David M. Welch Logo


Notes on Some Native Tribes of Central Australia

By Herbert Basedow, 1903

ISBN 9780977503544

Published by David M. Welch 2008

Format: Paperback

153 pages, with 85 illustrations – including historic black and white photos, drawings of Aboriginal rock art and artefacts, and detailed maps. 24 pages are devoted to detailed maps of the region explored.

Click here for a list of booksellers who stock this title.


Notes on Some Native Tribes of Central Australia provides an early record of the people of the Musgrave, Mann and Tomkinson Ranges, in far northern South Australia, before their lives were changed forever by the incursions of European civilisation. Basedow’s travels took him through the lands of people known today as the Antakarinja, Yankuntjatjara, Luritja and Pitjantjatjara.

This book is a compilation of material recorded by Herbert Basedow during an expedition lasting from March to November 1903, from his anthropological notes, his journal notes and previously unpublished photographs from his photo album.

Anthropological Notes Made on the South Australian Government North-West Prospecting Expedition, 1903 was read to the Royal Society of South Australia on 7th June, 1904. In this, Basedow presented his findings in two parts, presented here in their entirety.

In part one, he gave a general description of the people he met living in the open beside simple windbreaks and small campfires. His expedition party carried only light portable Kodak cameras – a No. 1 and No. 2 pocket folding, and a No. 1 panorama. The films were kept in tins with lids sealed by strips of adhesive plaster. Using such basic cameras of that time, many of his portraits are out of focus, the camera focussing on the distant background instead of the selected subject. Nevertheless, these early photographs are an important record, illustrating how people camped on open ground, congregated, carried their children, weapons and utensils, and the remarkable paucity of their possessions.

In part two, the native art is illustrated and described, making this amongst the earliest detailed records of Central Australian Aboriginal art. To assist the reader, I have re-numbered his plates and figures and aligned the relevant sections to where they are mentioned within the text.

Basedow’s journal notes were separately published as the Journal of the Government North-West Expedition in 1914, and extracts from those notes make up the latter part of this present volume. These journal extracts are less formal, and give a first-hand account of such an early interaction, sometimes with hilarity, between his party and the local people.

Basedow’s photograph album for this expedition is held by the Mitchell Library in Sydney and I thank the staff for granting permission to research and use material from that album for this publication. Only Basedow’s photographs taken on the 1903 expedition are included in this present volume. Photographs courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales have reference details listed at the side.

A series of detailed maps, reproduced from a single large map drawn by Basedow in 1914, show the expedition route with waterholes and camp sites, and are included at the end of this volume.


Map of the region

Part one – general description

Tribes and their distribution
Hunting and native foods
Physical features
Personal decoration
Personal mutilation
Healing of the sick
Weapons, implements, etc
The making of strands of fur, etc
Manner of life
Marriage rites etc
A corroboree
Naming of native children, natural objects, and heavenly bodies
Silent correspondence
Burial of the dead
Tradition and folklore
Other peculiarities

Part two – native art

Rock drawings
Appendix – Vocabulary of the Karkurrerra Tribe

Part three – extracts from Basedow’s journal

Appendix to journal – camel riding saddle and equipment

Basedow’s map of the exploration route