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Glass plate negative - Hut decked with porcupine grass, eastern Arrernte people, Arltunga, Northern Territory, photographed by Herbert Basedow, 1920

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Old man in a wooden shelter with grass roofing, 1920


This is a photograph by Herbert Basedow of a thin, elderly man seated at the entrance to a small hut made of wood and covered in grass. What appears to be another hut can be seen in the background.

Educational value

Aboriginal people sometimes build shelters. This one was photographed at Arltunga, eastern Arnhem land (Northern Territory) in the arid zone, which can be very cold. It has a frame of stout mulga stakes and is covered with triodia grass. Built for wet or cold weather, it is more solid than those used in warmer weather. Its entrance faces away from the direction of the prevailing winds.

Basedow staged this photograph to depict Aboriginal culture in pre-contact times. We know this because Frank Feast, one of Basedow's travelling companions, photographed the same scene. In Feast's image, the man and his companions are dressed and various accoutrements are present, such as blankets and a metal drum.

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 Basedow's third medical relief expedition in central Australia.

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

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