SA: Norman Tindale Memorial Lecture presented by Professor Jane Lydon

Event Details

‘Real Photos’: Transforming Colonial Archives by Winthrop Professor Jane Lydon, Wesfarmers Chair of Australian History, The University of Western Australia.

Event organiser: Anthropological Society of South Australia

RSVP: Amy Roberts (

Cost: Gold Coin Donation

Drinks and nibbles will be provided

Supported by:

  • Archaeology Department, Flinders University
  • Flinders University Archaeological Society


When the Transforming Tindale exhibition opened at the State Library of Queensland in September 2012, there was much excitement and goodwill. Elders Marshall Bell and Flo Watson both spoke to the crowd, and as artist Vernon Ah Kee later wrote on his blog: ‘Quote of the night was from Marshall Bell when he said “It doesn’t matter whether Tindale was good or bad. It doesn’t matter whether what he did was right or wrong. Those photos are real.”’ This landmark exhibition was curated by Michael Aird and featured Ah Kee’s drawings and enlarged prints of anthropologist Norman Tindale’s photographs of 1938-1940, as well as extensive archival information and stories from the subjects themselves and their relatives. The transformations of the exhibition’s title refer to the way Tindale’s ‘data’ was given both new physical form, as well as engendering fresh social meanings and relationships. Scholars such as Elizabeth Edwards have argued that we should explore the materiality of images and the diverse forms they assume, attending to the ways their form and vitality shape us as much as we imbue them with meaning. In this paper I explore the new relations and narratives that emerge from the process of research, digitisation, and return of archival photos to relatives, focusing on their Indigenous significance. I do so through the example of a slightly enigmatic cardboard panel held by the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford on which are mounted thirteen photographs from South Australia. With curator Christopher Morton, I have puzzled over its history for about six years now. For Indigenous descendants of the people recorded in these photographs, their physical form is less important than the way they embody missing relatives, lost through invasion and assimilation. This process is slow and often awkward, but the rewards are great, in challenging foundational national histories, re-connecting family networks, and telling the truth of Indigenous experience.


Jane’s research centres upon Australia’s colonial past and its legacies in the present. Since 1997 she has explored colonial visual cultures, seeking to understand how images have shaped ideas and debates about rights, identity and culture that persist into the present. Jane has worked in the heritage sphere for over twenty–‐seven years, including as convenor of an inaugural heritage program at La Trobe University. Jane also currently leads the Australian Research Council–‐funded project ‘Globalization, Photography, and Race: The Circulation and Return of Aboriginal Photographs in Europe’. Four major European museums are project partners (the University of Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum, the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, the Musée de Quai Branly in Paris and the Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden). Through international collaboration the project will historicise the photographs and return them to Indigenous descendants.