their 'props', echoed on the soundtrack, and the photographer breaks into an absurd dance that reverses the relationship between controller and controlled (see p. 114). Now the Aboriginal men lay down the rhythm of the encounter, while the photographer is rendered strange and absurd.
Other panels shift into more poetic, subtle evocations of the past, as the modern audience – whether black or white – is invited to bear witness, to reflect upon the performative relationship between viewer and viewed. These panels use new technology to re-enter and revise the past, blurring the distinction between photography and film. Where still archival images can resist recuperation by descendants, freezing the power inequalities and injustices of the colonial era in place, Grieves' re-animation dissolves those relationships, re-running the past, but this time with a different ending.22 The embodied renewal of colonial relationships through re-enactment opens up the possibility for new understandings, and a different outcome from that imagined by so many early white observers.

Indigenous people in the Library holdings

Many institutions around the world now acknowledge the ethical need to make material collected from Indigenous people available to their descendants. A number of archives have inaugurated 'repatriation' programs, in some cases extending to contacting descendants, providing copies of images, and involving communities in exhibition development and record management. Many Australian institutions have repatriation and consultation programs already in place. For example, Museum Victoria has undertaken extensive and pioneering work with its photographic holdings over the last two decades, establishing close relationships with Indigenous communities, returning copies of historical images to descendants and developing cultural protocols for access and communication. Its strategic approach to its image collections has resulted in major exhibitions such as the current Bunjilaka Gallery's Koori Voices, and Daughters of a Dreaming (19891994), publications, and research and collection documentation projects with communities.23 Other institutions have established Indigenous Knowledge Centres or digital points of contact between communities and outsiders – such as the South Australian Museum's Ara Irititja archival project, an initiative of the Pitjantatjara Council that identifies, copies and electronically records history and culture, and the Galiwin'ku Indigenous Knowledge Centre, a collaboration with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies that functions to record current cultural practices as well as provide a place for the return of historical material to the community.2425

Nicholas Caire, Delivering Royal Mail loose bag for Aborigines at Coranderrk, c.1904 Silver gelatin photograph printed by Jack Cato from Caire's negative c.1950. This beautiful photograph by Caire wasmuch admired and reprinted, as this example of a souvenir postcard [96.144/12] from the collection shows.


Angela Lynkushka(1947–), photographer

Portrait of Elder Eadie Terrick, 2006
Digital photograph, Picture Collection, H2007.122/1

IV From our eyes

My name is Maxine Briggs. I am a Victorian Aboriginal woman being Taungwurrung through my mother's people and Yota Yota through my father's people. I am the Koori Liaison Officer at the State Library of Victoria and I will endeavour to represent the Aboriginal perspective in this article. I am not an academic and you can be sure that I will speak from the heart and at times emotionally. I do, though, speak with the authority of an Aboriginal person who is a direct descendant of people who are some of the primary subjects of this article.
In 2009, more than one hundred and fifty years after 'settlement', Victorian Aboriginal people continue to search out the pieces of their shattered communities like some kind of emotionally charged jigsaw puzzle. Driving that search is the Native Title process, which in the first instance, demands that Aboriginal people prove their connection to their claim area. To do this they are finding information in the historical data collected by and housed in museums and libraries and other such repositories,

Fred Kruger (1831-1888), William Hamilton and family, 1878 Albumen Silver photograph. Picture Collection, H41139/14c

information that is contained in pages of reports from mission managers, reports of the Aboriginal Protection Board, churches, hospitals and so on. Then there are the images of Aboriginal people that were taken at the dawn of photography in the mid 1800s. Photographs that encapsulate the last breath of a generation that knew a natural life. photographs that show their children, the first generation of Aboriginal people who grew up in 'captivity'. People like my great-grandfather, William Hamilton of the Taungwurrung people of central Victoria (reproduced above).
So, for Aboriginal people, the images of their ancestors that were captured in the aftermath of the invasion are held in the utmost regard. These images represent the members of their bloodline at the point of impact, at the point where the future lives of their descendants was changed forever. This is the end of a complete way of life and the beginning of a dual existence. The people in these images look out through eyes filled with emotions such as pain, confusion, courage and you could imagine that these precious members of today's Aboriginal clan groups were probably experiencing a deep Post Traumatic Shock Disorder. They have just been ripped from the fabric of their

