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Resisting the Captured Image: How Gwoja Tjungurrayi, 'One Pound Jimmy', escaped the 'Stone Age

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A chance encounter took place in the remote, rocky desert-scape east of Alice Springs sometime in the 1930s between an ambitious young tourism executive from Melbourne and a young Warlpiri-Anmatyerre man. The Melbourne Man was touring Australia by car, searching for spectacular pictures and adventure stories for a new tourism magazine. The Aboriginal man was walking south to a large ceremonial gathering of clans with a senior companion. The tourism executive, Charles Holmes, could not believe his good fortune when a young, fit and handsome man named Jimmy appeared unexpectedly before him, naked, carrying a woomera, spear and a boomerang. He immediately drew a mental link between the books he had been reading and the man he was looking at. Holmes was overcome by the belief that the man named Jimmy was the most magnificent specimen of Aboriginal manhood, a living example of Baldwin Spencer's "Stone-Age" man and Charles Pickering's "wild" "original" hunter all rolled into one. He felt compelled to capture Jimmy's image on film and instructed his cameraman to snap a series of photographs. The camera shutting whirred as the photographer launched into action, stage-managing poses, expressions and settings and freezing for posterity scores of static portraits and action shots. During the following 30 years these captured images played a significant role in the definition of Australian Aboriginality. Holmes later admitted he had used them repeatedly to present Jimmy as a "symbol of a vanishing race". These images also enmeshed both men in a complicated relationship, an understanding of which provides a rare insight into the dynamics of Australian race relations and the power of tourism as an agent of social control and change.
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Resisting the captured image: how
Gwoja Tjungurrayi, ‘One Pound
Jimmy’, escaped the ‘Stone Age’
Jillian E Barnes
A cultural courtesy
The language used in this story is quoted directly from tourism marketing
material. These tourism images and the language used to create them are
important historical records. They both reflect and help shape attitudes and
aspirations. Some of these images are now considered unacceptable. My purpose
is to highlight historical sensibilities. By referring to them I seek to critique
rather than endorse their usage.
Aboriginal readers are warned that this paper includes names and images of
deceased persons. I thank Gabriel Possum and Isobel Hagan for kindly granting
their permission to reproduce images of their grandfather, Gwoja Tjungurrayi.
Figure 5.1: ‘Definitive’ Commonwealth stamp 1950.
Design Nicholas Freeman, Freeman Design Partners.
83
Figure 5.2: Bamboro-Kain 1839.
Navy Art Gallery, Naval Historical Centre, Washington DC, [detail, image reversed].
Figure 5.3: Photograph of Gwoja Tjungurrayi 1935.
Walkabout, September 1950 cover [detail]. Reproduced with permission from Tjungurrayi’s granddaughters
Gabriel Possum and Isobel Hagan.
84
Transgressions
A snapshot
A chance encounter took place in the remote, rocky desert-scape east of Alice
Springs sometime in the 1930s between an ambitious young tourism executive
from Melbourne and a young Warlpiri-Anmatyerre man.
1
The Melbourne man
was touring Australia by car, searching for spectacular pictures and adventure
stories for a new tourism magazine. The Aboriginal man was walking south to
a large ceremonial gathering of clans with a senior companion. The tourism
executive, Charles Holmes, could not believe his good fortune when a young,
fit and handsome man named Jimmy appeared unexpectedly before him, naked,
carrying a woomera, a spear and a boomerang. He immediately drew a mental
link between the books he had been reading and the man he was looking at.
Holmes was overcome by the belief that the man named Jimmy was the most
magnificent specimen of Aboriginal manhood, a living example of Baldwin
Spencer’s ‘Stone-Age’ man and Charles Pickering’s ‘wild’ ‘original’ hunter all
rolled into one.
2
He felt compelled to capture Jimmy’s image on film and
instructed his cameraman to snap a series of photographs. The camera shutter
whirred as the photographer launched into action, stage-managing poses,
expressions and settings and freezing for posterity scores of static portraits and
action shots. During the following 30 years these captured images played a
significant role in the definition of Australian Aboriginality. Holmes later
admitted he had used them repeatedly to present Jimmy as a ‘symbol of a
vanishing race’.
3
These images also enmeshed both men in a complicated
relationship, an understanding of which provides a rare insight into the dynamics
of Australian race relations and the power of tourism as an agent of social control
and change.
85
Resisting the captured image: how Gwoja Tjungurrayi, ‘One Pound Jimmy’, escaped the ‘Stone Age’
Figure 5.4: Indian Detour on The Chief, 1929 Grand Canyon Line, Santa Fe
Railroad.
Reproduced with permission from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company, Texas.
Introduction
Representations of Indigenous people have long been used to promote tourism
to remote regions by colonising powers. The Santa Fe railroad’s romanticisation
of Native Americans or ‘Indians’ and its glorification of western expansion are
legendary (Fig 5.4).
4
Pictures of Indigenous Australians or ‘Aborigines’ have
been likewise used for tourism marketing purposes. Even before the first train
rattled through Heavitree Gap into Alice Springs in 1929, tourism interests
86
Transgressions
created images to entice travellers to the ‘Dead Heart’,
5
which the government
had earmarked for speedy development. This story reveals how Gwoja
Tjungurrayi or Jimmy escaped from a narrow definition of Aboriginality imposed
on him by tourism image-makers like Holmes, which identified him as the
remnant of a vanishing ‘Stone-Age’ race. It shows how he developed
relationships, created an environment and took advantage of unusual
opportunities to produce counter-images and create a new understanding of
Aboriginality.
This paper begins by surveying Holmes’ use of the captured images of
Tjungurrayi to render Central Australia into a tourist site/sight and make it
attractive to three target market groups by educating them to see and relate to
place and people in particular ways while they were there. It then draws a
biographical sketch of Tjungurrayi and sets his lived experiences against the
stereotypical views promoted by Holmes. The story concludes with a saga of a
stamp, in which Tjungurrayi’s identity and life were revealed to tourists, and
a series of articles generated by a new regime of image-makers. These latter
writers included Tjungurrayi in their production of images to create a new
understanding of Aboriginality.
The birth of Central Australian tourism
The earliest tourism marketing campaigns for Central Australia drew inspiration
from Charles Holmes’ We Find Australia,
6
Baldwin Spencer and Frank Gillen’s
Arunta: A study of a Stone Age People
7
and Charles Pickering’s Races of Man.
8
The newly established Australian National Travel Association (ANTA) drew
from these literary sources and compiled a vast image bank, which it referred
to, exhibited and made available to travel writers and advertisers.
Shortly after Holmes commenced his management of ANTA,
9
he toured Australia
with a photographer to survey tourist sights and collect interesting stories for
the association’s forthcoming tourism magazine, Walkabout. Holmes published
an account of his adventures in We Find Australia the following year.
10
This
book provides invaluable insights into the mind of the man who steered
Australia’s most powerful tourism image-making institution for thirty years.
Holmes presented himself as a prophetic publicity man hunting for stories about
settler Australians who had shaped the destiny of the new nation. His hero was
John Macarthur, the man he claimed ‘blew the trumpet on this country’s
capacity to grow wool’.
11
We Find Australia described a modern industrious
white race conquering primeval land, wrestling it into a promised land and
replacing ‘Stone-Age’ savagery with British civilisation. He presented the inland
as the ‘Real Australia’ where the wealth of the nation was being discovered and
developed, and the period as the ‘breaking of a new dawn’.
12
87
Resisting the captured image: how Gwoja Tjungurrayi, ‘One Pound Jimmy’, escaped the ‘Stone Age’
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