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Glass plate negative - Man stalking  kangaroo, central Australia, photographed by Herbert Basedow, 1920

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Man stalking a kangaroo, 1920


This is a photograph by Herbert Basedow of a man on his knees and one hand, facing to the left of the frame. In his right hand he holds a spear and in his left hand he holds a spearthrower. A bundle of feathers is tied into his hair.

Educational value

This Luritja man's paint, and the feathers in his hair, might indicate that he has taken part in a ceremony. The feathers are most likely from a black cockatoo, but could also be from a hawk.

He is seen here demonstrating to Basedow how he would stalk an animal such as a kangaroo. To stalk a kangaroo a man would carry only a spear and a spearthrower. He might cover all of his body, or just his under-arms, with dirt or mud to mask his human smell.

He would approach the animal slowly and quietly while it was not looking. When the animal looked around, as herbivores frequently do while they are grazing, he would remain still. When he was close enough he would spear the animal. If it was not killed outright, the hunter would track it until he caught it, and finish it off with his spearthrower or a piece of wood.

The type of spear this man is using comprises multiple parts. The shaft is made of two or three sections and the head is also a separate part. To join the parts, people in central Australia and beyond would use kangaroo or emu sinew (tendons from a leg), and sometimes resin from spinifex grass. The spear's head has a barb attached to it in the same way. One advantage of multiple parts is if the spear is broken only part of it has to be replaced.

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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