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Gillen & Spencer
Gillen & Spencer, 1920s

Spencer had a genuine respect for the cultures of Indigenous Australians, and towards the end of his life he penned a dolorous retrospective on the colonial processes which he had witnessed in the Northern Territory over the last thirty years. He was commenting on something frequently remarked by colonists whose intentions towards Aborigines were benign - their evident lack of gratitude for rations and other kindnesses: '...taking all things into account, the blackfellow has not any special reason to be grateful to the white man', Spencer pointed out:
'To come into contact with the white man means that, as a general rule, his food supply is restricted and that he is, in many cases, warned off from the water holes that are the centres of his best hunting grounds and to which he has been accustomed to resort during the performances of his sacred ceremonies. While the white man kills and hunts his kangaroos and emus, he is debarred, in turn from hunting and killing the white man's cattle. Occasionally the native will indulge in a cattle hunt, but the result is usually disastrous to himself and, on the whole, he succumbs quietly to his fate, realising the impossibility of attempting to defend what he certainly regards as his own property.'
Keywords: anthropology, Baldwin Spencer, Walter, custom, Northern Territory, rations, 1920s

Spencer, Sir Walter Baldwin Australian, D.J.Mulvaney, Dictionary of Biography v.12, pp 33-36; 'More than mere facts: repositioning Spencer and Gillen in the history of anthropology', H.Morphy in S.R.Morton and D.J.Mulvaney (eds) 'Exploring Central Australia: society, the environment and the 1894 Horn expedition', Chipping Norton: Surrey Beatty and Sons 1996, pp.135-149; W.B.Spencer 'Preliminary report on the Aboriginals of the Northern Territory' Bulletin of the Northern Territory, no.7 Melbourne: Government Printer 1913, p.24; W.B. Spencer, 'Wanderings in Wild Australia', London: Macmillan, 1928, p.199.

Photograph: The members of the 1901-2 Expedition assembled at Alice Springs. In front, Gillen is seated on the left and Spencer on the right. Behind, Erlikiliakirra and Purula stand either side of Chance. May 1901. Photograph Baldwin Spencer. Reproduced courtesy Museum Victoria
Author: Rowse, Tim and Graham, Trevor