Colonial expedition photographs: an absence

The second book I looked at was Images of the Interior: Seven Central Australian Photographers by Philip Jones. The most relevant photographer here is George Aiston, a policeman stationed on the Birdsville Track at Mungeranie between Marree and Birdsville who started photographing around 1885. Unfortunately, the State Library of South Australia has only put a few photos online from its collection and there are no landscapes as such.

I then turned to a third book, Arid Arcadia: Art of the Northern Flinders Ranges by the Art Gallery of South Australia by Alisa Bunbury. There is no mention of F. J. Elliot or George Aiston who photographed around the Birdsville region in Arid Arcadia. The first photographer mentioned in Arid Arcadia is H. H.Tilbrook whose photographs of Rawnsley’s Bluff and Wilpena Pound are from around 1894. His dry plate camera equipment was cumbersome and weighed around 38 pounds.

H. H. Tilbrook, Hookina Creek, Flinders Ranges, 1894

Arid Arcadia is primarily concerned with Hans Heysen and associate photographers Joyner and Cazneaux. The argument in the book is that during the second half of the nineteenth century South Australia was conspicuously lacking a landscape tradition. After S.T. Gill and George Angas French had left the colony in the 1850s, there was a lack of interest of interest in the landscape genre, and an acceptance of of the arid regions as having a beauty of their own had not occurred. It was only towards the end of the century that attitudes began to shift and a landscape tradition re-emerged. (p. 62)

H.H. Tilbrook, Elder Range, Flinders Ranges,1894

It is Heysen in the 1920s who established the non-pastoral landscape tradition in arid South Australia with is paintings of the Flinders Ranges. Prior to Heysen, the argument goes, northern South Australia was seen as vast, empty, unchanging, bleak and monotonous.

F. J.Elliot, Yankunytjatjara people, Everard Ranges, 1891

The photo below was made by Elliot whilst the Elder Expedition was at the Birksgate Range. This is a scattered range of mountains in the northwest of South Australia located on the northeastern edges of the Great Victoria Desert. The Range spreads for about 100 kilometers.

F.J. Elliot, Granite, Birksgate Range, 1891

The well resourced Horn Scientific Expedition of 1894 to  Uluru and returning across the McDonnell Ranges is not mentioned in Arid Arcadia, even though it left from the rail head at Oodnadatta and photographs were made by Baldwin Spencer, the biologist. An example is Baldwin Spencer’s photograph of a Gibber plain near Oodnadatta:

001906-b-XP9970-001, 17/01/12, 4:40 PM, 8C, 6000×7992 (0+8), 100%, dylan glass, 1/80 s, R37.2, G30.2, B34.2

How many other photos did Baldwin Spencer make of South Australia as distinct from those he and Francis Gillen made of the Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory?

I am surprised that the photography that was made on the exploratory and scientific expeditions in South Australia is not mentioned in Arid Australia. Surely this constitutes part of the landscape tradition in South Australia? Another part of the landscape tradition are the photos made by Herbert Basedow on his various expeditions to South Australia, some of which included visits to the Flinders Ranges between 1905 and 1913.

Herbert Basedow, Strawbridge Springs, Tomkinson Ranges, SA, 1903

The purpose of this 1903 expedition to the north west corner of South Australia was to inspect the Musgrave, Mann and Tomkinson Ranges and neighbouring areas for signs of gold and other mineral deposits. The photo below is of an approaching sandstorm near Lake Killalpaninna:

Herbert Bsaedow, sandstorm near Lake Killalpaninna, 1919

This photos was made on a 1919 medical relief expedition. Basedow was commissioned to investigate the health of Aboriginal people in north-eastern South Australia. This was the first one of several such expeditions Basedow made. Basedow is not mentioned in the South Australian Art Gallery’s A Century in Focus: South Australian Photographs 1940s-1940.

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2 responses to “Colonial expedition photographs: an absence”

  1. […] my search for information on expedition photography in South Australia I recently came across a book on colonial photography in Australia entitled […]


  2. […] Her thesis is that during the second half of the nineteenth century South Australia lacked a landscape tradition. Presumably Captain Sweet as a topographical photographer was not considered to be a part of the landscape tradition. […]


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