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Woman with a pet possum on her head, 1922

Description

This is a photograph by Herbert Basedow of the head and shoulders of a woman facing left. A baby possum is crouched on her head. Also visible are a bundle of taut strings running from behind her ear down her back. Those and her engaged neck muscles indicate she is carrying a basket containing considerable weight.

Educational value

This is a Pongaponga woman from western Arnhem land. She carries, suspended from her head, a basket or bag for holding the food she has gathered. And she has a pet ring-tailed possum, which she carries on her head while out searching for food. Various animals, including birds, may be kept as pets. Often they are young animals brought to the camp by returning hunters.

Herbert Basedow was a doctor, anthropologist and explorer. From 1903 to 1928 he ventured to remote regions of central and northern Australia - places rarely seen by Australians even today. Aboriginal people often feature in his photographs. Basedow wanted to document Aboriginal cultures as they had been before British colonisation, and often went to some lengths to craft his photographs to appear as such.

This photograph was taken during an expedition to the Victoria River district south-west of Darwin in the Northern Territory, on behalf of the Mararoa Gold Mining Company.

© Education Services Australia Limited and the National Museum of Australia 2010

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