20 February 2015 - July 2015
26 October 2015 - 5 February 2016

Curated by Michael Aird and Mandana Mapar

In 1892 and 1893 a troupe of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island performers was taken to Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne to stage what was known as the 'Wild Australia' Show. The project was conceived and promoted by a Queensland journalist entrepreneur, Archibald Meston, who conscripted a junior partner, Brabazon Purcell as the manager of the troupe.

Photographs of the performers circulated in various forms, printed in magazines and even stationery, for over a century. It was the initiative of Professor Paul Memmott to bring the photographs together in order to try to reconnect families of the descendants.

Yungkwa | Sydney, December 1892 | Photograph by Henry King | UQ Anthropology Museum Collection

This exhibition explores a brief period in the life of Archibald Meston, one of the most influential and controversial figures in Queensland Indigenous history. Meston attempted to portray a group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people as “primitive savages” and marketed them as untouched by European influences. He attempted to profit financially from these performers and even though this ambitious plan soon failed, he continued to promote himself over the next decade as an expert in regard to Aboriginal people. Following this failed business venture Meston managed to position himself as one of the most influential advisors to the Queensland Government on Aboriginal issues and was very influential in the introduction of Queensland’s first Aboriginal protection policy that was introduced in 1897.     

The main feature of the exhibition will be a selection of photographs taken by Charles Kerry and Henry King of the Wild Australia performers in 1892 and 1893, which are held in the UQ Anthropology Museum Collection. (These original photos were purchased by Museum founder Dr L.P. Winterbotham in the 1950s from Tyrell’s Bookshop in Sydney). Other photographs taken by J.W. Lindt in 1893 held by the British Museum will also feature, as well as photographs from UQ's Fryer Library, Queensland Museum, the State Library of Queensland, the Macleay Museum, the State Library of NSW, Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences and the Pitt Rivers Museum.


View full photo gallery on Flickr:  Wild Australia: Meston's Wild Australia Show 1892-1893


A research project initiated by Paul Memmott, Aboriginal Environments Research Centre, University of Queensland; exhibition curation Michael Aird and Mandana Mapar; curatorial research Paul Memmott. This exhibition was commissioned by Diana Young for the University of Queensland Anthropology Museum.

Teaser image: "Yungkwa", photograph from Henry King, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, acquired by Tyrell's Museum, 1950