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Ngarrindjeri photo project illustrates the history of a people
An electronic archive will give the Murraylands’ Indigenous people, and their descendants, new insight into the way their families have lived over the past 150 years.
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Black-and-white photos line the walls of the Ngarrindjeri Ruwe Empowered Communities office on the east side of Murray Bridge: a cowboy with a guitar, a woman at a desk, five gentlemen in suits and fedoras.
Some of the faces gazing back out at the viewer are younger versions of elders present in the room.
Some of them are aunties and uncles who lived generations ago.
But all of these images – and thousands more besides – will now be accessible to all Ngarrindjeri people, now and into the future, as part of a new online archive.
Researchers from Swinburne University joined forces with Aunty Ellen Trevorrow and many other helpers to find photos in family albums and old shoeboxes, digitise them, and add them to an exhaustive catalogue.
Users can search the entire archive for an individual, a place, a time or even an activity, such as weaving, shearing or playing music.
The images the project uncovered – see below – offer an incredible insight into the way Ngarrindjeri have lived over the past 150 years.
Historian Karen Hughes said the project had grown out of a push from Ngarrindjeri elders to share and preserve their photos and stories.
It was modelled after Ara Iritija, a project which has collected hundreds of thousands of images from the Anangu people of South Australia’s far northwest over the past 30 years.
At a launch event on Sunday, elder Ellen Trevorrow thanked everyone who had contributed to the Ngarrindjeri photography project.
“In time we’ve lost (many of) our elders that have been with us, but … we’re still keeping this record going for our community,” she said.
“I am so thankful for it all.”
State Aboriginal Affairs Minister Kyam Maher, a supporter of the project, came to the Sunday’s opening to offer his congratulations.
“Since Europeans came to this country, Aboriginal people have had their history denied, had their families and communities torn apart, and this way we can remember some of those things that have been denied in the past,” he said.
“It really is an exceptionally powerful and important thing.”
Photos from the archive had previously been exhibited twice, at Camp Coorong and at Swinburne University, and some were collected in a booklet, Circle of Family: Ngarrindjeri Photography from the Twentieth Century.
As well as the university and NREC, partners in the project included the Moorundi health service, University of Adelaide and state Department of Premier and Cabinet.
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Historical photo captions
Isabel Koolmatrie, Joe “Poonthie” Walker junior and Irene Hunter at the Meningie one mile camp – outside the limits of the town, where Aboriginal people were not allowed – in the early 1940s. Photo: Charlotte Richards, courtesy of Walter Richards and Jeffrey Hunter.
Blanche and William Ballard with their children Andrew, Florence, Adeline, Mary and Theresa outside their home on Rabbit Island, on the Coorong, in 1910. Photo: Supplied.
Edith Kathleen Keys on vacation in the USA in the late 1940s; she married US Air Force pilot Fred Keys during the Second World War, emigrated in 1946 and lived the rest of her life in the United States. Photo: Frederick Keys, courtesy of Lyn Lovegrove-Niemz.
Charlotte Sumner Dodd and her son at the Royal Adelaide Show in 1970. Photo: Courtesy of Polly Sumner.
Edie Rigney at work in 1970. Photo: Courtesy of Pauline Rigney.
Albert “Bronco” Lovegrove plays his guitar near the River Murray in 1924; the horseman and musician travelled around Australia with a circus in the 1940s. Photo: June Lovegrove, courtesy of Lynnette Lovegrove Niemz.
Ngarrindjeri veterans Proctor “Nink” Sumner, Howard Sumner, Steve “Fuller” Lampard, Wiltshire Sumner and, seated, Walter Gollan pose together in the late 1940s, possibly for Remembrance Day at Raukkan. Photo: Courtesy of Sandy Wilson.
Arthur and Muriel Van Der Byl cut the cake at their wedding in 1964; Mrs Van Der Byl, nee Rigney, would become a renowned artist and activist and contribute a part of the design for Australia’s new $50 note. Photo: Courtesy of Muriel Van Der Byl.
Maria Lane, nee Rigney, poses in front of the cottages at Raukkan in 1956; she would later become a senior academic at the University of South Australia. Photo: Courtesy of Lena Rigney.
Correction: The caption on the top photo has been updated since this post was initially published.