Carl Walter (1831-1907), Mr King, chief of the Goulburne [Goulburn] Tribe and Mary, King Billy's woman, Carngham [Lake Burrumbeet], 1866
Two portraits from the composite panel, Portraits of Aboriginal natives settled at Coranderrk...
Albumen silver photographs. Picture Collection, H91.1/3 and H91.1/37

society and as the invaders took up ownership of their traditional lands. These revered ancestors who were captured in the collections of 19th century photographs are blood relatives, they are not distant relatives because they lived a hundred years or so ago, they live on in the photos and we are responsible for them just as we are for our living kin.

A cultural shift: the appointment of a Koori Liaison Officer

The Koori Liaison Officer at The State Library position was created in 2008 through the efforts of the then manager of Heritage Collections, Jock Murphy. Ironically, I commenced work on 13 February 2008, the morning of the Prime Minister's Apology to the Stolen Generations. Most of the Library staff were gathered to watch it on the big screen in Experimedia. The opportunity to develop and establish the position came about because of the digitization process which was going on in collecting institutions all over the world. Here in the State Library of Victoria, the photographic collections were going online to be made available to the public. Availability and access are some of the major tenets for libraries with archival material in their collection, but these rules are diametrically opposed to the Aboriginal notion of information being made available only to those who have a right to view it or know it.

Viva Gibb (1945–), photographer Portrait of Nellie Moore, 1990

Silver gelatin photograph. Picture Collection, H98.161/279

Cultural protocols to protect Indigenous values

This issue was raised by a Victorian Aboriginal woman because her image appeared in the State Library of Victoria's online collection without her knowledge or consent. Her name is Nellie Moore and she was not happy about her image being viewed at will by anybody. In fact she was shocked that it was now possible for copies of her image to be purchased by the general public. So she took a stand and insisted that her photograph be taken off-line. In response, the State Library of Victoria took the whole collection down from the online catalogue but it was too late to prevent the harvesting of the State Library of Victoria catalogue by Pictures Australia. After some negotiation, staff at the State Library were able to have the portrait removed from the Pictures Australia website. The situation for that photograph is that it will remain off-line but I am honoured to have the permission of the sitter to reproduce it here as a part of this article.
In 2000 the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Library and Information Resource Network (ATSILIRN) Cultural Protocols were developed, with a view to giving some protection for materials containing images of and information about Aboriginal people held in heritage collections throughout Australia.

Some opportunities for pro-active reconciliation

In 2008, the State Library of Victoria contracted the photographer Angela Lynkushka to take a series of portraits of Aboriginal Elders from the Gippsland area. These particular Elders were the descendants of people who had been portrayed in a series of paintings by 20th century artist Percy Leeson. In the Leeson portraits, the sitters who are also elders are stripped to the waist, some of them are women, who look very vulnerable, uncomfortable and uneasy. The 2008 portraits (see p. 119) by Angela Lynkushka are dignified, the sitters are empowered; they have chosen how and where they wanted to be portrayed. The Pictures Librarian, Madeleine Say, and the Exhibitions Manager of the Library, Clare Williamson, in consultation with myself and the Manager of the Krowathunkoolong Keeping Place, Grattan Mullet, in Bairnsdale made these portraits available to the Gippsland Aboriginal community. Those portraits are now on permanent display at the Krowathunkoolong Keeping Place.
This year, the Wurundjeri Council of Elders contacted the State Library of Victoria to request copies of photos of their ancestors from the Library's Pictures Collection for a national conference they were hosting. After some negotiation, the State Library made available to them some very high quality digital copies of images of Wurundjeri people that they had identified in the online catalogue. They have full use of the digital copies and they can reproduce any images from them any time they need to. Myself and Jo Ritale, the Manager of Collections at the State Library, went to the office of the Wurundjeri Council of Elders to give them the disk of images and to begin discussion with them regarding a Memorandum of Understanding between the State Library and their Council. These discussions are continuing but, make no mistake, this is proactive Reconciliation in action.

