Blinding the Duck
(Aboriginal representation, censorship and restriction online)
An evolving report (since 1995) on the challenges of maintaining access to the on-line documentary entitled The Flight of Ducks.
For ease of reading, the text is designed to be printed (20 pages)
Updates and relationships to the work it describes are available [on-line]
[Voice] 0418 575 525 [Email]
(CC) reserved Simon Pockley

2005-10-03: Re-marked up with updated style sheet
1999-03-24: Conference paper Neties '99 3rd International Conference on Networking Entities - The cultural impact of telematics - Donau-University Krems
1998-03-11: Deleted from RMIT University server at request of RMIT Human Research Ethics Committee
1997-11-26: Conference paper Cultural Crossroads - Access and Identity in Sydney
1997-11-01: Text submitted as part of Australia's first on-line doctoral thesis
  1. Summary
  2. Interactivity - means talking back
  3. Strange Uses - new paradigms of appropriation
  4. Impasse - one story or many
  5. Behind the Camera - the photo as self representation
  6. Facing the Camera - reading images
  7. Behind the Screen - access and metadata
  8. On-line Solutions - the documentary as model
  9. Implementing PICS - a filtering architecture
  10. Cultural Accommodation - 4 levels
  11. Notes & References
  12. Electronic conversation
1: Summary

This essay explores some of the complex issues arising from the use of digital images of Aboriginal people and material in The Flight of Ducks (a participatory online documentary built around a collection of objects from a camel expedition into Central Australia in 1933).

Recommended offline procedures for Aboriginal consultation are found to present problems (in an online context). Instead, the open conversational nature of the World Wide Web offers a flexibility through which all our stories can evolve. People can and do - talk back. Some people even believe that there are stories that cannot be told. The experiences gained from the development of this work provide examples of new appropriative paradigms that may not always be comfortable but offer surprising avenues for the presentation of individual histories or points of view.

Behind the screen display there are encoding strategies for accommodating cultural sensitivities. They demonstrate the ability of this medium not just to facilitate access but to restrict it.

2. Interactivity - means talking back
	There is no political power without control 
	of the archive, if not of memory.

				  Jacques Derrida1

Central Australian Aboriginal traditions were disintegrating rapidly when my father took photographs and cinefilm on a camel expedition from Hermannsburg Mission to Mount Liebig in 1933. This was at the end of the frontier period, when there were still isolated groups of Aborigines yet to experience non-Aboriginal contact. These people were of enormous interest as the remnants of a pre-settlement culture. The death, through tuberculosis, venereal disease, influenza and starvation of three quarters of the Arrerntte group (Hermannsburg) by 1927, had led to the belief in the scientific, as well as the general community, that the Aborigines in Central Australia were a vanishing race. In part, this was associated with a corresponding belief that to be Aboriginal was to be a 'full blood'. As a consequence, children of 'mixed blood' were removed (sometimes by force) from their families so that they could be assimilated into the non-Aboriginal community where, at that time, they were officially thought to belong.

The effects of this policy continue today. The struggle for recognition as 'Aboriginal' by people of mixed descent, the reclaiming of land and a process of cultural reconstruction has led to a re-telling of history which has altered the status of historical images relating to Aborigines. The politics of Aboriginal representation are now part of a discourse on power, involving a wider inter-cultural dialogue through which 'Aboriginality' is being continually re-made and re-invented. The consensus of self determination and nationhood now implied by this process includes a desire to control the production and circulation of images about Aborigines. 2

In the last decade, a disparate group of artists and scholars concerned variously with the histories of art, photography, anthropology and colonialism, have met, as it were, in the often dusty photo files of the world's ethnographic museums and collections, recognising that these early images hold important information about their respective disciplines and our culture as a whole.

(Nordstrom 1991)3

Discussion about the taking and presentation of pictures has been part of a public display of white guilt over ethnographic appropriation since the 1970s. This discussion is now part of a post-structuralist discourse through which hyper-media (via the Internet) has become the embodiment of a networked communications system that is rapidly becoming a powerful medium in its own right. Issues of indigenous representation and control in this medium remain largely unexplored.

This paper is a description of the methods used in The Flight of Ducks to accommodate Aboriginal cultural sensitivities. It is also a response to the email (below) from a remote community in Central Australia. It seeks to work towards the development of a protocol by which Australian historical material with Aboriginal references can be used online without the cultural conflict so evident in this message: 4


Working at Yuendumu in Warlpiri Media, we are surprised and shocked to find this sight without consultation. WMA is the premier interface between outside media and Warlpiri people, we should have been consulted.

The `for aboriginal people'* is both ineffective and irresponsible. The accessibility of the images of passed away people and sacred sights is frankly horrific.

You will be hearing from us in the near future.

* for aboriginal people refers to the warning screens used throughout the site to warn participants about culturally sensitive material.

In accordance with the paradigms of this new medium The Flight of Ducks is deliberately provocative on these issues but it should be noted (and understood) that it is also responsive.

3. Strange Uses - new paradigms of appropriation.

Marcia Langton's 'Well I heard it on the radio and saw it on the television...' is probably the best known Aboriginal examination of Aboriginal representation. Although the essay is restricted to the closed media of film and television, Langton acknowledges that it is 'unrealistic for Aboriginal people to expect that others will stop portraying us'.

Rather than demanding an impossibility, it would be more useful to identify those points where it is possible to control the means of production and to make our own self-representations.

(Langton 1993)5

The World Wide Web makes self-representation easy but it is hard to see how control could be possible in the kind of open, networked, digital medium that is about to engulf even the most remote communities. Images of indigenous people have been freely available in print and in film for over a century. Digitisation allows these images to be removed from their closed (sometimes restricted) media, making them easy to acquire, manipulate and re-context. It is unlikely that their re-use will be accompanied by any sense of responsibility towards the cultural sensitivities of their indigenous subjects unless some form of protocol is explored. The web is not only a most accessible digital medium of dissemination, but a medium in which unrestricted appropriation (Fig.1) has become one of the dominant paradigms.

Foxtell re-consuming the exotic Fig. 1

An example of how people are actually using this digital medium to re-purpose and re-consume material can be seen in an early example (June 1996) of a woman in the U.S.A who is writing a children's book about beards. She sent the following email:

I saw your pictures of aboriginal men and their beards. I've been searching the WWW for references. I'm working on a book for children called ‘Weird Beards’ -- a pictorial history of facial hair. Not much information available. Would love to include some aboriginal beards -- especially, interesting aboriginal beards. Would also love to know where to find information on their philosophy towards beards. Any? Sure thank you for any direction you might give.

(Email 1996) 6a

Anyone alarmed by this message and its implications must understand that this is what happens when the distinction between reading and writing starts to blur. Over the last three years The Flight of Ducks has become a source, not just of primary historical material, but (unexpectedly) a locus of general inquiry about Aboriginal culture and history quite outside its field of reference.

I would be so grateful if you are able to help me please. For some time I have been looking for the place where my family comes from. My grandmother was D.W. Legge and her husband's descent was from an Aboriginal tribe from the Darling Downs in N.S.W. I think. It is just something that I have always wanted to know. I know for a fact my grandfather was part Aboriginal, but it really frustrates me so much that I am unable to locate my descent. Can you please help me, anything at all. I would be so grateful.

(Email 1996)6b

Messages such as these are heartfelt and carry with them an enormous responsibility to see that they are handled in a responsible and sensitive manner. There are all kinds of requests for information the most common coming from schools.

