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The Australian National University

'My Favourite Slide'

'History calling', Discussed by Sydney University Museums' Curator of Ethnography, Rebecca Conway

My job involves contact with thousands of people. They variously go about their business or stare out at me from photographs, most taken more than a century ago. Some faces and images stay with you, continuing to remind you of their presence. It can be intimate and often feels like a form of communication across time.

The joyful exuberance of this young Durom girl as she calls to a friend across a valley in the Rigo District, New Guinea caught my attention. I can’t play favourites, but her image in particular is one of a number featuring people that I have wanted to return to and know more about. The Macleay Museum’s historic photograph collections number some 80,000 individual images, the visual memory of faces, scenes and places cannot extend to all.

‘Durom tribe - girl calling to friends across valley’, lantern slide, photo: E P W Chinnery, 1912-13, Rigo District, Central Division, Papua (Papua New Guinea), transferred from the Department of Anthropology, the University of Sydney 1999, Macleay Museum HP99.1.480

A curator colleague once lamented that our work is “rotational neglect”. We are pulled in many directions: cataloguing, digitisation and exhibition, other people’s research agendas. It is unfortunate that poorly documented photographs tend to receive the least attention in collections.

The collection in which this lantern slide resides includes more than 2,000 slides accumulated for teaching purposes in the University of Sydney’s, Anthropology Department. From 1926 - 46 it was the only such department in Australia and in its early years one of only a handful internationally. One condition imposed on the department’s fieldworkers was that photographs should be taken as part of their research and a set of slides provided for the illustration of lectures on their return.

Under the heading, “Central Division Papua - Rigo District”, the “Durom tribe - girl calling to friends across valley” is one of the series of mostly Pacific images that make up the first entries in the original Anthropology Department catalogue for the collection. Unlike the later entries which were annotated with the initials of the returned photographer-anthropologists, these are all listed without reference to who took them.

Who took these images? When? What was the context? In the giant game of “snap” or “memory” that is sometimes my curatorial work, by chance I encountered in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge, “Durom woman smoking bamboo pipe; the mountainous interior of Rigo district”; not the same girl, but a match to another in the series. Scribbled on the reverse, “E. W. P. Chinnery”, and separately, “Probably not wanted”. Well, I welcomed her gladly!

Although there’s much work to be done, I have matched most in the series of undocumented slides with E W P Chinnery’s photographs (some 1850 images) now held at the National Library and Archives. Chinnery joined the Papuan service in 1909. Starting out as a clerk he progressed through the ranks to District Officer and to a number of senior positions in the Australian colonial service in Papua and New Guinea in the 1920s and 1930s.

Following the passing of the Papua Act 1905, the colony of British New Guinea was handed over to Australian administration. An understanding of “the natives” was seen as integral to the development of the region; the control and management of land, resources and labour. District Officers were to gain a comprehensive anthropological understanding of the regions to which they were assigned, including mapping the numbers and distribution of culture and language groups, villages, agricultural and other resources and to try and implement law and order in the western sense.

In 1912 Chinnery began working in the Central Division, which included the Rigo District where the first patrol station outside of Port Moresby had been established. In June 1913 he was sent to search for some Ailiwara hill tribesmen from Mount Obree who had murdered men and women during a raid on a nearby valley. The image of the Durom girl was possibly taken during this patrol. Intertribal violence quite likely a fact of life for her mountain-dwelling community, but something the colonial administration was desperate to quell. By the end of the year Chinnery was in new territory, Mambare on the northern coastal border with German New Guinea.

During World War I Chinnery served in the Australian Flying Corps and, following service, studied anthropology at Cambridge University under Alfred Cort Haddon and with whom he had corresponded while working in Papua. As part of the response to the League of Nations Mandate, Chinnery secured the position of Government Anthropologist in the new Mandated Territory of New Guinea, a position he held from 1924-37.        

Chinnery’s surveys and insights into the cultures of Papua and New Guinea led him to play an integral role in identifying sites for intensive fieldwork for up-and-coming researchers affiliated with the newly established Department of Anthropology at the University of Sydney. These included the likes of Ian Hogbin, Camilla Wedgwood, and Margret Mead and cultures as diverse as the Sepik-dwelling Abelam and the Baining of New Ireland. He was also a strong supporter of anthropological training for New Guinea administrative cadets, ensuring they completed courses with the University as part of their career preparations. 

