In summary

  • An electronic archive will offer new insights into the way the people of the Ngarrindjeri Nation in south-eastern Australia lived over the past 150 years
  • The project focuses on community photographs taken by nonprofessional photographers and archives in the control of Indigenous custodians
  • It is funded by the South Australian government and an Australian Research Council Discovery grant

A project to create a living digital archive of photographs and stories of the Ngarrindjeri people of south-eastern Australia aims to ensure the longevity and accessibility of their heritage.

The Ngarrindjeri Photography Project is led by Swinburne University of Technology researcher Dr Karen Hughes, an expert in Indigenous photographic histories, microhistory and Ngarrindjeri history. She has partnered with Aunty Ellen Trevorrow from the Ngarrindjeri community and with Moorundi Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service and Ngarrindjeri Ruwe Empowered Communities.

It will be the first such large-scale archive for a distinct Aboriginal nation in south-eastern Australia and is funded by the South Australian government and an Australian Research Council Discovery grant.

Dr Hughes says the project was instigated by Ngarrindjeri elders who were keen to share and preserve their photos and stories.

Gathering of Ngarrindjeri Veterans from the First World War and the Second World War: from left to right, Proctor Sumner (Uncle Nink), Howard Sumner, Steve (Uncle Fuller) Lampard, Wiltshire Sumner, seated, Walter Gollan, possibly taken at Raukkan Hall on Remembrance Day. Courtesy of Aunty Sandra Wilson. Photographer unknown.

Historical photos are ‘powerful narrative tools’

“Elders of the Ngarrindjeri Nation in south-eastern Australia hold a vast but dispersed collection of rare historical photographs in personal archives which they want to collate, document, conserve and exhibit to the Australian public,” Dr Hughes says.

“As personal cameras became available from the 1920s, Indigenous people used them to record their own visual histories. Yet such photographs are rarely circulated and are under-researched.

“Historical photographs taken and owned by Indigenous people have proved to be powerful narrative tools that can restore family connections, redraw community histories and represent relationships.”

Albert (Bronco) Lovegrove (b 1924), pictured playing his guitar near the River Murray, circa 1940s. Famed for his horsemanship and music, Albert travelled around Australia with a circus in the 1940s. Courtesy of Lynnette Lovegrove-Niemz. Photographer June Lovegrove.

Maria Lane (nee Rigney) in front of the old cottages at Raukkan, circa 1965. Maria later became a senior academic in Aboriginal education at the University of South Australia. Courtesy of Lena Rigney. Photographer unknown.

Focusing on community photographs taken by nonprofessional photographers and archives in the control of Indigenous custodians, the project will fill an important gap, advancing understanding of Indigenous self-representation.

To date 2,784 images have been collected. Taken almost solely by Ngarrindjeri photographers, they offer a unique access to the social spaces of Aboriginal lives in the mid twentieth century.

“Collaborating with the Ngarrindjeri people to contextualise this important, time-sensitive archive is urgent, while Elders who possess knowledge about the events, people and environment the photos depict are still with us,” Dr Hughes says.

She will examine new historical perspectives arising from the project’s photo and story recovery process. Anthropologist and Australia’s first Indigenous Rhodes Scholar, Rebecca Richards, has been appointed as a postdoctoral research fellow on the project to conduct research on Ngarrindjeri photographic archives and to enable Ngarrindjeri communities to access these photographs.

The project has also engaged Swinburne Indigenous student Grace Auld to create the digital collection.

If you would like to contribute to this project, contact Dr Karen Hughes at

Swinburne University of Technology is the first Australian university to have its Reconciliation Action Plan recognised at the highest level of Elevate. Through its RAP Swinburne has significantly expanded and prioritised its Indigenous research and employment culture, including increasing Indigenous postdoctoral fellows, PhD scholarships and internal seed funding opportunities.

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