I am a year 11 student currently studying Religion & Society.  We 
have based our religious studies on the Australian Aboriginal Religion.  
I was inquiring whether you had information on the following 
sub-heading, which are a main component of my CAT2:
	- The New Dreaming (the re-creation) 
	- The Stolen Generation 
	- Deaths in Custody 
	- Racism in sport
	- Reconciliation (including rights)

Any information would be much appreciated.  If you do not have any
information directly, could you please recommend some Web sites that I
could search for this information.

(Email 1997)6c

These messages are all stories in themselves. Yet these, and the main stories of inter-cultural contact told in The Flight of Ducks, are regarded from some political perspectives as being part of an on-going and continuous invasion of Aboriginal cultural territory. At a recent conference (where this paper was first presented) there were calls for The Flight of Ducks to be dismantled because it was `perpetuating the evil of cultural appropriation and an unlawful use of Aboriginal cultural property'. On the completion of the academic areas of this project (Submission for Ph.D.) the RMIT University Human Research Ethics Committee was so unsure of its own position regarding these issues that examination of the project was delayed for over seven months while the issues were debated. Misunderstanding the extent to which the site had proliferated, the committee made the request:

that you immediately remove from the site or block access to the following materials: the journal in its various versions, the photographs and any description of artifacts.

(Letter RMIT HREC 1998) 7

As this material makes up most of the site, The Flight of Ducks was simply removed from the University server. However, it was still running on the servers of the National Library of Australia and Cinemedia where the on-going consultation requirements of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protocols for Libraries, Archives and Information Services (to which these libraries conform) could still be met. The RMIT University Library does not operate under the ATSI Protocols.

The correspondence relating to the handling of these ethical issues provides an insight into the polarised political climate of inter-cultural relations in Australia today. Evidently, some people seek to align themselves with political movements by asserting authority through censorship. This action forms part of the continuing story of what is actually a record of a much gentler and benign incursion, during which there were (and are to my knowledge) no acts of violence, desecration or indiscretion.

The focus on gross structural relations in Australian history has precluded or ignored historical accounts of what actually happened on the ground. Also, in the re-telling (reinvention?) of colonial encounter, social action has been all but left out. The battle lines have been too sharply drawn. The boundaries of culture contact in Australia were not so black and white...There is more to the frontier than just thieves and victims.

(Anderson 1995) 8

Regardless of the perspectives from which these stories are told or heard, it is important to acknowledge that the digital representationsof both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people are of real people with descendants who miss them or who may not wish to be reminded that they are now dead. Some may still be alive.

Clearly, consultation and discussion with descendants or people who represent their interests is a desirable way to proceed. However, finding these people or their descendants using the consultative procedures currently advocated by organisations such as the Central Land Council has been more difficult and more politically divisive than I had imagined possible. I have now come to believe that the politics of control have made current procedures for consultation unworkable. The dispersal and relocation of descendants over time, means that anyone seeking consultation with community interests (who might be willing to enter into discussion) has to either hand over all material to the Central Land Council or try to locate people behind the wall of an industry of itinerant non-Aboriginal advisers.9

Over the last three years I have hardened towards people representing Aboriginal interests (who constitute this industry) because they are often more concerned to create cultural division than inter-cultural reconciliation through negotiation. This hardening does not mean that I am any the less responsive to the cultural sensitivities of aboriginal people or that I have no interest in consultation or their participation. On the contrary, it is the diversity of Aboriginal perspectives that is missing from The Flight of Ducks and only these perspectives will make it whole. On-line access is now becoming available to some communities in Central Australia. In time the communicative capacities of the medium itself may provide a viable means of consultation and participation.

Thanks for your response. The problem you seem to be experiencing seems to me to be one of impatience. I appreciate your time line but you should appreciate ours too. Consultation can take a long time to achieve.

We have been viewing your site. Questions are being asked.

Warlpiri people in Yuendumu seem to think these pictures are well before our time. A couple of pictures are probably of their ancestors. We want to know more about the precise time and place these photos took place. Most seem to be south from here but some could have Warlpiri people in them. We want to see the diary. Can you send us some details?

(Email 1997) 6d

What is new and different about The World Wide Web is that it is as much a means of communication as it is of dissemination. People can, and do - talk back. This means that to be genuinely open to the kind of conversation that can lead to the evolution of material online, one cannot predetermine or script its direction. The organic, transitional nature of this conversation means that a work grows incrementally in such an indeterminate way that its shape cannot be predicted. The fluidity of this conversation has the advantage (not enjoyed by closed media) that if/when cultural sensitivities arise they can be responded to and accommodated immediately.

Ironically, I suspect that this incremental method of working is far more in tune with the very local community' land based methodologies working against hierarchy and paternalism in central Australia. But it will not sit well with the privileged elite who scratch at the sores of official regret with their own form of cultural imperialism.10

The web is a powerful medium. It may even pose yet another threat to distinctive Aboriginal languages and cultures. Its arrival can be seen as an extension of the effects of media proliferation that began in Central Australia with the overland telegraph in 1872. One of the very first sequences of screens in The Flight of Ducks sought to emphasise the strong analogy between the advance of the Internet and the advance of the train that followed the telegraph lines. According to Daisy Bates the effects were devastating.

With the railway began the extermination of the Central native groups. Each group through whose territory the track was passing saw its waters used up, the trees and bushes were destroyed for firewood and fence posts, the whole country turned to strange uses. They thought that the train and its people would go away, and leave them the things to play with. They were mesmerised by the trains, the trains became their life, the rhythm of their days.

(Bates 1945) 11

Media proliferation is changing the rhythms of all of our lives and the problem may belong less to the politically indigenous than to all of us who see our cultural paradigms under threat from a technologically driven cultural convergence.

Internet technology is still in its infancy. There is a breathing space through which remote communities are effectively denied access because of distance, telephone charges, language, lack of hardware or because the World Wide Web may simply be a culturally unsatisfactory medium. At this stage the exponential growth of the web is, in Australia, an urban-based phenomenon. This form of urbanity is not just about living in the city away from the computer corrupting effects of wind born dust. It is about access to the very personal space of the computer screen that also offers connection to the very public space of a networked community. The former may turn out to be anathema to the social, cultural and hierarchical use of media in remote communities. In this respect the World Wide Web may be a culturally biased medium. It is certainly culturally colonised, after all, we are looking at our datascapes through American (Netscape - Microsoft - IBM) eyes and being forced to use American spelling in our markup.

We do not know yet if divergent cultural perspectives will generate forms resilient enough to maintain their integrity in this public access space or if these forms will simply become content - subsumed by larger media conglomerates. Perhaps indigenous interests will, as the Warlpari Media Association did with TV, evolve their own ways of using the medium.12

The medium's prime advantage as a means of accessing and shaping historical sources is that the same sources can be reused to tell parallel, contrasting or even conflicting stories. Tracy Moffat's powerful overwriting of Chauvel's Jedda (1955) with Night Cries, a Rural Tragedy (1990) 13 shows how this can be achieved in film. The web provides a means by which anyone can overwrite source material with her own words, sounds or images. Politically, it maybe a medium which can give people without power - a voice. On the other hand, the reluctance of Aboriginal interests to engage in conversation about these issues or to use the medium to talk back to me or The Flight of Ducks may mean that this is, in fact, wishful thinking and part of my own cultural bias.

Hello I am typing this letter to you for the people of the house, in which we are sharing. We are all Aboriginal and are willing to participate in the journey of learning in which you have spoken of. We have have no fear of the unseen and are firmly grounded in the ways of our ancestors.

We are presently in the education aspects of our lives and would appreciate a response as soon as possible. Our E-Mail address is

All our relations! Your new friends.

