NMA collection record

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Glass plate negative - Old Kai Kai, a Western Arrernte man, Henbury station, Northern Territory, photographed by Herbert Basedow, 1920

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Old man, sitting, 1920


This is a photograph by Herbert Basedow of an elderly man sitting on his knees on fine sandy ground. He wears a head-covering made of feathers and string. To his left is a shield and to his right is a wooden club.

Educational value

This Western Arrernte man's name was Kai Kai (in Basedow's spelling) and Basedow photographed him in the Aboriginal camp attached to Henbury station, Northern Territory, in 1920. He was a native doctor. Kai Kai told Basedow he remembered the first white people to reach that region, possibly in the 1860s. Unfortunately, Basedow does not provide any indication of who they may have been.

Kai Kai is wearing a head covering made of emu feathers, which Basedow called alleumemba, secured with string. By his side lie a softwood shield and a hardwood club of a kind used for fighting. The shield is a defensive weapon. It may have a painted design on its front surface.

Often, a dispute is settled by a kind of 'duel' between two men - or two women, who use similar clubs. One person would try to hit the other, while the other defends. Then they would swap, taking it in turns to inflict an injury. Usually, when one person is injured the matter is regarded as being settled.

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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