Photographing “the nucleus of the native church” at poonindie mission, South Australia

Jane Lydon, Sari Braithwaite

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5 Citations (Scopus)


The Anglican Church in Australia actively commissioned photographic portraits of its indigenous congregation as part of a program of documenting and promoting its work. Poonindie mission, the Anglican Church’s “Christian village,” established in 1850 on the Spencer Gulf in South Australia, represented an idealistic experiment. Its first few years were seemingly crowned with success when eleven young indigenous residents were baptized by Bishop Short and Archdeacon Hale in February 1853. For their supporters, the gentlemanly demeanor of the converts revealed their essential humanity and capacity, demonstrated by photographic portraits commissioned during this period that are structured by a distinctive vision of Aboriginal converts: unlike other Australian missions and reserves, at Poonindie “the nucleus of the native Church” was defined in distinctively classed terms that showed them as equals. A narrative of redemption was expressed through an exceptionally highquality series of images. During the late nineteenth century, Poonindie’s increasingly disputed existence was defended by missionaries who continued to assert its worth through visual evidence. These remarkable photographic portraits remain a testament to a generation of indigenous people struggling to survive the first decades of colonization and dispossession and are now valued by descendants as family portraits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-58
Number of pages22
JournalPhotography & Culture
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Aboriginal missions
  • Colonialism
  • Humanitarianism
  • Mission photography
  • Poonindie

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