(Email 1997) 6e

4. Impasse - one history or many

The new wave of Aboriginal history does not make over or correct accounts of the past: it invents one. The movement is always towards a single history, not multiple histories, for reasons I do not understand. Perhaps it is a failure of comprehension itself, one which induces a deferral, an endless recourse to an elsewhere, an endless flicking through the pages of a constantly unfolding actuality.

(John von Sturmer 1989) 14

An impasse between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal perspectives may lie in the shifting ground on which we attempt to build our histories. Implicit in The Flight of Ducks and enshrined in our major repositories of cultural memory such as the National Library of Australia is the basic assumption that preservation and access to the national archive is desirable. Central Australian Aboriginal cultural practice is, on one level, characterised by its insistence on an opposite view, where evidence of the past and of the dead is destroyed. In both places this affects the way we tell our stories and the way we lend them authority. 15 Beyond the simple acknowledgement that there is a difference (and accepting this difference), it seems difficult to accommodate an Aboriginal view of history within the current paradigms of our national thinking. Historians themselves have moved away from the idea of a single narrative towards more pluralist views.

Only recently has it (positivist history) been challenged by demands, arising from separate impulses in post-colonial, feminist and post-structuralist work, for a more sophisticated appreciation of the fragmentary nature of our evidence and understanding of the past, and so a questioning of the aspirations of history to tell a single, simple `true' story.

(Goodall 1992) 16

While there is a general recognition of the `moral rights' of Aboriginal people to own their knowledge, few non-Aboriginal organisations are willing to accommodate `irresponsible' behaviour towards the archive. The forced repatriation of archaeological material in Tasmania was at the fault line of this political/cultural divide. In this instance, the scientific validity of an archaeological site was destroyed by re-burying excavated material in the site without documentation.

It is becoming more obvious that younger generations of European Australians now embrace Aboriginal history as part of their own history as Australians. As the current processes of reconciliation develop between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians this will increase. In this sense archaeological artefacts are part of a national heritage which precludes individual ownership, but encourages local Aboriginal groups to act as the appropriate custodians of them. However, custodial rights also carry the responsibilities of conservation and preservation.

(Murray & Allen 1995) 17

It is interesting to note how both communities view the land itself as an archive but consult it in different ways. The real issue is actually one of control. The distribution of Central Australian Aboriginal stories has, in the past, been controlled by the use of a spatial metaphor corresponding to identity with the land. Through the legal presentation of land claims these histories have now emerged from the field of anthropology to become much more than the 'melancholy footnotes' of a more general Australian story.18 The authority to tell history is (in remote communities) still derived from identity with land. But for those without a land-based identity, authority can sometimes be gained through political opportunism, a manipulation of history and the use of censorship as a means of control.

Are there stories that cannot be told?

From 1989-1990 Thomas Theye curated a controversial survey of photographs at the Munich Start museum, Haus Im Kultur der Welt, Berlin, and at the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum Volkerkunde, Cologne, entitled Der Geraubte Schatten: Photographie als ethnographisches Dokument [The Stolen Shadow: Photography as Ethnographic Document].

...this exhibition engendered controversy when it was shown. It was leafleted by a group objecting to '... turning the bodies of ... enslaved people into pornography', while the Berlin tageszeitung demanded 'the total abandonment of looking at those documents, or, even better, the complete extermination of the ethnographic photoarchives'.

(Nordstrom 1991) 19

In 1940 Mountford, an anthropologist, undertook a field trip into Central Australia. The Pitjantjatjara people revealed tribal sites and items of cultural and religious significance to the anthropologist. Mountford recorded the information and later wrote a book, Nomads of the Australian Desert that was distributed for sale in the Northern Territory.

In 1982, an injunction was granted to stop publication. The Pitjantjatjara Council proved that an obligation of confidence was placed on Mountford at the time he took photographs. The Court granted an order that the photographs be handed over to the Pitjantjatjara Council to check for any which "related to or recorded any of the philosophical or religious traditions of the Pitjantjatjara". Furthermore, the Court declared that "the property in and ownership of the slides, photographs and negatives vested in the Pitjantjatjara Council for and on behalf of the Pitjantjatjara Yankunjatjara and Ngaayatjara peoples". 20

To bring a breach-of-confidence action, it is necessary to show that the relationship of confidence existed at the time the information was relayed. However, under indigenous law, it is not relevant whether such 'secrecy' is in existence. If sacred material has been disseminated amongst people not authorised to receive it, then it follows that a breach of indigenous law has occurred.

It is ironic (perhaps necessary) that historical material that is regarded as part of a living culture and returned is often destroyed because in its original context it was never intended to be preserved in perpetuity. Having survived the eras of intrusion and assimilation it is lost in the process of cultural reconstruction.

Similarly, on the one hand (in Central Australia) we have Aboriginal communities which seek to erase physical evidence of the past but at the same time insist that the telling of a story is itself authoritative evidence. On the other, a non-aboriginal community which seeks to preserve evidence of the past but at the same time is capable of what the historian Bain Atwood cites as a 'cult of forgetfulness or disremembering' on a national scale. In his paper The Past as Future (1996), he warns against a single narration of a single story and acknowledges an irreconcilable cultural division.

This raises the question of what role practitioners of historical disciplines should play in the making of a new historical consciousness and national identity. Many are probably inclined to argue that they should merely play the role of the sceptic. This would entail, for example, historians, archaeologists and anthropologists not only interrogating the content of conventional historical narratives but also Aboriginal histories, as well as contesting Aboriginal assertions of ownership of the past...scholars must refuse the claim of some Aborigines that there is only one story to be told and the demand that only they should narrate this, or that we should tell it as they do. If we fail to do so, our chances of learning through history will be severely eroded, as will our own sense of self and culture, while the pluralism which lies at the heart of an authentically democratic society and polity will be undermined.

(Atwood 1996) 21

The Flight of Ducks promotes, invites and maintains a networked pluralism. By using the web as a space in which historical material is represented within the spatial context of an ever-changing datascape, history takes on a shape that can be explored, added to, discussed, challenged and overwritten. 22

Assuming there is something to be explored beyond the issue of control, then one must also ask whether it is actually possible to tell stories of inter-cultural contact while remaining deferential to Aboriginal cultural sensitivities. These sensitivities can only be revealed through inter-cultural dialogue. It is encouraging that this dialogue has begun, but discouraging that there are some people for whom debate is anathema to sensitivity and disagreement a sign of disrespect. To date, the primary difficulty is in moving beyond the politics of control and identifying specifically what those cultural sensitivities might be. The use of the email message (Fig. 2) as a warning screen is uncomfortable, but it serves to demonstrate that the work is responsive and that overwriting is possible.



Culturally Sensitive Material


Working at Yuendumu in Warlpiri Media, we are surprised and shocked to find this site without consultation. WMA is the premier interface between outside media and Warlpiri people, we should have been consulted.

The ‘for aboriginal people’ is both ineffective and irresponsible. The accessibility of the images of passed away people and sacred sights is frankly horrific."

The message above now replaces a previous sensitivity warning and is part of an ongoing discussion to which you are invited to contribute. Source and replies

indigenous links

Fig. 2

From the outset (1995), without this conversation, I chose to assume that all material relating to the 1933 expedition was culturally sensitive. It seemed appropriate to follow common practice by placing a warning on the opening screen of the site, in the same way that books or films (with Aboriginal material) are preceded by warnings. Like the rest of the site this screen has undergone its own evolution but it was not until the message from Yuendemu (Fig. 2) that I had any tangible statement from (purported) Aboriginal interests that could possibly overwrite my own and which could actively demonstrate how content could be overwritten.