Future features

After 12 months on the job without much contact with regional Aboriginal communities due to a lack of funds, I was searching for a way out to these communities. I was inspired by the librarianship course that I am doing at RMIT to consider the online environment. This led to the idea of a portal on the State Library of Victoria website. This would be a cultural portal which would be an interpretative centre for Indigenous people and a way in for people who are not familiar or comfortable with the library environment. It will be a means of communicating news and information to the Victorian Indigenous community about library issues and other events across the state and a way of consulting directly with the community. There is a wealth of useful information in heritage collections and I would like to see Indigenous people utilizing it to their advantage.
Throughout the State Library Victoria there are numerous items of heritage materials relating to the lives of Indigenous people in the collections and books of the
early settlers. Aboriginal people are now finding that there is a certain 'useability' in this type of information. Information that had always informed the work of white academics can now be used as proof positive in matters of identity and cultural connection. Almost two years since the Koori Liaison Officer position was created, a number of new collections containing Aboriginal visual material have been added to the Library's holdings. These collections include the Diane Barwick Collection and the Aboriginal Advancement League Papers. At present there is only one photographic image by an Indigenous photographer in the State Library of Victoria's photographic collection and it is called 'Black man and the church', a photograph of Arthur Cole by Kim Kruger taken in 1990. It is envisaged that this image will represent the first of many photographs by Indigenous photographers in the holdings of the State Library of Victoria. And, just like the song 'From my eyes' by Indigenous songman Bart Willoughby, it is time we told our own story in our own way.
In conclusion, this is an exciting and challenging time for the Library, as it anticipates increased Koori involvement and contributions, and the development of new Indigenous cultural protocols and initiatives. Shifts in our understanding of the photographic holdings reflect our changing understanding of their meanings to different viewers, and especially Indigenous descendants. We expect to see even greater changes to management of these significant archives as Indigenous involvement strengthens over the coming years.

Kim Kruger, Black man [Arthur Cole] and the Church, 1990 Gelatin silver photograph. Pictures Collection, H96.117


For an overview see Michael Green and Phil Gordon, 'Repatriation: Australian Perspectives', in Jane Lydon and Uzma Rizv, eds, Handbook on Postcolonialism and Archaeology, Walnut Creek, California: LeftCoast Press, 2009. While an emergent international literature examines the process of returning photographs and its impact upon descendant communities, no wide-ranging formal analysis of returning Australian photographs exists: e.g., for Canada see Alison K. Brown, and Laura Peers, with members of the Kainai Nation. 'Pictures bring us messages': Sinaakssiiksi aohtsimaahpihkookiyaawa: photographs and histories from the Kainai Nation. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006; David A. Smith 'From Nunavut to Micronesia: Feedback and Description, Visual Repatriation and Online Photographs of Indigenous Peoples', Partnership: the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, vol. 3, no. 1, 2008; and for Papua New Guinea see Joshua Bell, 'Losing the forest but not the stories in the trees: contemporary understandings of F. E. Williams's 1922 photographs of the Purari Delta', Journal of Pacific History 41, no. 2, 2006, pp.191-206.


This four year project is funded by the Australian Research Council and the State Library of Victoria. For more detail see the project website at cais/research/visual-histories/


G. Batchen, Each Wild Idea: writing, photography, history. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2001. Although, as Batchen notes, it remains to account for the 'extraordinary ... amount of attention paid to [Indigenous people] and the relatively varied ways in which they are portrayed,' p. 34.


