In Living Memory exhibition
an exhibition of surviving photographs
from the records of the NSW Aborigines Welfare Board,
from 1919 to 1966
The In Living Memory exhibition of photographs
from the records of the Aborigines Welfare Board
first opened in September 2006 and was so important
to the Aboriginal community that it remained open
and a touring version travelled to 18 venues around
New South Wales from May 2008 until October 2010.
The Sydney Records Centre closed at the end of June
and In Living Memory closed along with it.
State Records hopes to restage the exhibition some time
in the future at its Western Sydney Records Centre
in Kingswood. For any enquiries please ring 02 9673 1788.
Photo: Wedding photo of Emma Downey and Billy Richardson, New Angledool, 1925:
reproduced with permission of Mervyn Bishop, Rita Gibbs, Marjorie R Little & Iris Scanlan; and the approval of Aboriginal Affairs NSW
In June 1977, the official records of the former New South Wales Aborigines Welfare Board were transferred to the protection of State Records, the NSW Government archives institution. Along with the Board's correspondence, reports and ledgers, there were approximately 1000 loosely stored black and white photographs of Aboriginal people taken between 1919 and 1966. These images are the surviving photographic records of the NSW Aborigines Welfare Board.
The Board photographs do not provide a complete picture of Indigenous life from the 1920s to the 1960s. Some people and places are represented by many photographs; others by a few or none at all. However, the process of meeting with Indigenous communities to research, develop and present the exhibition has begun to bring new life to those historical records that have survived. In Living Memory is helping to create a new purpose and place for the photographs within contemporary Indigenous life.
For other information held by State Records NSW see:
Official Records/Personal Lives
Although little contextual information accompanied the photographs on their arrival at State Records in 1977, it is clear that most were taken to document the work of the Aborigines Welfare Board and to promote its policies. The collection includes images of children from the bush visiting Sydney for annual summer camps; wedding photos of couples getting married on reserves and stations throughout Western NSW; and studio portraits of young Aboriginal women.
Knowing today that most of these women were taken as girls from their families and trained at Cootamundra Aboriginal Girls' Home as domestic servants leads us to wonder about the true personal experience of all the people captured in the official public images. Other photographs more clearly reveal the poverty and hardship of children's homes; the bleakness of official housing and education; and the hard labour for men and boys working on the land.
And yet, there is also evidence of pride, resilience and joy, despite the intrusion of the authorities in every aspect of Aboriginal people's lives. Some photographs with personal inscriptions were sent by young women back to the matrons of homes they had grown up in. Other photos were submitted by the readers of Dawn magazine (published by the Board between 1952 and 1969), with hope they might be published and seen by lost relatives.
Photo: Studio portrait of Linda Fernando: reproduced with permission of George Rose, Walgett; and the approval of Aboriginal Affairs NSW
Family, Community, Culture
Much of the detail we do know about the images comes from personal and official inscriptions which appear on the reverse sides of about half of the photos; and from links that have been made since with other Aborigines Welfare Board records. Important information is also coming from the memories and experiences of people pictured in the photos or from the confirmation of their families and communities. All of this valuable detail is going into a photographic database, which will enable visitors to the Western Sydney Records Centre to search for individuals, places and institutions pictured in the images.
Though the policies of successive governments aimed to dismantle Aboriginal culture, Indigenous people have always found ways to reunite with family and community and to create contemporary links to their culture. Today the Board's written records and photographs are valuable for the leads and clues they may provide to help in this process.
Consent, Advice, Support
Decades after the photographs were taken, they still produce mixed emotions for Indigenous viewers — from the delight of seeing rare evidence of community and culture to the sad reminder of loss and separation. Because of these sensitivities, the entire exhibition process has involved the consent, advice and support of many strands of the Indigenous community, including Aboriginal Affairs NSW for guidance and protocols; an advisory group for ongoing input and support; and the approval and contribution of individuals and communities represented in the Board's photos.
Whilst all of the photographs are open to the public, permission is required to tell individual stories or to highlight the photos in promotional materials and the media. The exhibition team has met with Elders, families and communities around NSW to gain approvals from people pictured in the photos, their oldest surviving relative or representatives of their community.
The exhibition team has included Kirsten Thorpe, former Archivist — Aboriginal Liaison, a Worimi woman who assisted Indigenous people to research their family records; Sue Newman, Project Officer — Aboriginal Liaison, a Dungatti woman, who worked with the Indigenous records; Rose Bishop, former Researcher — Aboriginal Liaison, who worked for the Aboriginal Trust Fund Repayment Scheme; and Creative Producer Susan Charlton, who curates State Records' exhibition program.
Indigenous photographer Mervyn Bishop was part of the original exhibition team and the travelling version. Merv’s photos of Elders and community members have been an important element of the exhibition, providing an interesting counterpoint to the Board's official photos.
Members of the ongoing Exhibition Advisory Group have included Lola Edwards, representing Cootamundra Girls' Home; Cec Bowden and Ray Minniecon, representing Kinchela Boys' Home; Christine Blakeney and Bill Hipkin, representing Bomaderry Children's Home; Glendra Stubbs from Link-Up; Keith Munro from the Museum of Contemporary Art; Melissa Jackson and Ronald Briggs from the State Library of NSW; and Richard Aldridge from Aboriginal Affairs NSW.
Photo: Roy and June Barker, Lightning Ridge, 2006, photographed by Mervyn Bishop: reproduced with the permission of Roy and June Barker and the approval of Mervyn Bishop
The In Living Memory NSW tour was officially launched in May 2008 at the Shoalhaven City Arts Centre in Nowra to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the nearby Bomaderry Children's Home. After 18 venues and two and a half years, the official tour came to the end of its journey around New South Wales in October 2010.
The exhibition toured to Aboriginal cultural and community centres and regional art galleries, museums and libraries in towns and cities throughout New South Wales.
Shoalhaven City Arts Centre
16 May - 11 June 2008
Northern Rivers Community Gallery
5 February - 1 March 2009
Bega Valley Regional Gallery
15 January - 13 February 2010
Dhiiyaan Indigenous Centre, Moree Community Library
26 June - 31 July 2008
Kempsey Shire Library
12 March - 2 April 2009
Museum of the Riverina
6 March - 18 April 2010
Dharriwaa Elders Group office
9 - 28 August 2008
Penrith Regional Gallery & The Lewers Bequest
11 April - 28 June 2009
The Arts Centre
22 April - 6 May 2010
Brewarrina Aboriginal & Cultural Museum
4 September - 4 October 2008
Hurstville City Museum & Gallery
9 July - 24 September 2009
Western Plains Cultural Centre
15 May - 25 July 2010
Social & Emotional Wellbeing Centre
14 October - 14 November 2008
University Gallery, University of Newcastle
30 September - 7 November 2009
Griffith Regional Theatre
3-14 August 2010
Armidale Aboriginal Cultural Centre & Keeping Place
22 November 2008 — 30 January 2009
1 - 16 December 2009
Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery
10 September - 17 October 2010.
Apology to the Stolen Generations
See an audio slideshow of interviews and images from the In Living Memory exhibition produced by the Sydney Morning Herald for its website. The slideshow attracted 100 000 visits in the week of the official Apology to the Stolen Generations in February 2008.
In Living Memory NSW Tour is presented by State Records NSW & Aboriginal Affairs NSW
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body
Some Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander communities may be distressed by seeing the name or image of a community member who has passed away