Imported Stereotypes and the Image of the Australian Aborigine
Imported stereotypes and the image of the Australian Aborigine. In this paper I chart the image of Australian Aborigines in the popular illustrated press from 1850 to 1900. My objective is not a synoptic survey or descriptive chronicle since I aim to explore the relationship between first-hand observation and stereotypical representation in popular graphic discourse. In particular I highlight the neglected influence of American racial stereotypes on shaping the image of indigenous Australians. To demonstrate the mechanisms of transference, adaptation or transmogrification of these American image types to an Australian context I take examples from the graphic work of Australia's most prolific nineteenth-century image-maker, Montague Scott (1835 - 1909). Soon after the English-trained Scott arrived in Australia around 1856, after a brief stay in New Zealand, he photographically recorded his first-hand observation of individual Aborigines and produced the earliest surviving photograph of a corroboree. In the 1860s and 1870s he painted a number of significant works featuring Aboriginal people and themes but it is his prodigious graphic output in the popular press that offers a unique study archive. At different times during his fifty-year career Scott was chief cartoonist on Melbourne Punch, Sydney Punch, the Brisbane Boomerang and the Worker. Selecting images of Australian Aborigines from this chronologically unbroken database of almost 3000 images I will outline the constellation of forces that shaped an image of the Australian Aborigine that elided mimetic or representational likeness. At the pragmatic level I document the importation of American graphic stereotypes such as Jim Crow and the influence of popular black-face minstrel shows in Australia in the 1850s to 1870s on the construction of indigenous types. More broadly I demonstrate that the fundamental imperatives that drove the relentlessly reductive evolution of the popular image of the Australian Aborigine were part of the distinctively European ideological rhetoric associated with the physiognomic paradigm that dominates scientific and graphic representational systems in the nineteenth century.
Present Pasts-Present Futures