A. Galbally and A. Inglis, The First Collections: the Public Library and the National Gallery of Victoria in the 1850s and 1860s, Parkville, Vic.: University of Melbourne Museum of Art, 1992; Ann Galbally, Redmond Barry: an Anglo-Irish Australian, Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 1995.


P. Fox, 'The Intercolonial Exhibition (1866): representing the colony of Victoria', History of Photography, vol. 23, no. 2, 1999, pp. 174-80; Gerard Hayes, 'London, Paris, Philadelphia ... Victoria at the Great Exhibitions', La Trobe Journal, no. 56, Spring, 1995, pp. 2-5; Des Cowley, 'Redeeming an Obligation: Aboriginal culture at the 1866 Exhibition', La Trobe Journal, no. 73, Autumn, 2004, pp. 112-120; Jane Lydon, Eye Contact: photographing Indigenous Australians, Durham: Duke University Press. 2005.


Two views of the mission and text giving the title and details of the photographer, Charles Walter, complete the arrangement. Other copies of these portraits are known, most notably in the Green album in the Melbourne Museum collection. For a discussion of the panel's differing effects and uses see John Morton, 'Seeing Eye to Eye: Photography and the Return of the Native in Aboriginal Australia', Arena Journal, no. 27, 2006, pp. 47-59. For Walter's botanical career see L. Gillbank, 'Charles Walter: collector of images and plants in East Gippsland', Gippsland Heritage Journal, no. 13, 1992, pp. 3-10.


Christine Downer, 'Pictures in Victoria - images as records in the La Trobe Picture collection.' La Trobe Journal no. 50, 1992, pp. 12-19; Michael Galimany, 'Pictures', La Trobe Journal, no. 56, Spring, 1995, pp. 26-27.


See for example, Nicholas Mirzoeff, An Introduction to Visual Culture, London: Routledge, 1999; Anne-Marie Willis, Picturing Australia: a history of photography, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1988.


J. Boddington, and K. Otto, Fred Kruger 18311888, Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 1983; P. Fox, 'Kruger, Johan Friedrich Carl (Fred)', in J. Kerr, ed. The Dictionary of Australian Artists: painters, sketchers, photographers and engravers to 1870, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1992, pp. 437–39 (also available on-line at, S. Jones, J. W. Lindt, Master Photographer, Melbourne: Currey O'Neil Ross for the Library Council of Victoria, 1985; K. Orchard, 'J. W. Lindt's Australian Aboriginals (1873-74)', History of Photography, vol. 23, no. 2, 1999, pp. 163–70; B. Croft, 'Laying Ghosts to Rest', Portraits of Oceania, Sydney: The Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1997, pp. 8-14; G. C. Bolton, Richard Daintree: a photographic memoir, Brisbane: Jacaranda, 1965; D. Reilly, and J. Carew, Sun Pictures of Victoria: the Fauchery-Daintree Collection, 1858, Melbourne: Currey O'Neil Ross Pty Ltd on behalf of the Library Council of Victoria, Melbourne, 1983; D. Reilly, 'Antoine Fauchery, 18231861: photographer and journalist par excellence' La Trobe Library Journal, no. 33, April, 1984, pp. 1–5; D. Millar, Nicholas John Caire: photographer 18371918, Monograph on Australian Photographic History No. 2, Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1980; A. Pitkethly and D. Pitkethly, N. J. Caire: landscape photographer, Rosanna, Vic.: A. and D. Pitkethly, 1988.



For further information see Elizabeth Willis, '"People undergoing great change": John Hunter Kerr's photographs of Indigenous people at Fernyhurst, Victoria, 1850s'. La Trobe Journal, no. 76, Spring, 2005, pp. 49–70; Madeleine Say, 'John Hunter Kerr: photographer', La Trobe Journal, no. 76, Spring, 2005, pp. 71–76.


