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Glass plate negative - Man holding north-western type of spearthrower and wearing pubic fur tassel, Wadaman people, Northern Territory, photographed by Herbert Basedow, 1922

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Man with a spear-thrower, 1922


This is a photograph by Herbert Basedow of a man standing on flat, grassy ground holding a wooden spearthrower. He is wearing a tassled loin cover held in place by a string around his waist.

Educational value

This is a Wadaman man in the Victoria River district, Northern Territory. His loin cover is made of string, probably of animal fur. It hangs from a waistband comprised of a single strand of string, possibly made from woven human hair. Note also his scars, or cicatrices. Although he lived reasonably close to the Kimberley, where cicatrices are very prominent, his own are more subtle.

Spearthrowers vary from one region to another, but they all have a narrower part for holding, and a peg bound on at the opposite end (in this image, under the man's thumb). The longest spearthrowers are made in the Victoria River district, in the eastern part of the Kimberley, as seen here. In central Australia spearthrowers tend to be shorter, wider, and concave in cross-section. They may also may have a stone blade in the handle end - something that is not seen in the northern form. In south-eastern Australia most spearthrowers are even shorter and made of one piece of wood.

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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