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Records of the Fifth Anthropological Expedition to Central Australia : Mount Liebig

Identifier: Film Collection no. 269

Scope and Contents

Filmed during the Fifth Anthropological Expedition to central Australia, 1932-1935. Also known as Australian Aboriginals, this film was made by the University of Adelaide and the South Australian Museum Field Research Program as a record of the Fifth Anthropological Expedition to Mount Liebig in central Australia. One of the five reels of the film consists of footage taken on the University of Adelaide-Warburton Expedition to the Mann and Ernabella Ranges, also in central Australia. Reel 1 opens with scenes of Stanley Chasm, Hoasts Bluff, central Mt. Wedge, and the expedition camp at Mt. Liebig. A scientist leading a camel returns to the camp following a successful search for aborigines. Members of the Pintubi tribe arrive at the camp and are greeted by members of the Ngalia tribe, who are already present. The Pintubi men, accompanied by pet dingos, wear woven human or animal hair strings at their waists and carry spears and shields. The women carry babies on their backs and hips, and their meager possessions in shoulder-slung dilly bags made of bark. The women wear belts and necklaces made of human or animal hair. Close-ups explore the women's faces and bodies showing cicatrices between their breasts. Several scenes of food-gathering activities follow, including: women hunting for small mammals and using digging sticks to hunt for grubs, roots, and nuts; men hunting wallabies (using ambush techniques) and gathering honey ants. Large wood-grubs are eaten alive; corms (similar to bulbs) of an onion-like plant are cooked in an open hearth before being eaten; animal entrails are slightly cooked in the ashes. In the final sequence a man makes weapons: a boomerang, stone knives, a spear thrower with sharp quartzite on the handle for cutting, and a spear. He tests the sharpness of the weapons on a vein in his upper arm. Reel 2 contains the Warburton Expedition footage. A man decorates a spear thrower; his human hair phallocrypt is seen. A broken spear thrower is repaired. Expedition trucks experience difficulties crossing rough terrain; aborigines clear brush. A man makes a chalk design on what appears to be black paper. A scientist gives the aborigines mirrors or photographs. There are scenes of a girl with her puppy, and of women drinking from a water hole. Boys hunt zebra finches and cockatiels at a watering hole by throwing sticks at the birds. The birds they hit are plucked, tossed into hot ashes for a few minutes, and consumed. The boys also search for wood-grubs and hunt opossum. After locating an opossum nest in a tree, the boys make a hole in the tree and smoke out the opossums, then dash the opossums' heads, eviscerate them with the sharp stone on their spear throwers, and toss the meat onto the fire. Adults also engage in food gathering activities: men hunt and cook goannas (large lizards); women tear twigs from a mulga tree and soak off the sweet tasting insects into water held in a coolamon, or wooden dish, and drink the sweetened liquid; women winnow seeds in a wira (a shallow basket-like container), then grind the seeds and add water to create a dough, which is cooked in hot ashes and eaten. Reel 3 is comprised of outtakes from the other reels, and includes many activities and scenes contained in the rest of the film. Activities which do not appear elsewhere on the film include: a man practicing boomerang throwing; the making of a coolamon, by carving wood from a tree and heating the wood in hot ashes to make it more malleable; and kangaroo hunting and cooking: the kangaroo's intestines are used to bind one leg to the tail, and the meat is cooked over an open hearth. Both flesh and bones are eaten. A design and a map are painted onto a rock face. Reel 4 contains scenes of several magic ceremonies. In the parmalba, a magical ceremony enacted to attract women, a bull roarer is made by decorating a piece of wood or a bone and suspending it from a string attached to a stick buried in the ground. Men of the Ngalia and Jumu tribes perform several "increase" ceremonies, or ceremonies to encourage the proliferation or "increase" of food sources or special beings. Specific ceremonies performed include the yala (yam), mallu (kangaroo), nana-nana ("halfwoman" or a man whose sex organs resemble a woman's), and wati ("man totem being" or ancestral being). Elements common to all the ceremonies are: bloodletting from a vein in the upper arm; blood caught in shields, and used to paint totemic emblems on the body; adhering bird down to the blood; and chanting with synchronized movement. A detailed survey of male adornment demonstrates the use of powder puff fungi to blacken faces, milkweed sap for white dots, ashes, spittle, animal grease mixed with clay, wildflowers in the hair, and bones in the nose. The Pintubi coiffure is a chignon held with animal sinew. In an unexplained sequence, passive aborigines surrounded by medical equipment lie around with hoses in their mouths. Men play hide-and-seek, wrestle with each other, and at sunset collect wood for the fire and then sit and chew pituri, a narcotic made from dried leaves of a shrub. Women gather their children and the evening culminates with singing and dancing around the hearth. Reel 5 begins with various scenes: women forage for food collecting wild carrots and yelka nuts; a woman chops down a mulga tree with an ax to make a digging stick; a woman squirts milk from her breast at the camera. The major focus of this reel, however, is initiation and the ceremonies surrounding it, which continue over a period of several weeks. Boys aged 14 to 17 undergo several operations to mark their passage into manhood; at the end of the process the men share with the newly initiated the sacred myths by which they must begin to live. The boys first undergo tooth evulsion, a ritual extraction of an incisor; one such operation is filmed. Circumcision rites, usually performed at night, are conducted here by day so that the anthropologists can film the proceedings. Several circumcision operations and accompanying dances are performed. In a few weeks, when the youths have sufficiently healed they undergo a subincision operation (a cut made in the underside of the penis). Three of these are shown. Following subincision, each boy's hair is coiled into a chignon which is bound with kangaroo sinews. Genital blood-letting accompanies some ceremonies.


  • 1932-1935

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Not available through interlibrary loan. Contact AMNH Library Special Collections for terms of access.

Conditions Governing Access

Due to the secret/sacred nature of ritual material seen in this film, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies has requested that it carry a restricted use notice. Only advanced level students of anthropology and related studies may screen this film. Under no circumstance should it be seen by Aboriginal people, who would be prohibited from seeing it by traditional Aboriginal law and custom.


5 Film Reels (174 minutes) : silent, black and white ; 16 mm.

3 Videocassettes (U-Matic (174 minutes)) : silent, black and white ; 3/4 in.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

3/4 in., U-Matic, viewing copy

Other Finding Aids

Finding aid: script.


Original format: 16 mm. print.



E.O. Stocker, photographer and arranger.

Records of the Fifth Anthropological Expedition to Central Australia : Mount Liebig, 1932-1935
Iris Lee
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Museum Archives at the Gottesman Research Library Repository

American Museum of Natural History
200 Central Park West
New York NY 10024 USA
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