The Durom girl called to her friends across the valley. Her image echoed in my mind, eventually leading to a reconnection with her photographer, his history and research, if only dating and exposing a tantalising moment in hers. Chinnery exchanged patrol officer cadets and early career academic anthropologists between Sydney and New Guinea. The images Chinnery and others took as part of their work have since travelled multiple pathways, their presence echoing in the collections of various institutions globally. They have likely been used in slide shows and for other purposes far beyond their original intent. These scattered resources will continue to provide insights on our region; history reverberates through collections.

Read more about Rebecca's fascinating work with lantern slides and the Maclaey collection in the mid-year edition of Muse

Conway, R & J Philp, People, Power, Politics: the first generation of anthropologists at the University of Sydney, catalogue Macleay Museum exhibition 1 February–20 July 2008, the University of Sydney
Gray, G, There are many difficult problems: Ernest William Pearson Chinnery, Government Anthropologist, Journal of Pacific History, vol. 38 (3), Dec. 2003, pp. 313-30
Lawrence, D, The early ethnographic writings of EW Pearson Chinnery: Government Anthropologist of New Guinea, Public lecture for the National Archives of Australia, presented in Canberra 23 March 2006
West, F, Chinnery, Ernest William Pearson (1887-1972), Australian dictionary of biography online


‘The only means of instruction I was ever pressed to repeat’ - Discussed by Chief Investigator Jane Lydon

I must start by admitting that I have been struggling with this assignment because I love so many magic lantern slides and it is very hard to choose just one. In a kind of provisional and reluctant way I decided to write about a magic lantern slide I bought in London at the start of this project, showing scenes from the life of African missionary extraordinaire, David Livingstone (1813-1873). My souvenir is brightly, if crudely, painted. It shows key scenes from the famous explorer and missionary’s life: ill on a stretcher, being carried through the jungle by his devoted followers; attacked by a lion; aboard a canoe rowing across an African lake; teaching himself by reading in brief moments snatched from his gruelling childhood factory labour. And in the centre, our hero, modelled upon his portrait as it appeared in his famous 1857 book, Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa. His portrait in turn rests on the literary triumvirate of bible, journal and Missionary Travels itself, pointing towards the fertile cross-media culture of the late Victorian period.

It was probably made during the 1880s or 1890s, a period that saw the resurgence of magic lantern slides and their wide use by missionaries and other social campaigners, including Barnardo’s Homes, the Salvation Army and temperance organisations such as the Band of Hope. Livingstone considered his projector and slide collection an essential part of his equipment, and in an observation that somewhat softens his dour Scottish over-achiever image, once noted, rather dryly, ‘[t]his is the only means of instruction I was ever pressed to repeat'. 

                                                                                                    Title slide, Chromolithograph, 1880s-1890s, private collection. 

But Livingstone’s impact was felt not merely among the Africans he sought to convert to Christianity- he became a hero to the growing Victorian missionary movement, and inspired young men (and women) around the world who decided to emulate his brilliant career. At least one other celebratory Livingstone chromolithograph slide series made its way to Australia, earlier than my slide, and  can be seen in Museums Victoria’s superb digital archive. By the late nineteenth century, activist missionary heroes had contributed to a genre of ‘muscular Christianity’, a profoundly gendered phenomenon that linked ethical and spiritual activism to more secular values of bravery and heroism. Livingstone was the most famous of all muscular Christians, even before his 1857 Missionary Travels sold 70,000 copies and earned £12,000. Missionary Travels told a story of a new land and the adventures to be had there, and infused an ancient tradition of representing Africa as Europe’s ‘other’ with the new goal of ‘commerce’, that Livingstone argued would ‘open’ up the continent to Christianity and the abolition of slavery. Livingstone’s life and works were intensively promoted by the late Victorian missionary movement – especially through use of magic lantern slides. The ‘halo of romance’ that surrounded Livingstone was only enhanced by the reception of his life and works after his death in 1873, when his journals were edited by his disciple Horace Waller to render him a saintly, Christ-like figure.

Livingstone inspired many imitators, including Australian missionary John Brown Gribble, who saw himself as a pupil of Livingstone’s. In 1884 Gribble travelled to London and visited Livingstone’s tomb in Westminster Cathedral, confiding (slightly incoherently) to his diary,
In reading his name my heart gave a peculiar kind of throb. I could have poured forth my soul in tears if I had been alone. what [sic] an inspiration new and full came to me as I stood there. I afresh gave myself to Livingston Master for the very same kind of work for Australia’s black sons and daughters which he prosecuted for Africa’s children had helped me to him as he followed them.’

Gribble returned to Australia and in 1885-6 made his own heroic journey to Western Australia, one suspects seeking the hardship and contumely that his hero had endured before him. He certainly found it, although from the local settlers more than the wildlife, and was drummed out of the colony.

