NMA collection record

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Glass plate negative - Rock paintings, Forrest River, Western Australia, photographed by Herbert Basedow, 1916

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Rock paintings,1916


This is a photograph by Herbert Basedow of a rockface that is painted with images of handprints, a footprint, animal prints, and animal figures.

Educational value

Aboriginal people painted on rock surfaces using four main colours - red, yellow, black and white. Only rarely were other colours employed. Red, yellow and white come from rocks and clay, and black often from charcoal. To create the pigment, the material would be ground on a stone palette and mixed with water to create a paste. It would then be applied to the rock using a brush or fingers.

We do not have much information about the meaning of the art. Basedow seems not to have recorded any meanings for the motifs seen in this photograph, taken at the Forrest River in 1916.

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 in the Kimberley region of north-east Western Australia to investigate a reported deposit of metal that would be useful for munitions.

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

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