Archival photographs enrich Memory of the World

Media release: Friday, 8 June 2012

A collection of glass-plate photographs portraying Australia's first contacts with Papuan culture has been listed on the UNESCO Asia/Pacific Memory of the World Register.

It is the fifth set of records from the National Archives of Australia's collection to be identified by UNESCO as unique, irreplaceable and influential. Items on

the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Register include Australia's constitutional documents, the Griffin design drawings for Canberra, records of displaced Europeans who migrated to Australia and records of the High Court.

'We're very proud that yet another collection of items from the National Archives of Australia has been included on the Memory of the World Register,' said David Fricker, Director-General of the National Archives of Australia.

The FE Williams collection of photographs, taken by Australian government anthropologist Francis Edgar Williams, was chosen for its outstanding historical value as a record of Australia's relationship with Papua in the 1920s and 1930s. It is one of the most extensive records of the inhabitants of Australia's former colony, capturing some of the first interactions between Papuan culture and the western world.

'The photographs record the first contacts with a civilisation hardly known to the west and are recognised for their beauty and significance,' said Mr Fricker. 'Williams had strong respect for the role of traditional customary life in ensuring the well-being of the Papuan people. Historically, these photographs give unrivalled insight into an important time in the relationship between Australia and Papua.'

The collection of almost 2000 glass plate photographs and negatives was taken during Williams' time as government anthropologist in the Australian Territory of Papua from 1922 until his death in 1943. Most are held by the National Archives of Australia and the National Archives of Papua New Guinea, with some in the South Australian Museum - all of whom are jointly awarded the place on the Register. The collection was inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register for Asia Pacific in May.

Contact information

  • Tara Nichols (Marketing Officer)
    t (02) 6212 3609 m 0430 026 612 e tara.nichols@naa.gov.au
  • Elizabeth Masters (Media Officer)
    t (02) 6212 3957 m 0427 853 664 e elizabeth.masters@naa.gov.au
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