Collection fishing

Aboriginal Australia seen from Japan in WWII

[Post updated 18/08/2014. See below]

Discovered in the National Library of Australia, a 1943 edition of Baldwin Spencer’s 1928 Wanderings in wild Australia, abridged, translated into Japanese and published in Tokyo in 1943. This is the same year that the Imperial Japanese Air Force was bombing targets across the north of Australia. I would love to know more about this translation, how it came to be published, who was reading it and whether the publisher included any supplementary commentary from a Japanese perspective.


Above is a photograph of the title page. The NLA catalog renders this as Goshu genjumin no kenkyo/ Sa B. Supensa cho, Tamura Hidebumi yaku. I’m assuming ‘B. Supensa’ is Baldwin Spencer and that Tamura Hidebumi is the translator. Continue reading

Collection fishing

James Northfield’s ‘Canberra’, ca.1930

Just came across this amazing tourism poster for Canberra, printed in about 1930.


Everything I know about this image comes from page 44 of James Northfield and the art of selling Australia (2006) where the image is reproduced with the following caption: “On 31 August 1933 Charles Holmes, Director of the Australian National Travel Association, wrote to C.S. Daley who was then Civic Representative of the Department of the Interior, Canberra. Holmes was replying to Daley’s request for ways of popularising Canberra as a tourist resort amongst Australians. Holmes […] mentioned that he had arranged for James Northfield, whom he considered ‘one of the leading commercial artists in Australia’, to pay a visit to Canberra with a veiw to producing a poster which would be circulated ‘throughout the English speaking world'”.

What fascinates me is the way it captures the early utopian vision for Canberra a style that is more directly associated with European pre-war art and propaganda. There are traces here of Metropolis, German Expressionism and Italian Futurism except the vision that is being sold is of a civilised pastoral metropolis, as opposed to a dynamic techno-utopia.

And interestingly this is still how Canberra is represented today: a ‘bush capital’ marked out by imposing civil institutions.



Idiots and imbeciles in Scotland

A. W. Howitt and Lorimer Fison’s Kamilaroi and Kurnai: Group marriage and relationship and marriage by elopement  (1880) was an early work on Australian kinship, grounded in a progressivist assumption that human social organisation evolved through incremental and predictable stages from a state of Barbarism to Civilisation.

As it happens,  the kinship evidence brought to light in this work actually contradicted the specifics of evolutionist theory but this didn’t stop Howitt and Fison’s book from generating a great deal of interest. Among other influential works it was cited by James Frazer in The golden bough and in Frederick Engels’ (1891) The origin of the family, private property and the state. It also got a brief guernsey in Sex and society (1907) by the sociologist W. I. Thomas with its sensational chapter names like ‘Sex and Primitive Morality’ and ‘The Adventitious Character of Woman’. It was this book that famously described women as “intermediate between the child and the man”, but men also come in for a bollocking, being statistically more likely to be idiots and imbeciles. Of course, ‘idiot’ and ‘imbecile’ were once serious diagnostic terms without the exclusively pejorative sense they have today, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this little table on page 25:

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(All sources mentioned can be accessed via CACHE.)