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Francis James Gillen (1855-1912)
Notebooks on anthropology of the Aranda people and Aranda vocabulary

MSS 09 G47 & MSS 09 G47v

Biographical Note

Francis James Gillen, ethnologist, was born on 28 October 1855 at Little Para, South Australia, eldest son of Thomas Gillen, agricultural labourer, and his wife Bridget, née McCan. His Irish parents had migrated to Australia in the year of his birth and settled at Clare.

Gillen joined the public service in 1867 as a postal messenger at Clare. He was transferred to Adelaide in 1871, combining work as a telegraph operator with evening study at the South Australian School of Mines and Industries. Gillen began work on the overland telegraph line in 1875, culminating with his appointment as Alice Springs post and telegraph station master in 1892.

Gillen met the anthropologist Sir Baldwin Spencer in 1894, when Spencer was his guest after the Horn expedition departed. During the summer of 1896-97, Spencer returned to Alice Springs, where Gillen 'arranged' the performance of complex Aboriginal ceremonies. Their book, The Native Tribes of Central Australia (1899), won them acclaim overseas and influenced contemporary anthropological theory. In 1901 they crossed the continent and attracted popular interest. Their last joint field-work occurred during a brief trip in 1903, north-west of Lake Eyre. These expeditions were published as The Northern Tribes of Central Australia (1904). The success of their anthropological team had depended initially upon acceptance by Aranda elders of Gillen's authority and paternalism.

Adapted from the Australian Dictionary of Biography entry by D.J. Mulvaney.

Contents Summary

MSS 09 G47 Anthropology notes.  1894-98.  5 v.

Variously titled ‘Notes on the habits/manners and customs of the natives/Aborigines’: mostly relate to the Arunta [Arrente] and neighbouring tribes.

v.  2-5 of the Anthropology notes and the vocabulary were presented to the University by Dr. J. Gillen in 1933; v.1 was presented in 1956 by Professor Cleland, to whom it had been presented in recognition of his help with [editing for publication] Gillen’s journal.

Volume 5 includes [pp.834-841] a 'Comparative table of Languages' comprising some 150 words in Arunta, Kaitish, Warramunga, Chingilli, Umbaia and Gnanji [sic].  The individual pages of the original may be accessed as image files (page 834 - 90kb; page 835 - 94kb; page 836 - 98kb; page 837 - 104 kb; page 838 - 104kb; page 839 - 119kb; page 840 - 115kb; page 841 - 43 kb).

A copy of this manuscript list was typed by Christina Pentland for Rob Pensalfini (University of Queensland) and converted to Excel spreadsheet (with some corrections) by David Nash (ASEDA at AIATSIS) in November 2002.  This copy has been made available (with the permission of Pensalfini and Nash) for research use, and may be accessed here as an Excel spreadsheet (44kb), or here as a pdf file (15kb).


MSS 09 G47v Vocabulary [of the] Arunta language as spoken at Alice Springs, Mc Donnell Ranges.
undated.  1 v.

These notebooks and papers have been digitised and made available (with transcriptions) through the Spencer & Gillen: a journey through Aboriginal Australia website, developed as collaboration between the Australian National University, Museum Victoria, and the South Australian Museum, the Northern Territory Library, Australian Capital Equity, Barr Smith Library and with the funding support of the Australian Research Council.

See also:
MSS 305.89915 S745A Tapes of the 1901 expedition to Central Australia and accompanying correspondence
MSS 572.994 S74p Photographs taken on Spencer and Gillen expeditions

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