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Transforming Tindale: Learning Notes

Transforming Tindale

In 1938, the anthropologist Norman Tindale embarked on a two-year scientific expedition documenting Aborigines from around Australia. Most of the original material collected during this expedition is held by the South Australian Museum. Around 20 years ago, some of this collection relating to the genealogies and photographs of over 1100 people from five Queensland and two northern New South Wales Aboriginal communities was copied and supplied to the State Library of Queensland. Since then, there has been a constant demand from members of the Aboriginal community looking for photographs and information about their families.

One of the many Aboriginal people who have accessed the Tindale collection is Vernon Ah Kee. An important part of the Transforming Tindale exhibition is his use of the images of his family members to produce stunning artworks that are featured alongside enlargements of several of the portraits taken by Tindale in 1938. Many other Aboriginal families also have strong connections to the photographs taken by Tindale and this exhibition is an opportunity to tell some of these personal stories.

This exhibition features text and images that will highlight controversial issues relating to anthropologists studying Aboriginal people and treating them as scientific objects, while also looking at the importance of Aborigines now gaining access to photographs and documents that relate to their family histories held by archives, museum and libraries.

Michael Aird, Curator

Vernon Ah Kee

Vernon Ah Kee is a conceptual artist and also a member of the Brisbane-based proppaNOW artists’ collective. He completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts (Hons) at the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, Brisbane, majoring in drawing and screenprinting. Vernon’s work critiques Australian society, particularly the segregation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures.

Vernon has represented Australia at the 2009 Venice Biennale . He’s featured in group exhibitions such as Revolutions – Forms That Turn: 2008 Biennale of Sydney and Culture Warriors: National Indigenous Art Triennial at the National Gallery of Australia. Vernon features in the National Gallery of Canada, the Hood Museum of Art in New Hampshire, USA, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. He was a 2012 Archibald Portrait Prize finalist for his portrait of Indigenous activist Lex Wotton.

Solo exhibitions include ill-like at the Kluge-Ruhe Gallery in Charlottesville, USA (2012), tall man at Gertrude Contemporary in Melbourne (2011), Vernon Ah Kee at City Gallery in Wellington, New Zealand (2010), Blow Your House In at Mackenzie Gallery, Regina, Canada (2009), Belief Suspension at ArtSpace, Sydney (2008) and Can’t Chant at Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane (2007), where they published borninthisskin (2009), the first major publication about his practice.

"I'm expanding the idea of what it means to be Aboriginal and what it means to be human. A lot of the problem this country has with Aboriginal people is that it struggles to see Aboriginal people as fully human." – Vernon Ah Kee

Tindale Genealogical Collection

Tindale’s original research is held at the South Australian Museum . State Library has copies of genealogical information and some photographs from the Tindale collection for the Queensland Aboriginal communities of Mona Mona, Yarrabah, Palm Island, Woorabinda and Cherbourg, as well as two northern New South Wales communities at Boggabilla and Woodenbong.

State Library has also created an online index of names recorded in the genealogies. There are restrictions on who can access the full family tree information and photographs.

Access to these records can be arranged by contacting the John Oxley Library.

The Tindale collection is a great resource for researching Aboriginal family history; however, it does contain some inaccuracies. Information from this collection should not be your only source for family history research.

Learning notes

Designed to complement State Library’s Transforming Tindale exhibition, the learning notes align with the Australian Curriculum in History, English, and Visual Arts, with a focus on the cross-curricular priority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures. This resource can be used to enhance students’ learning experiences pre-visit, whilst visiting Transforming Tindale , and post-visit. The activities can also be adapted for adult learners.

Using the learning notes offsite

State Library recommends visiting the exhibition. If you are unable to visit, some of the activities can be used independently. Students can also access information and images from the exhibition website.

To locate primary resources for further research in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, use State Library’s OneSearch catalogue .


State Library thanks Jonathan Nalder, Principal Project Officer, Indigenous Education and Training Futures Division, Department of Education, Training and Employment, whose input ensures these activities bring out the best in our exhibition and the learner experience. Jonathan assisted SLQ as part of the Learning Associates Program.

State Library gratefully acknowledges the support received from the South Australian Museum to provide access to the Tindale collection.



Government of South Australia and South Australian Museum Logo






State Library gratefully acknowledges the support received from the South Australian Museum to provide access to the Tindale collection.