Gribble then travelled extensively during 1889-1892 throughout the eastern colonies giving magic lantern slide performances to raise money for his Aboriginal mission work. In October 1891, Gribble spoke to a packed audience in Brisbane’s St. Paul's Church Sunday School room, showing scenes of his labours in building Warangesda mission in New South Wales, as well as scenery from the Bellenden Ker district, the site of his new mission, Yarrabah, in north Queensland. He drew on the classic ‘before and after’ logic that had always characterised missionary ‘propaganda’, showing what could be done to transform Indigenous peoples. He ‘illustrat[ed] his remarks by means of the magic lantern illustrations’, comprising ‘the teacher and his native assistants, felling trees by means of axes with very long handles, in order to form a clearing for the first missionary station.’ These images were contrasted with ‘more improved buildings until the most modern shape of a mission township, with most creditable edifice for a church was reached’. Portraits of Indigenous people demonstrated that they were intelligent Christians.

However in Melbourne in 1892 he took a more sensational approach in a talk entitled, ‘Amongst Cannibals’ – clearly capitalizing upon Norwegian Carl Lumholtz’s book of that title published in 1889, as well as contemporary reports of cannibalism in northern Queensland in Victorian newspapers. His urban audience would have relished the frisson of danger evoked by this taboo. The Cairns Post was less impressed: owned by anti-missionary plantation owner John Wimble, the Post attacked the ‘charming ingenuousness displayed by the reverend gentlemen who recently flashed like meteors on North Queensland in the mission line.’ Caricaturing Gribble’s media savvy, the Post wrote ‘lo! they go South with some cheaply acquired photographs of tame niggers*, and some doubtfully obtained native weapons, and they give a magic lantern entertainment and lure the half-pence from the pockets of unsuspecting youth. ... and the dear old ladies say ‘Oh what terrible risks the dear missionaries run.’ Poor Gribble was not to see Yarrabah thrive. He contracted malaria and retired to Sydney, where he died on 3 June 1893.

So my luridly heroic Livingstone slide speaks to me of this imperial network of ideas, stories and performances, in which Australians participated as much as those in the metropolitan capitals. The Che Guevara poster of his day, my slide evokes the glamorous mix of moral idealism and worldly adventure that drew young activists from around the world to tread in their hero’s footsteps – however misguided they might seem today.

*I have chosen to retain this offensive contemporary usage to convey the competing, opposed historical views of settlers and humanitarians such as Gribble.


An Edwardian dinning room in autochrome - Discussed by Lorenzo Iozzi, Senior Collection Manager of Images for History and Technology, Museums Victoria

My favourite lantern slide is an autochrome taken around 1925. It is an image of a humble sitting room in an Edwardian home. I love it because it is a celebration of light and as such, a celebration of life. The room is bursting with colour. And what colour! Deep reds, greens, blues, yellows and mauves. This is no accidental combination of colour. Autochromes were created by the additive colour process, whereby the combination of two primary colours produced a primary secondary colour. It was, therefore, a pure process, unlike the subtractive colour process in photography at the time which relied on filtering out light bands to ‘leave behind’ the remnant or unfiltered colour. For this reason, the resultant image in an autochrome was considered, quite rightly, to have some of the attributes associated with oil painting.

This is certainly a quality of our lantern slide of the room. In our image an invisible light source from the left castes dark shadows across the rug on the floor which contrast strongly with the bright daylight framed by the window on the opposite side of the room. The mirror, too, on the mantel piece, is reflecting light coming from outside, from the end of the room where the photographer stands to take the picture. The whiteness of the lacework drapery over the furniture accentuates the brilliance of the light. Colour explodes all around. The deliberate placement of the furniture, the flower arrangements and the art deco wallpaper contribute to the warmth and vibrancy of the room. We are all invited to enter and enjoy, surely! Imagine the same photograph in black and white. It would have a totally different mood.

                                                                                                           'Edwardian sitting room', Autochrome, c.1925, Museums Victoria Collection.

Our image is full of mystery. There are no people in it but you almost expect someone to open the door and come inside. The image is imbued with that much life. A measure of this is that you just want to keep looking at it. Why was a transparency of an ordinary, empty sitting room produced in the first place and for which audience? The simple desire to capture and experience the beauty of the day itself, was certainly in the photographer’s mind. This makes our image timeless. There is no story to go with our image - that we know of - and there doesn’t have to be one. Its mystery invites us to create our narrative - and many narratives - within this room, if we wish. Every time I look at this lantern slide, I create a new story around it, or rather, I keep adding to it.





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