B & W photograph

Registration number
Item name
B & W photograph 
Indigenous name
Dr Walter E. Roth  
Associated cultural group
Australia > Australia > Queensland > Cape York region > Musgrave, Princess Charlotte Bay
Dr Walter E. Roth 
Acquisition date
January 01, 1949 
Acquisition method
Donated by Dr R. Hamlyn-Harris 
Raw material
photographic emulsion, paper
H: 105 mm W: 140 mm L: D: Circum:


Research notes

This photograph was part of Judy Watson and Diana Young’s exhibition, “written on the body”. Their research dates the image as 1898, and gives the men’s names as “‘Euro’ possibly ‘Hero’ and ‘Tiger’”. The photograph was taken at Musgrave Native Police Camp, Eastern Cape York, by Walter Roth, then Protector of Aborigines in Queensland. While in this role (1896-1906), Roth spent much of his time collecting information about Aboriginal languages, places, activities, and bodies. This photograph is one of a set of images of people with labels on their torsos.

The man facing the camera is ‘Euro or Hero’. Members of the Hero family at Palm Island were contacted by Diana Young as part of the protocol for the public use of images of persons deceased or otherwise. They said they did not recognise the man as a relative of theirs and suggested the Hero family from Charters Towers might know more. I was asked to assist in identifying the men in the picture, and in viewing the photograph I sensed something of a Hero family resemblance. I contacted a young woman from Charters Towers who showed the photograph to her family and then emailed me some images of her uncle, clearly the same man whose features I had detected in Euro/Hero’s nineteenth century face. While Roth focused on cicatrices in the man’s chest as a characteristic of exotic cultural practice, we had read a likeness into the man’s features that made us hopeful of increasing family history knowledge.

The Queensland ‘Protection Acts’ enabled officers such as Roth to forcibly remove Aboriginal people from their lands and keep them in settlements and missions remote from their homes and countries. After generations of marriages and mobility, people may now claim relatives across expanded networks in far flung corners of Queensland. Identifiable photographs of potential family members from the early 20th century (and certainly the 19th) are rare and spark excitement at the prospect of stitching together fractured stories.

Further reading:

Roth, Walter Edmund. 1897. Ethnological studies among the North-West-Central Queensland Aborigines. Brisbane, Government Printer.

Allen, Lindy & Borey, Bernice. 1984. Annotations to publications by W.E. Roth. St. Lucia, the University of Queensland Anthropology Museum.

This Collection Close Up was written by Dr Sally Babidge, Senior Lecture, Anthropology, UQ School of Social Science.

"Australian Museum register number 2273 - Set No. 9-13" [catalogue card note].

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