New exhibition reveals Central Australian frontier 

Caption: Two Arrernte men who accompanied Battarbee during a painting expedition in the 1930s, using the mission donkeys for transport. Rex Battarbee photographed them in an irreverent mood by the Finke River, not far from their home at the Lutheran mission of Hermannsburg

A new exhibition of photographs capturing the heart of Central Australia at the turn of the 20th century and beyond will open at Charles Darwin University’s Art Collection and Art Gallery this week.

Documenting some of the first European impressions of Central Australia’s landscape and society, Images of the Interior represents the work of guest curator; anthropologist, author and historian, Dr Philip Jones.

With a background in Aboriginal art, history and material culture and over 30 years’ experience as a curator, Dr Jones will provide the welcome address for the exhibition.

The 84 images in the exhibition Images of the Interior, are drawn entirely from the South Australian Museum’s collections, and reveal the fragile environment and frontier society of Central Australia during the half-century from the 1890s to the 1940s.

CDU Art Collection and Art Gallery curator Anita Angel said that during this time, the theme of the ‘bush’ emerged as a formative element in a new Australian identity. “Assumptions about the Centralian frontier and its people – black and white – hardened into enduring stereotypes that to this day ‘colour’ our general perceptions,” she said. “These images of the interior take us behind and beyond those stereotypes, to the reality of the frontier itself.”

The exhibition’s images were captured by seven men whose close contact with Central Australia gave them particular insights: Francis J. Gillen, Samuel Albert White, William Delano Walker, George Aiston, Cecil Hackett, Ernest Kramer and Rex Battarbee.

“Some of these original, hand-printed photographs are beautiful, some confronting, some fascinating and some humorous,” Ms Angel said. “The only three colour images in the exhibition mark the shift to mass tourism and colour photography in Central Australia.” 

The exhibition is enhanced by a range of archival material and historical objects (also from the SA Museum’s holdings) relating to the photographers’ lives and work.
Images of the Interior will open at the CDU Art Collection and Art Gallery on Wednesday, 8 August 2012. Guest Curator Floor Talks by Dr Philip Jones: Thursday 9 August at 10am and 2pm. Dr Jones will be available for media appointments on Wednesday 8 August and Thursday 9 August.