Warning screens have now proliferated throughout the site in case entry is made as the result of a search and not at the front screen. At the same time in order to make it easier for anyone searching for family members, I have extracted every Aboriginal face from the images. Each image is entitled 'Aboriginal face with unknown name'. These databases exist in three forms:

5. Behind the Camera - the photo as self representation
Shadow of FJAP photographing children Fig. 3

Half of the 143 photographs taken by my father in 1933 depict Aboriginal people. Aborigines were obviously the subject of intense interest, yet the images themselves (Fig. 3) probably provide more insights in to his way of thinking and seeing than they do of their subjects. John von Sturmer 24 makes the observation that to take a photograph is to position the self in such a way that each act of representation is actually an act of self-representation.

filming a fire making Fig. 4

It is great loss that the 16mm cine films recording the trading for objects and skulls were destroyed in a bush fire in 1942 (see centre of image above (Fig. 4) for my father filming - camera case in foreground). It is not known how many films there were, but it is reasonable to expect that the taking of the still photographs would have been supplementary to them. This may explain the complete absence of any images of Stanley Larnach or of Hezekiel, their Aboriginal guide. The photographs have the almost incidental quality of 'snaps' rather than studied attempts to bring back evidence as an archive of the journey. Only a few are directly described in the journal.

Almost all of the photographs were taken on the outward journey (before my father ran out of film) rather than on the journey back, which Paul Carter 25 considers to be essential for locating suitable vantage points. It is interesting to note that the role played by the aboriginal guide, as surrogate camera - as repository of spatial memory is linked by Carter to the skill of the hunter. This was a role my father took very seriously and his journal entries revolve around the getting of meat. He too, had a photographic memory.

My father processed most of the photographs in a bathroom when he returned to Sydney in 1933. At some point the prints were glued randomly into an album. Physically (when examined after his death in 1991) the photographs were in many stages of faded decay. Most were simply contact prints. Not all the prints have negatives and some may have been lost. Some of the negatives, which were discovered in rusty cigarette tins, had never been printed.

I spent some time with my father in 1985 going through the photographs that were in the album (unaware of the unprinted negatives) and recording (on audio tape) his descriptions of the content and context of each image. At this time he could barely see and his memory was unreliable. Several years after his death I sat down with another member of the 1933 party, Dr Maurice Joseph 26, who was able to give me some account of the photographs at Hermannsburg. At the end of the session Dr Hugh Barry (also a member) arrived. Unfortunately, he had little memory of the period but at the sight of a billy in one of the photographs he related an anecdote which I will paraphrase:

Professor Davies' experiments27 at Hermannsburg Mission were concerned with water metabolism. Put simply, he wanted to find out if Central Australian Aborigines had a physiology that enabled them to cope with heat better than people who lived in cooler climates. Various groups were chosen as subjects, these included my father, Hugh Barry, Maurice Joseph and a group of 'mission Aborigines' as well a group of recently arrived 'wild Aborigines'. The idea was to measure and weigh how much each group ate and drank and then to measure and weigh all the urine and faeces and to compare the two. Hugh Barry's task was to collect all the 'waste' of the 'wild' group in a large billy. Of course, this meant that he had to follow the men everywhere, day and night. According to Barry, his efforts were met at first by disbelief and then hilarity. The men quickly turned the procedure, whereby they relieved themselves into the billy, into a song with a dance.

According to Barry, it was such fun that the ceremony persisted after the experiment had finished. He said that several years later, an earnest young anthropologist witnessed the ceremony and wrote an anthropological paper speculating on its ancient and traditional origins.

I have been unable to locate any such paper but the story illustrates the way in which images (the billy) can evoke memories which are not recorded but which form themselves into cultural allegories. Some people find the story mildly amusing as an example of the absurd earnestness with which non-aboriginal culture sometimes attempts view the 'other'. Other people see the Aboriginal laughter as extreme embarrassment. They find the story not only distasteful but also imbued with the horrors of Joseph Mengele's 'scientific' experimentation on Jewish subjects ten years later at Auschwitz.

Europeans prefer to forget that the Nazi ideologies that led to these horrors had their foundation in the mainstream of intellectual thought at the time. From this perspective one can detect a way of thinking in the journals of The Flight of Ducks that tells a quite different story to the one I think it is telling. A way of thinking from which most people have recoiled. But does this mean that the story should not be told?

What do the photographs reveal about the views of these young men?

6. Facing the Camera - reading images

Reading images does not lend itself to objectivity but without doing this my own position is unclear and just as my father was behind the camera, I am behind the screens which display these digital surrogates. There are several hundred images, so, only representative images will be discussed.

There is an obvious distinction to be made between those images where there is a formal arrangement of people facing the camera and those that appear to be just 'snaps' - without complicit arrangement. The group photographs are examples of formal arrangements like school photographs where people stand ‘at ease’ in military fashion. Somehow (perhaps by instruction) this pose seems to have been adopted by many of the Aboriginal people facing the camera.

(208 x 251) Aboriginal - three men standingFig. 5 Course, Petersen and StrehlowFig. 6

In these two photographs (Figs. 5 & 6) we see the same pose but with different degrees of familiarity with the camera. The two Aboriginal men looking away appear to be responding to someone out of frame. This gives the photograph a kind of tension, as if the men are about to move. The man on the left seems intent on the camera but his right toes are raised as though he wants to move, or at least change position. The men appear to be pinned down by the action of taking the picture. The right hand photograph shows three men at ease with the conventions of photography. Petering (centre) looks almost aggressive in his boredom, as if he was staring the camera down. The other two are smiling, perhaps out of deference to photographic convention - not shared by the Aborigines. The mechanic, Course, (left) has barefeet. Strehlow (right) seems the most relaxed of all.

It must be significant that only three of the photographs in the collection show Aborigines whose names are recorded. From one perspective this is indicative of the cultural separation between these men. Part of the reason can be found in the journal where my father refers to a man he had treated for a jaw abscess:

We got an early start on the last day's travel to Mount Liebig, The jaw abscess chap walked along with us, emerging quietly from behind a rock as we started off. His name was quite beyond my tongue or phonetics and although he made no demands I thought that he might have expected food.

(Journal 1933)

The only names mentioned in the journal are the European/Biblical names of the mission men: Rolf, Billy, Hezekiel and Titus. I am unable to identify any of these men in the photographs. On the other hand both Manasseh, and Ntjikitjikurrpa (spelling provided by Paul Albrecht) were identified by Dr Maurice Joseph when I showed him the photographs in 1991.

According to Dr Joseph, Ntjikitjikurrpa (Fig. 7) had recently arrived from the west. He was very popular and was a great favourite of everyone at the mission. The photograph shows a confident man at ease with the camera and the world around.

Ntjikitjikurrpa with child Fig. 7 2 malnourished children Fig. 8

Or does it? I used to see the photograph as a respectful portrait of a man with a child. Recently it was pointed out to me that the child had the distended belly symptomatic of malnutrition. 28 While Ntjikitjikurrpa is portrayed as a gentle man of dignity and stature beyond any ideas of 'primitive' or 'other', the image of the malnourished child (Fig. 8) points to the grim reality of Central Australian Aboriginal life in 1933. The photograph is both a portrait and a clinical study. The child is being held up for display. Is Ntjikitjikurrpa the father of the child and demonstrating his concern by holding the child for the camera? Is he aware of the malnutrition? Is he acting as an assistant by holding up someone else's child for inspection and photographic record?

Aboriginal man in front of wurlieFig. 9

There are a number of photographs that attempt to capture the Aborigines as ethnographic curiosities. The photograph above (Fig. 9) is one of a series depicting a family in front of their wurlie. In another of these, the ‘at ease’ pose reappears.

