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Mon 23 Feb 2015, 11:00am

Where: The University of Queensland, Sir Fred Schonell Dr., St Lucia, Queensland

Restrictions: All Ages

Ticket Information:

  • Admission: Free

Curated by Michael Aird and Mandana Mapar.

In 1892 and 1893 a troupe of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island performers was taken to Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne to stage what was known as the “Wild Australia Show”. The troupe was assembled by Archibald Meston and Brabazon Purcell, two Queenslanders who were both bushmen and businessmen.

Members of the troupe were photographed by Charles Kerry when they arrived in Sydney, by John William Lindt in Melbourne and on their return to Sydney by Henry King, the three most famous Australian photographers of that time. Meston intended on using the proceeds of the shows to travel the group to the United Kingdom, Europe and America, but he ran out of funds and deserted the group in Melbourne. It was another six months before the Wild Australia performers could return to Queensland.

Photographs of the performers circulated in various forms, printed in magazines and even stationery, for over a century. It was the initiative of Professor Paul Memmott to bring the photographs together in order to reconnect families of the descendants.

This exhibition explores a brief period in the life of Archibald Meston, one of the most influential and controversial figures in Queensland Indigenous history. Meston attempted to portray a group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people as “primitive savages” and marketed them as untouched by European influences. He attempted to profit financially from these performers and even though this ambitious plan soon failed, he continued to promote himself over the next decade as an expert in regard to Aboriginal people. Following this failed business venture Meston managed to position himself as one of the most influential advisors to the Queensland Government on Aboriginal issues and was very influential in the introduction of Queensland’s first Aboriginal protection policy that was introduced in 1897.

The main feature of the exhibition will be a selection of photographs taken by Charles Kerry and Henry King of the Wild Australia performers in 1892 and 1893, which are held in the UQ Anthropology Museum Collection. (These original photos were purchased by Museum founder Dr L.P. Winterbotham in the 1950s from Tyrell’s Bookshop in Sydney). Other photographs taken by J.W. Lindt in 1893 held by the British Museum will also feature, as well as photographs from UQ's Fryer Library, Queensland Museum, the State Library of Queensland, the Macleay Museum, the State Library of NSW, the State Library of Victoria and the Pitt Rivers Museum.

Venue: Level 1, Michie Building (#9)
University of Queensland Anthropology Museum