A COUPLE of rare photographs of local Indigenous people dating back to the 1860s have popped up in a new book about the Benedictine monastery in New Norcia.
Fremantle historian Bob Reece, professor emeritus in history at Murdoch University, came across the photos while researching his latest work Early New Norcia: The 1867 Photographs of WW Thwaites.
One of the photographs shows what appears to be a family of Whadjuk Noongars wearing traditional kangaroo cloaks (or bukas) and one carrying a spear outside a Fremantle hotel owned by William Thomas in 1864.
Another shows two Indigenous men; one with a traditional loin cloth and the other in European pants. The photo was again taken around 1864 and was recorded as being taken in Fremantle, though Prof Reece says the handwritten note isn’t conclusive evidence. It is known that it was taken by Fremantle photographer Stephen Stout, who may also be in the first photograph of the Noongar family.
The photos are just a precursor to the intriguing images taken by Walter Thwaites at the New Norcia monastery in 1867.
Thwaites had arrived unannounced at the monastery in August that year, having worked his way around the mid-west of the state soon after his arrival in WA.
With founding bishop Rosendo Salvado away in Italy, prior Venancio Garrido seized the opportunity and had Thwaites capture the work the Benedictines had been doing with the Yued Noongars of the area, fulfilling numerous requests for images from the monks’ former home in Spain.
They show the traditional custodians posed in a variety of tasks, from the mundane sweeping and raking the earth to children attending on a monk while he performs a baptism.
Prof Reece said his involvement in publishing Thwaites’ works was a logical extension of his previous work with the monastery, which led to the book The Invincibles: New Norcia’s Aboriginal Cricketers. He said once he got into the monastery’s archives, there was a treasure trove of material to uncover.
In his book he notes the important discovery by historian Geraldine Byrne’s discovery in 2017 of a long-forgotten running list of the photographs which had lain hidden in the bottom of one of the boxes of photographic prints for almost a century. It provided invaluable information about the subjects.
Early New Norcia: The 1867 Photographs of WW Thwaites was published by the Archive Committee of the Benedictine Community of New Norcia and is available for $45 through the New Norcia Museum and Art Gallery.
by STEVE GRANT