In other images from this series the man is holding a spear in the ethnographic manner of images which were to become archetypes of Aboriginal representation for the next 40 years. Such a reading might be applied to the following photograph of a group of Luritcha with which I include text from the journal.

Aboriginal men with 2 boysFig. 10

...just as it was getting dark some fine looking natives came striding up the creek bed carrying all their weapons and not wearing a stitch. They were five or six in number all men with two young recently initiated boys. We greeted them and then got the camel boy to tell them to come and camp where we were.

(Journal 1933)29

Is nakedness an issue? Here the image is clearly genuine and not staged. My father refers, almost wistfully, to his own nakedness in the journal.

One swims and walks about without anything on, and so does every man, woman and child. No-one takes the slightest notice. Even the mission people regard nakedness as just a lack of clothes. Of course when I went off hunting I wore a shirt and trousers etc. for protection against prickly grasses, snakes, sun and sand papering by sand storms.

(Journal 1933)30

The photograph of a naked white man, Kurt Johannsen, digging a soak, is an unusual image for its time (Fig. 11). It was taken soon after their arrival at Hermannsburg when they were about to eat an echidna. Looking at the image today, it seems curious and hardly fits the popular archetype of the Australian bushman. It might even appear that they were they just playing at being bushmen. The short trip was probably more of a quick introduction into a way of doing things in the centre. Kurt was an experienced bushman and my father was quite accustomed to living off the land.

Kurt digging for waterFig. 11

On the other hand, Ernestine Hill, seems to reveal a more bemused tone in the newspaper piece from the Adelaide Advertiser:

The scientists, all of whom are strangers to the interior, have spent the first day at Alice Springs photographing camels and the picturesque MacDonnell Ranges, and in the afternoon, after a swimming party at Simpson's Gap, they wandered in the hills in bathing suits in pursuit of lizards and other specimens of biological research.

(Journal 1933) 31

There are very few photographs, other than those at Hermannsburg Mission, showing members of the expedition together with Aborigines. A curious photograph (Fig. 12) of Arthur Murch with an un-named Aboriginal man offers contradictory insights into some of the levels of interaction.

1933 photograph: Murch and unidentified Aboriginal with King-plate Fig. 12

Looking at this image out of context. It appears that the Aboriginal man is submissive with a kind of tag hanging from his neck. He is wearing rags. His head is bent as if he has gone to ground. The white man, though squatting down is still in a position of power over him. He might almost be offering him consolation. In the journal we get another picture.

Next morning we amused them by organising sports at which they showed little ability. Murch painted a few of their faces and sketched them, which he is very clever at, and some of them brought in animals for Larnach to cure and preserve. We gave the king a medal painted by Murch which seemed to please and honour him. He strutted around vainly and certainly seemed to get much kudos and admiration from those around him. They nearly all went away in a mob to show it off to the larger gathering further off.

(Journal 1933) 32

Organised sports and school photographs seem to have left a deep imprint on these young men as they attempt to establish common ground on which to interact. Their antics must have seemed absurd to the Aborigines. But it is also evident that this lack of understanding seems to have been complemented by goodwill on both sides.

Some of them posed for pictures and others brought in animals. The barriers were broken down, by our inharmonious and raucous efforts to give them the idea. Our common repertoire was pitifully limited and off key and ran little beyond one verse of God Save the King and Waltzing Matilda. I wished I had brought my gramophone and some Bach, Mozart and Schubert songs to watch the natives reactions. However our efforts gave them the idea and reduced them to almost helpless laughter.

(Journal 1933) 33

The choice of songs might seem pitifully colonial were it not so sad that it was the 'common' repertoire. In fact, I found myself singing much the same songs (on the island of Lombok) to a group of children in 1969 who had never seen Europeans before and wanted to hear our songs. That this man should be referred to as a 'king' may simply have been a result of the idea of the King-plate (a colonial idea). While it indicates cultural separation, it seems unusual that it should reappear here. The photograph has been taken at an odd angle and the Aboriginal elder does not look nearly so happy with it as both Murch and the accompanying text would suggest. On the other hand Arthur Murch is regarded as one of the first artists to draw and paint Aborigines as they looked, rather than as caricatures or of noble savages. 34

I have referred to several photographs that might be considered to be prime examples of an 'ethnographic gaze'. The most politically difficult example must surely be the extraordinary photograph of a mother and daughter standing in the spinifex of the rocky slope of Mount Liebig (Fig. 13). The photograph was taken to record a double nipple genetic abnormality. In arrangement, it shows the concerns and interests of the young medical student. Again, it is a clinical shot. The two women are shown side by side so that their breasts can be compared. The daughter's knee is bent and she is looking away as though she is anxious to leave.

double nipple genetic abnormality Fig. 13

Reasons for the younger woman's pubic covering may be as complex as those offered by Timothy Mason in his essay34a on Spencer and Gillen. Perhaps she was offered the covering because she is young and had what is now called 'body value'. By contrast the mother (without body value) is entirely naked. She engages the camera (and my father) with a resolute look of fierce independence.

Time and harsh conditions have ravaged this remarkable woman. Such an image may no longer be acceptable for display when seen from the perspective of feminist politics or indigenous representation. Should it be removed/censored? Can it be overwritten with other texts in order to place it into political and ideological contexts? Does it show more about the man who took it than it does about its subjects? I have taken several steps to make this image less accessible. First, by the use of a screen warning. Second, by blurring the thumbnail image in the combing screen.

This photograph (in analogue form) exists as a tiny faded contact print a little bigger than the size of this thumbnail. In its digital form it resides in a screen field without descriptive text, apart from the screen location along the bottom. The image is directly linked to an index of images of other women. This screen space is also shared by three iconic images: A link to email; the duck, which appears on every screen as an exit; a camel - which represents the 1933 journal; and my head shot which represents this text because I have used the image in another way. It is intended that anyone who might seek to overwrite or use this image can be provided with an iconic link to her thoughts. In this way the image can become encrusted with textually neutral iconic representations rather than contextual labels, captions, tags or 'parasitic' text.

Are these racist representations?

After this night I will always respect the blacks as the custodians of a real culture, wherever it came from and however debased it is today. As they left the camp fire they all took a burning stick and walked through the grass back to the lubras, swishing it about their ankles to keep off the devils that come with the dark. During the night I tried hard to get some knowledge of how they managed to call a corroboree and arrive at the right time and how, if at all, they used the stars and moon, but the results were sparse and so unreliable that they are worthless. Hezekiel was bent on sleep and soon left, and my 50 year old could not grasp what I was after.

(Journal 1933) 35

7. Behind the Screen - access and metadata

In their analogue and unpublished state these images are historical fragments rather than a collection with intent or any degree of sophistication. The opposite is true of their re-presentation within The Flight of Ducks . Here, they come together as a 'collection' in digital form with definite intent. Derived from their analogue sources they are arranged so that they are not only accessible but are associated with written text, as they have never been before. Their sizes have been dictated by the screen space. Their resolution by a pragmatic desire to have the images download quickly. Their blue-fire borders are now only activated electronically against a chalk-black background (a reference to their hidden analogue life in the darkness of the photograph album).

These portraits (Roslyn Poignant's father's) are embedded in the historical processes that constituted the cultural movements of the period; they do not illustrate, but they can be summoned as witness in the sense that they are open to question like any other document. The photographer's ambivalences of practice are locked into their structure and are part of the message which requires decoding. But from the moment photographs pass into circulation, no matter how limited, and particularly once they pass through the editorial screen, they escape their originators' intentions. Like any other piece of historical evidence they require verification, and situating within several fields of their production and reception. They are not only open to interpretation, but also reinterpretation.

