NMA collection record

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Lantern slide - Pitjantjatjara men wearing wooden hair ornaments known as

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Two men with wooden hair ornaments, spears and shields, 1920 or 1923


This is a photograph by Herbert Basedow of the top half of two men, each holding a spear and a spearthrower. Their beards are long, their foreheads are blackened, and they wear upright hair ornaments.

Educational value

We know that these are Pitjantjatjara men, but unfortunately we do not know much more than that about them. The charcoal on their foreheads perhaps indicates that they had recently taken part in a ceremony. Both hold the characteristic (broader, shorter) spearthrowers of central Australia.

In their hair the two men wear wooden hair ornaments called elenba. Elenba are made from sticks stripped of their bark and then scraped with a sharp stone to produce curly strands. The sticks are fixed in place by inserting them into the men's string headbands.

The digital copy of this photograph was made from a lantern slide. In the early twentieth century, if you wanted to project a photograph onto a large screen, you would use a lantern slide. Creating a lantern slide involved transferring an image onto glass. To protect the emulsion (which contains the image), a second piece of glass was taped to the first.

The reason this image was produced from a lantern slide rather than a negative is because the National Museum of Australia does not hold the original negative. The Museum's Basedow photograph collection comprises negatives and lantern slides, but there is not always a negative for the image.

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 either during during Basedow's third medical relief expedition in central Australia or during an expedition with the Governor of South Australia, whose plans for building a north-south railway involved first seeing the region for himself.

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

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