Revisiting Francis Birtles’ painted car: Exploring a cross-cultural encounter with Aboriginal artist Nayombolmi at Imarlkba Gold Mine, 1929–1930

Joakim Goldhahn, Sally K. May, Paul S.C. Tacon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Inspired by an intriguing photograph of a painted Bean car with Aboriginal designs, this paper explores the cross-cultural encounter between the renowned adventurer Francis Birtles (1881–1941) and Aboriginal artist Nayombolmi (c. 1895–1967). Meeting by chance during one of Birtles’ overland explorations by motorcar and one of Nayombolmi’s annual walking route journeys, the two men came together in an area that would become synonymous with the Imarlkba gold mine in present day Kakadu National Park. Their acquaintance, based on mutual needs and curiosity, provides a rare insight into cross-cultural colonial relationships in this frontier region. Beginning in 1929 their interactions continued intermittently as the Birtles-initiated Imarlkba gold mine developed and Badmardi people (and others) joined the workforce. By revisiting the well-known photograph of Birtles’ painted Bean car, this paper uses a variety of sources, most notably old and new oral history recordings, to investigate Aboriginal histories and colonial cross-cultural engagements in remote northern Australia, and how newly introduced technologies and material culture could be charged with new meanings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)469-492
Number of pages24
JournalHistory Australia
Volume18
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 23 Aug 2021

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