(Poignant 1991) 36

In The Flight of Ducks the photographs have become part of a larger narrative in which they function both as illustration and as substantiation.

Many months were spent digitising these images and building easily accessible indexes of thumbnail copies. Each photograph went through a nine-step process (described in the main photographic index). A means of browsing the images was provided, first, by collecting them into groups of ten thumbnails. Second, by the use of an index screen of all the thumbnails so that they can be searched using the browser's 'find' facility.

Having made the images accessible, the guiding principle has been to sustain an illusion (by screen display) that each image is free of editorial bias. Each image is displayed in a text neutral field apart from the faint footer text that unavoidably locates it within the aesthetic and iconic field of The Flight of Ducks . I have made several attempts to reduce the impact of the footer text both in size and colour. At one stage, even making it invisible by giving it the same colour as the background. On reflection, it seemed more useful for screen identification and discovery purposes - to keep it legible.

The role of the <title> in screen discovery is usually underestimated or goes un-noticed. Titles in markup language (HTML) are necessarily text. They carry with them the authority that control of such textual labelling implies. Titles are crude forms of metadata and several search engines only search key words in titles. The screen titles have also gone through many refinements. Remnants of their more complex descriptive form can be found in the main combing screen. Another more complex form that tried to address the screen space needs of the `Go' function in the Netscape browser was (source: Fig. 12):

<title>Photograph...........Australian history: Aboriginal with Murch painted king-plate 1933 - The Flight of Ducks..........kingplate </title>

Now, as with many metadata elements I have returned to the simplicity of:

<title>1933 photograph: Murch and unidentified Aboriginal with King-plate</title>

One could easily see the existence of metadata fields as political statements about control - as chains of accession. Certainly, they point to a statement about `rights'. This statement now also refers to a further recourse statement (as a condition of approval by the RMIT HREC).

These rights are implicit in the allocation of metadata to the digital surrogates and off-line sources of the photographs. In order to assist in discovery and/or effective filtering, the image (Fig. 12) carries with it, in the source code, the following metadata:

The application of non-textual metadata to images is a problem that very few people are willing to address. Primarily, this is because the archival community still sees text as a primary source of information description and lacks both the will and the nerve to attempt other forms of description. I intend to pursue the development of machine-readable images when time permits. Within the context of the current Dublin Core fields and the limitations of text based metadata one can only use crude forms of description and keywords.

alt="1933 photograph: Murch and unidentified Aboriginal with King-plate"

At this stage of mark-up evolution the 'ALT' tag in HTML, which was used to describe an image in default, is in transition, because Microsoft's Internet Explorer uses this tag as a source of 'roll-over' information. Regardless, any link to the image will involve description even as roll-over and the values of this description should not be ignored.

The plain text leading to the display and discovery of these images also creates spatial associations by means of markup. Behind each image (if you press it) is a thumbnail index that places the image in a group and each group next to another group. This must be seen as another form of editorial association. Here the goal is based on ease of discovery. After reading Marcia Langton I felt that the main photographic index could be improved by removing the sense of 'other' where the photographs were grouped by subjects which included 'aboriginal men' 'aboriginal women' 'aboriginal families' beside 'camels' and various places. It seemed more appropriate to entitle these groups simply: 'men', 'women', and 'children'. These grouping are arbitrary and I hope value free.

Similarly, within the aesthetic field of each screen I have kept words away by using iconic images to refer to textual references so that (like limpets) they encrust the left field of the image but are textually neutral. With some images there is no reference at all. They remain within the collection without any encrustations - alone in the darkness - waiting to be used or discovered.

8. On-line Solutions - the documentary as model

In the Appendix 37 to `Well I heard it on the radio and saw it on the television...' Marcia Langton proposes a protocol of areas for consideration by potential filmmakers. Looking at the issues raised by each of these areas is a useful way of dealing with the way in which online works differ from closed works and at the same time addressing the issues in an online context. She asks:

Whose interests does the work serve?

The Flight of Ducks is neither a commercial work nor a political statement. In as far as it is representative of web work in general, it is an exploration; a transitional participatory work, constantly evolving to suit a variety of purposes and interests. The convergence of technology which has created this medium is characterised by a similar convergence of purpose where sometimes competing/contradictory interests and views can be accommodated. This ability to re-purpose the same data so that it can be viewed from different perspectives gives the medium its flexibility.

At any time The Flight of Ducks can be seen as:

Identifying whose interests these purposes serve is similarly hard to pin down. While the development of the site has been a source of satisfaction for me and has provided a vehicle for academic research, it has also been at enormous personal cost in time foregone, income and neglect of family. It could hardly be regarded as being motivated by self or family interests.

The site serves the interests of the National Library of Australia as a pilot project. It serves the interests of Cinemedia as a digital work with which to test its collection services. It serves the interests of teachers and researchers looking for primary historical data. It even adds to our national story. It may help to serve Aboriginal interests by being an accommodating project in which issues of Aboriginal representation online can be explored through discussion without acrimony or political polarisation.

Editorial & Distribution Control

The evolving and open-ended nature of online work means that editorial control over scripting is not applicable because there is no script. Instead, there is an endless series of screen variants. Control of these variants by anyone other than the person with control over the source code, on the server side, requires an open accessible infrastructure few organisations would dream of - let alone tolerate. The movement is, in fact, towards a more secure accountable and inaccessible infrastructure.

9. Implementation of PICS - a filtering architecture

Censorship of the Internet was an issue in American 1995 in relation to children's access to pornography. Solutions are being found by the implementation of filters on the client side rather than at the server level. PICS (Platform for Internet Content Selection) for example, provides an infrastructure for associating labels (metadata) with Internet content. It was originally designed to help parents and teachers control what children access on the Internet, but it also facilitates other uses for labels, including code signing, privacy, and intellectual and cultural property rights management.

Around the world, governments are considering restrictions on online content. Since children differ, contexts of use differ, and values differ, blanket restrictions on distribution can never meet everyone's needs. Selection software can meet diverse needs, by blocking reception, and labels are the raw materials for implementing context-specific selection criteria. The availability of large quantities of labels will also lead to new sorting, searching, filtering, and organising tools that help users surf the Internet more efficiently.

(Resnick & Miller 1996) 38

PICS can also be used as way of restricting access to restricted or sensitive Aboriginal cultural material. Without region specific Aboriginal input, the implementation of PICS over The Flight of Ducks can only be a model and a demonstration of how such a filtering mechanism can be used. There are few technological difficulties but there seem to be a host of cultural difficulties arising from the politics of representation.

Inter-cultural dialogue would be seeking to identify:

The work on this implementation in The Flight of Ducks can only be considered as a path finding model because Netscape does not yet support the PICS labels and providers and collecting institutions are yet to grapple with the problems of cultural sensitivity online. Australia is a multi-cultural society and Aboriginal cultural sensitivities are in many ways opposite to those of, say, Muslim cultural sensitivities where access to images of live people is a problem.

Paul Resnick (above) responded to the challenge of implementing PICS over The Flight of Ducks by setting the task as an assignment (see [online] part IV) for his students. This involved the creation of a 'rat' file using the descriptive dimensions provided to him below. These descriptions were/are not intended to be prescriptive but rather to be suggestive of a starting point, in order to provoke discussion, and to give some idea of the kinds of sensitivities Australian Aboriginal communities identify as being problematic.