I. Crombie, 'Australia Felix: Douglas T. Kilburn's Daguerrotype of Victorian Aborigines, 1847', Art Bulletin of Victoria, no. 32, 1991, pp. 21–31; I. Crombie, 'The Sorcerer's Machine: a photographic portrait by Douglas Kilburn, 1847', Art Bulletin of Victoria, no. 40, 1999, pp. 7 –12; G. Newton, Shades of Light: photography and Australia 1839-1988, Canberra: Australian National Gallery & Collins Australia with assistance from Kodak, 1988, p. 12. No images by Kilburn are currently held in the State Library collection.




See the Australian Copyright Council website, Information Sheet G11 'Photographers and Copyright'. Available on-line at


P. Taylor, ed., After 200 Years: photographic essays of Aboriginal and Islander Australia today, Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1988. For discussion of Aboriginal uses of photographs, see, for example, Michael Aird, 'Growing up with Aborigines' in Photography's Other Histories, edited by Christopher Pinney and Nicholas Peterson, Durham: Duke University Press, 2003; M. Aird, Brisbane Blacks, Southport: Keeaira Press, 2001; Sylvia Kleinert, 'Aboriginality in the city: re-reading Koorie photographs', Aboriginal History, vol. 30, 2006, pp. 69–94; Heather Goodall, 'Karroo: Mates' – communities reclaim their images', Aboriginal History, vol. 30, 2006, pp. 48-66; Roslyn Poignant, 'About friendship: about trade: about photographs.' Voices vol. 4, no. 4, 1994, pp. 55-70; Benjamin R. Smith, 'Images, selves, and the visual record: photography and ethnographic complexity in central Cape York Peninsula', Social Analysis (Adelaide), vol. 47, no. 3, 2003, pp. 8– 26; E. Edwards, 'Photographs and the Sound of History' Visual Anthropology Review vol. 21, nos. 12, 2006, pp. 27-46.


G. Macdonald, 'Photos in Wiradjuri Biscuit Tins: negotiating relatedness and validating colonial histories', Oceania, vol. 73, no. 4, 2003, 225–42, 226.


Lydon, Eye Contact, pp. 214–47.


See for example K. Gellatly, Re-Take: contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander photography, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 1998; Anne Marsh, The Darkroom: photography and the theatre of desire, South Melbourne, Vic.: Macmillan, 2003; Helen Ennis, Photography and Australia, London: Reaktion Books, 2007; Wendy Garden, '"Re-membering the archive" Nineteenth century photography and contemporary practice', Paper presented to Visual Cultures and Colonialism Conference, Melbourne, May 2008; Jeanette Hoorn, 'Reviewing Strange Fruit: Memory and Testimony in Julie Dowling's Portraits', Paper presented to Visual Cultures and Colonialism Conference, Melbourne, May 2008.


A. Marsh, 'Leah King-Smith and the Nineteenth-century Archive', History of Photography, vol. 23, no. 2, 1999, pp. 114-17, quote p. 117; Christine Downer, 'Pictures in Victoria – images as records in the La Trobe Picture collection.' La Trobe Library Journal no. 50, 1992, pp. 12-19.


Eg., K. Orchard, 'J. W. Lindt's Australian Aboriginals (1873-74)', History of Photography, vol. 23, no. 2, 1999, pp. 163-70.


Personal communication to Jane Lydon, Genevieve Grieves, 12 January 2006.


J. Anderson, Access and Control of Indigenous Knowledge in Libraries and Archives: ownership and future use, Columbia University, New York: American Library Association and The MacArthur Foundation, Columbia University, 2005.


This is something that could be explored further within the reference group in order to develop the process and to seek funding.


Judith Proctor Wiseman and Lindy Allen, eds, Thomson Time: Arnhem Land in the 1930s, a photographic essay, Melbourne: Museum of Victoria, 1996; Lindy Allen, 'A Photographer of Brilliance', in Donald Thomson: the man and scholar edited by B. Rigsby and N. Peterson, Canberra: Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, 2005; Phillip Batty, Lindy Allen and John Morton, The Photographs of Baldwin Spencer. Carlton, Vic.: The Miegunyah Press, 2007.