Australian Museum photographers' field trip to Mornington Island in 1975

Intern Jeremy Beecher writes about a documentation project he recently completed  - explaining how the sum is greater than the parts!

Jackson Jacob (Thunalgunaldin) painting a boomerang

Howard Hughes © Australian Museum

As an intern with the Archives Department, I have worked on documenting a collection of photographs taken by the Museum photographers on a field trip to Mornington Island, Queensland.


The photographers travelled to the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1975 to shoot footage for two films. These educational films were made to assist understanding of the cultural practices of the Aboriginal community on Mornington Island.


On the field trip were Australian Museum photographer Howard Hughes and assistant photographer Heather McLennan. Hughes had an established reputation as a maker of natural science and anthropological films. This reputation probably influenced the Aboriginal Arts Board of the Australia Council joining with the Australian Museum in producing these two films.


The narrator of both films is a Lardil man, Jackson Jacob (Thanalgunaldin). In ‘Preparing for the Corroboree’ viewers are shown the making of artefacts used in a Corroboree. The film continues with a Corroboree which was how members of the community gathered to pass on cultural information. The film ‘The Boomerang’ demonstrates the complex skills and techniques involved in making and mastering the flight and direction of a boomerang. The level of ethnographic detail of both these films ensures their continued relevance today.


Not only did the team shoot film footage but they also took a number of still photographs and collected artefacts. These are now part of the Museum’s collections. The still photographs complement the films. In these photographs we get a delightful insight into the interactions of the museum staff with the Aboriginal community. As well the photographs allow us to linger over our examination of the activities shown in the films.


During my internship I had the opportunity to view some of the artefacts. I saw Jackson Jacob’s “returning boomerang”. Howard Hughes described it as featuring an ochre design that identified Jackson’s “mask”. Fred Jarradt’s message stick is intricately decorated to depict the corroboree ground with boomerangs and people coming from various parts of the island. Cora Peter’s Dah, used in ceremonial dances was purchased by the field team for $6. The detail, colour and patterns on the artefacts are extraordinary.


Whilst the archive does not hold any surviving records written by the photographers about their trip to Mornington Island I enjoyed bringing together the slides, films and artefacts to give this story of the field trip.
 


Patricia Egan , Archivist
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