Rating System Descriptors fot Aboriginal Cultural Sensitivities

Textual References:

  1. Names of deceased people
  2. Secret/sacred objects
  3. Secret/sacred sites
  4. Derogatory descriptions

Pictorial references:

  1. Images of deceased people
  2. Names of deceased people
  3. Secret/sacred objects
  4. 4. Secret/sacred sites
  5. 5. Derogatory descriptions
Non-Aboriginal Cultural Sensitivities

Textual References:

  1. Killing of wildlife
  2. Derogatory racial description
  3. Non-sexual Nudity

Pictorial references

  1. Derogatory racial description
  2. Non-sexual Nudity

It should be noted that at this stage PICS has several limitations:

10. Four Levels of Cultural Accommodation

To date there are four levels of cultural accommodation employed in the The Flight of Ducks:

It is a sad reflection on the currency of inter-cultural dialogue that most people within public institutions will only speak, in confidence, about many of the issues that arise from how we tell stories of inter-cultural contact. From the perspective of digital preservation, the challenge is to provide restricted access to this material with out betraying the confidence. It is important that this collection is not broken up or censored because it is has more chance of being carried into the future by the World Wide Web, as a collection, than as a series of unrelated files.

At a recent conference I tried to explain these various levels of accommodation, the response was disturbing. Such is the political climate in Australia (at the moment) that issues of Australian Aboriginal cultural sensitivity are seen by many people as issues which should not be addressed by non-aboriginal people at all. 39 One member of the audience went so far as to say that, in protest, he would ask the other members of the audience not to look at The Flight of Ducks. I believe that a fair measure of inter-cultural maturity is that, when arguing, it should be possible to disagree and yet remain friends.

The struggle for power and control of history is a contentious issue but it should not be confused with genuine attempts to create a calm and reflective space where people throughout the community can be heard - regardless of their descent.

Notes & References
  1. Derrida, Jacques, Archive Fever University of Chicago Press, 1996 footnote #1 P.4

    He continues: `Effective democratisation can always be measured by this essential criterion: the participation in and the access to the archive, its constitution, and its interpretation.

  2. Michael Frankel & Company [1997] Proposals For The Recognition and Protection of Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property Fulbright Symposium, Indigenous Cultures in an Interconnected World [Online]. Available: [1998, April 28].

    The project is funded by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), and arose as a response to recent Federal government inquiries showing the inadequacy of Australian intellectual property and cultural heritage laws in dealing with issues of concern to Indigenous people. In 1997, after raising questions about online issues I was invited to submit this essay `Blinding the Duck' to the project as a case study and a way of building awareness.

    The reference leading to this note is also an oblique reference to a pan-Aboriginal political stance. There is no consensus amongst Aboriginal interests just as is there is no consensus amongst non-Aboriginal interests. To expect such a consensus is unrealistic and arises from the totalising concept of `aboriginality' which Stephen Mueke recognises a being such an enormous burden and hard to throw off.

    `Culture thus seems to me to be the prison of twentieth century Aborigines.'

    Mueke, Stephen, Lonely Representations in Power, Knowledge and Aborigines ed. Atwood & Arnold, P. 40.

    The policy of the Central Land Council towards archival material assumes that all material has been acquired by `theft'. An official publication on the handling of images of Aborigines is:

    Central Land Council - Annual Report 1994-95 P. 31

    Byrne, Alex., Garwood, Alana., Moorcroft, Heather. and Barnes, Alan. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protocols for Libraries Archives and Information Services [Online]. Available: [1998, April 28].

    This recognises `a moral right' over all material and then emphasises that most protocols are in development and attempts to shift responsibility away from the institution by calling for `consultation' and Aboriginal involvement.

  3. Nordstrom, A. D. [1991] Persistent images: photographic archives in ethnographic collections Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture vol. 6 no 2 [Online]. Available: [1998, April 28].

  4. This email was written by a newly arrived non-Aboriginal advisor. I have since heard that the WMA are no longer interested in the site because they do not think Warlpiri people are depicted. I have also been told that because of a shortage of time and resources The Flight of Ducks was most likely lumped in with other work depicting Aboriginal people. However, in order to demonstrate how material can be overwritten, this message now overwrites my own warning screen. For replies and further emails concerning this issue see: Conversation (1997, June 3) [Online]. Available:[1998, April 28].

    As of 17th June 1999, I have yet to receive a reply to any of my questions or answers from 17th June 1997.

  5. Langton, Marcia `Well I heard it on the radio and saw it on the television...' Australian Film Commission, 1993 2nd edition. P.10
  6. 6a: Gardella, Tricia. ( (1996, June 19). beards Email to Simon Pockley ([Online]. Available: [1998, April 28].

    6b: Legge, D.W. ( (1996, November 5). decent aboriginal Email to Simon Pockley ( [Online]. Available: [1998, April 28].

    6c: Katers, Natalie. (, August 7). Aborginal information Email to Simon Pockley ( [Online]. Available: [1998, April 28].

    6d: WMA Management Committee ( (1997, June 17). Warlpiri Response Email to Simon Pockley ( [Online]. Available: [1998, April 28].

    6e: Unsigned ( (1997, June 19th). Journey Email to Simon Pockley ( [Online]. Available: [1998, April 28].

    Unfortunately I did not hear from this household again.

  7. The letter from the RMIT Human Research Ethics Committee requesting this action is not available because it was marked Private and Confidential. Correspondence leading up to this action begins with a letter from the University Solicitor (1997, Nov 24).

    The politicisation of this committee has meant that it has been operating outside it Terms of Reference. Under these Terms of Reference, it is clearly stated that its scope covers `Proposed Projects' concerned with `Animal or Human Experimentation'. The RMIT HREC acknowledges that this project is not `proposed' neither does it involve `Animal and Human Experimentation'.

  8. Anderson, C. The Politics of the Secret, Oceania Monograph, No. 45, 1995, P.1.
  9. Aboriginal people continue to be misrepresented by their non-aboriginal advisors (as usual, with the best of intentions). This is a story yet to be told. My own contacts with the `Thought Police' can only be inferred from the conversations which form part of this work. Out of frustration with the `consultative procedures' I drove up to Central Australia in order to attempt to locate descendants myself. I was privileged to be granted a 48 hour permit to enter Aboriginal land to retrace my father's route to Mount Liebig where, unfortunately, I could find no descendants.

    My failure was not complete because I did find one descendant at Wallace Rockhole who 'unofficially' was quite happy for me to use the photographs and very interested in the result. The community at Mount Liebig had only been there for 13 years and I was told (by the administrator) that the population had little historical connection with the surrounding country. I was unlucky in that the other communities of Haasts Bluff and Papunya were all but deserted because of the expected arrival of the feared `Red Ochre' men.

    Experienced negotiators tell me these sorts of events are common and that even if I was known to the communities and knew who to contact, I would need at least six months in the field.

  10. Pardoe, Colin, Arches of Radii, Corridors of Power in Power, Knowledge and Aborigines ed. Atwood & Arnold, P. 134.

    Explains how he has come to terms with Aboriginal ownership of their ancestors skeletal remains and tries to emphasise the positive aspects of Aboriginal involvement even though he mourns the loss of data. He cites Mulvaney as an example of the acrimonious debate:

    `Any decision taken by Aboriginal communities today that involves destruction of ancient evidence, or bans studying segments of human existence, suggests gross insecurity. It replaces European cultural dominance by an equally aggressive cultural imperialism. To claim total knowledge of the past and deny the rights of others to question it, challenges the intellectual freedom of all Australians, particularly future Aborigines.'

    ('Reflections on the Murray Black Collection' Australian Natural History, vol.23, no1, 1989, pp. 66-72).

