Group of local Aboriginal people, Chowilla Station, Lower Murray River, South Australia, from the album New South Wales Royal Commission: Conservation of water. Views of scenery on the Darling and Lower Murray during the flood of 1886.
1850 - 1897
Throughout the 19th century there was a prevalent view among the white population of Australia that it was only a question of time before the last Indigenous Australians disappeared from the mainland. In response to this, and as a reflection of more general interests in ethnography current at the time, photographers frequently represented Aboriginal subjects. Their images usually took the form of tableaux or more consciously ethnographic studies, with subjects unadorned or naked, as ethnographers had advised.
Bayliss here re-creates a ‘native fishing scene’ tableau, reminiscent of a museum diorama, using some carefully staged Ngarrindjeri people. The Canadian writer Gilbert Parker, who travelled with Bayliss, recalled the event:
The photographer had nothing to suggest when it came to posing. The old men drew blankets round their shoulders, William arrayed himself in garments, that they should not be thought out of the fashion when posterity should gaze upon their counterfeit presentment; and without a word of suggestion these natives arranged themselves in a group, the grace and unique character of which a skilful artist only could show. And William with spear in hand upon a log, and with eyes upon an imaginary fish, said: ‘his fellow blackfellow all right.’1
1. Parker G 1892, 'Round the compass in Australia', Hutchinson, London pp 28-29
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Photography Collection Handbook, 2007
Ngarrindjeri people, Chowilla Station, Lower Murray River, South Australia
23.6 x 29.5 cm image/sheet
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Not on display
Shown in 8 exhibitions
Colonial Photographers, Josef Lebovic Gallery, Kensington, 24 Mar 1984–28 Apr 1984
Ten years on, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Jan 1986–Jan 1986
Five years on: a selection of acquisitions 1981-1986, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 26 Sep 1986–23 Nov 1986
Shades of Light, National Gallery of Australia, Parkes, 1988–1988
Critic's Choice, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 22 Apr 1994–10 Jul 1994
Arcadia: nineteenth century Australian photography, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 02 Oct 1998–13 Dec 1998
A modern vision: Charles Bayliss photographer 1850-1897, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 11 Jul 2008–26 Oct 2008
The photograph and Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 21 Mar 2015–08 Jun 2015
Referenced in 10 publications
Georgina Cole, Look, 'Australian photographs past and present: What they say about the people and the country', pg. 26-30, Sydney, Mar 2015, cover (colour illus.), 28.
Robyn Donohue, Look, 'Arcadia: Nineteenth Century Australian Photography', pg. 22-23, Heidelberg, Oct 1998, 22.
Elizabeth Maloney, Look, 'Charles Bayliss', pg.39, Sydney, Mar 2008, 39 (illus.).
Robert McFarlane, Critic's Choice, Sydney, 1994, 4 (illus.), 8. no catalogue numbers
Steven Miller, Photography: Art Gallery of New South Wales Collection, 'In every house, and in every tent', pg.33-51, Sydney, 2007, 49 (illus.).
Picturing Australia - A History of Photography, Sydney, 1988, 94. fig.no. 56
Colonial Photographers, Sydney, 1984. cat.no. 116
Arcadia - nineteenth century Australian photography, Sydney, 1998. no catalogue numbers
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Five years on: a selection of acquisitions 1981-1986, Sydney, 1986. cat.no. 144
Judy Annear, The photograph and Australia, Sydney, Jun 2015, 41 (colour illus.).