  11. Bates,D, The Passing of the Aborigines p.194-5. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1945.
  12. Michaels, Eric, Aboriginal Content: Who's Got it - Who Needs it? Art & Text 23/4 P.61.

    Eric Michaels cites, as a case study, The Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA) which broadcasts to 24 distinct language groups by town based staff who do not speak any aboriginal languages or practice traditional custom. The three hours per week reserved for (CAAMA) based productions means that each language get 6 minutes per language per week not counting commercials in English.

    The development of new cultural forms may be a fleeting misinterpretation. It is now nearly 10 years since Eric Michaels warned of the official rejection of infant indigenous television forms because they were being threatened by `training' to upgrade the `quality'. Anecdotal reports from Yuendemu describe the current form as `dysfunctional'.

  13. Langton, Marcia Op.Cit. See P.45 for an anti-colonial analysis of `Night Cries'.
  14. Von Sturmer, John, Aborigines, Representation, Necrophilia Art & Text 32, Autumn, 1989: P.137

    John von Sturmer makes the point that control of representation is actually censorship.

  15. Michaels, Eric, Op Cit. P.61.

    Eric Michaels goes some way towards answering Dr von Sturmer's perplexity when he describes the particular way in which the Warlpari people use television as a means of disseminating truth as an extension of their oral tradition. He finds in the lack of written archives...

    a capacity for oral truths to respond to change without ever appearing to be changing. One means by which this is accomplished is by refusing to externalise inscription except in social discourses and performance. From within the oral system which stores information in specified authorities and reproduces it in socially regulated ritual, there is no contradiction possible to claim that Dreaming Law is and always was, as it is, external. From outside the system, we may observe that the law can change, without ever appearing to do so.

  16. Goodall, Heather, `The Whole Truth and Nothing But...' Some intersections of Western Law, Aboriginal History and Community Memory, in Power, Knowledge and Aborigines ed. Atwood & Arnold, pp 109.
  17. Murray, Tim and Allen, Jim [1995 Dec] The Forced Repatriation of Archaeological Materials [Online]. Available: [1998, April 28].

    It is significant that the authors defend a World Heritage listing by questioning the cultural validity of `modern Tasmanian Aborigines' by removing them genetically (`full-blood') from their past.

    In Tasmania in particular, the `culturally significant' category should also extend to archaeological collections specifically because the first 80 years of European settlement in Tasmania saw not only the demise of every full-blood Tasmanian but also the loss of all but fragments of traditional Tasmanian culture. Archaeological sites and artefacts are more significant in Tasmania precisely because they provide the main cultural link between modern Tasmanian Aborigines and the Aboriginal past with which they identify. Unique archaeological collections should not then be sacrificed to current political expediency.

  18. See

    Goodall, Heather, `The Whole Truth and Nothing But...' Some intersections of Western Law, Aboriginal History and Community Memory, in Power, Knowledge and Aborigines ed. Atwood & Arnold, pp 104-119.

    This analysis of the relationship between the law and `history' in The Royal Commission into British Nuclear Testing in Australia provides insights into the complex structures through which communities construct meaning in oral performances:

    Such recognition of the complexity of oral sources does not allow simple readings of meaning or `truth' but rather forces the historian to ask what the story means for the teller and for the community, how have they constructed meaning out of the past. (P. 111)

    See Also:

    Hunter, Rosemary, [1996 April] Aboriginal Histories, Australian Histories, and the Law Australian Humanities Review [Online]. Available: [1998, April 28].

    for an outline of the relationships between law and history in various land claim cases.

  19. Nordstom, A.D. Op.Cit. Cited in Paragraph 17
  20. [1997 August] Archive Legislation Our Culture Our Future 6.8. [Online]. Available: [1998, April 28].

    During interviews with people concerned with Aboriginal issues I have noticed Nomads of The Australian Desert on almost every bookshelf - almost as a trophy. The book is still available secondhand and is sought after by collectors for whom it represents an appreciating asset.

  21. Atwood, Bain, [1996} The Past as Future: Aborigines and the (dis)course of History Australian Humanities Review. [Online]. Available: [1998, April 28].

  22. Muecke, Stephen. [1996] Experimental History? Australian Humanities Review. [Online]. Available: [1998, April 28].

    `For some time now, historians have conceded that the medium for the transmission of historical knowledge is not neutral in relation to that information: it narrativises it, stages it theatrically, and gives it points of view. No doubt an "experimental history for beginners" would start with a simple point of view exercise: a spatial intervention in the chronological tradition:'

  23. Lest the reader think it odd that I would use such a message, I must point out that its intention was to warn. I have since been told that the Walpiri Media Association no longer feel this way about the site. Here, it serves to demonstrate how a screen can be overwritten. For previous warning screen [Online]. Available: [1998, April 28].

  24. Von Sturmer, John, Ibid, P.137.
  25. Carter, Paul, Invisible Journeys - Exploration and Photography in Australia 1839-1889 in Island in the Stream - Myths of Place in Australian Culture edited by Paul Foss. Pluto Press, 1988 P.59
  26. Maurice Joseph and Hugh Barry were part of the scientific experiments back at Hermannsburg Mission and did not take part in the journey to Mount Liebig.
  27. For a report on these experiments see:

    Warlaw, H.S., Davies H. W. & Joseph, M. [1934] Energy Metabolism and Insensible Perspiration of Australian Aborigines [Online]. Available: [1998, April 28].

  28. I am grateful to performance artist, Lyndal Jones, for this observation.
  29. Pockley, F.J.A. (1933) hypertext journal `The Flight of Ducks' [Online]. Available: [1998, April 28].

  30. Pockley, F.J.A. (1933) hypertext journal `The Flight of Ducks' [Online]. Available: [1998, April 28].

  31. Hill, Ernestine. Research Work Among Blacks Adelaide Advertiser [Online]. Available: [1998, April 28].

  32. Pockley, F.J.A. (1933) hypertext journal `The Flight of Ducks' [Online]. Available: [1998, April 28].

  33. Pockley, F.J.A. (1933) hypertext journal `The Flight of Ducks' [Online]. Available: [1998, April 28].

  34. Dutton, Geoffrey. White on Black, Macmillan, 1974 P.61.
  35. Mason, Timothy. You no big fellow Master -the Anthropologist's eye for the Bushie Lubra 2000-11-24 [Online] FOD0991.html#nakedness P.61.
  36. Pockley, F.J.A. (1933) hypertext journal `The Flight of Ducks' [Online]. Available: [1998, April 28].

  37. Poignant, Roselyn. The photographic witness? Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture vol. 6 no 2 [Online]. Available: [1998, April 28].

  38. Langton, Marcia. Op.Cit. P.
  39. Resnick, Paul and Miller, Jim. [1996] PICS: Internet Access Controls Without Censorship , Communications of the ACM, 1996, vol. 39(10), pp. 87-93. [Online]. Available: [1998, April 28]

  40. McDonald, Willa. Tricky Business - Whites on Black Territory Author Volume 29 No. 1 Autumn 1997 pp.11-14

    `...there is a feeling that even in the areas of black/white relations, history and politics, non-Indigenous writers should vacate the field.'

  41. Ruby, J, Ethnography as Trompe l'Oeil: Film and Anthropology', Ruby, ed A Crack in the Mirror, University of Pennsylvania Press 1982
  42. Pike, A, `An Ethnographic film conference', Cantrill's Filmnotes, 29/3 (1979)
  43. Banks, Marcus. [1994 June 2] Interactive Multimedia and anthropology - a sceptical view [Online]. Available: [1998, April 28].

    Marcus Banks points out the irony that the now vilified ethnographic film is really only taken seriously by its makers and by the people depicted.