From the Frontier

Outback letters to Baldwin Spencer

John Mulvaney with Alison Petch and Howard Morphy
AUD $39.99
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A collection of lively letters which provide insights into, and details of, race relations, social history, and the dawn of anthropological and biological interest in central Australia. A century later they reveal to us a fascinating view of Australia's past.

This is the story of three men and three frontiers.

In the nineteenth century the centre of the continent was, to white Australians, a vast forbidding emptiness. The completion of the Overland Telegraph Line in the 1870s brought with it a new knowledge of the area, as well as a number of intruders to a landscape familiar to Aboriginal people for thirty millennia. Among the newcomers were a policeman, Ernest Cowle, and a telegraph official, Paddy Byrne, living in frontier settlements hundreds of kilometres from the nearest Europeans.

From 1894 to 1925, Cowle and Byrne wrote letters to pioneering anthropologist and biologist, Baldwin Spencer, whom they had met during the 1894 Horn Scientific Expedition to central Australia. Neither expected their letters to be read by any person other than Spencer, and both made observations which they would never voice to each other. Yet through their letters, and the Spencer and Gillen books, they became linked to such giants of intellectual history as James Frazer, Emile Durkheim and Sigmund Freud. And both became figures, however minute, on the frontier of discovery, of new ways of looking at human experience in all its diversity.

The subjects of their letters were the Aboriginal people, the landscape in which they lived and the unusual flora and fauna of their habitat. These earthy and thoughtful men offered an extended report from the frontier of the relations between white and black Australians, a place then characterised by mutual incomprehension, outbreaks of violence and the vast distance between two seemingly incompatible ways of responding to an extreme environment.

A moment in time, a place on the edge, two men writing to a third; From the Frontier combines local history, race relations and scientific discovery, and enters a place whose very strangeness tells us much about our past-and our present.

Author bio:

JOHN MULVANEY is the founder of Australian archaeology, a frequent media commentator on current issues and the only living Australian public intellectual to have had a book entirely devoted to his work. After 40 years of university teaching and advising governments, he remains a highly respected yet controversial activist. He is the co-author of Prehistory of Australia.

Category: History
ISBN: 9781865083179
Table Of Contents: Illustrations

Acronyms and Abbreviations


Introduction: Correspondents on a frontier

Part One: The Cowle correspondence: The letters of Mounted Constable C.E Cowle to Baldwin Spencer, 1894-1920

1. Cowle of Illamurta

2. Home at Illamurta

3. People and environment

4. After Gillen

5. Bush ethnography

Part Two: The Byrne correspondence: Letters from P.M Byrne to Baldwin Spencer, 1894-1925

6. Pado Byrne of Charlotte waters

7. Correspondence 1894-1895

8. The mail 1896-1925

Appendix 1 Letters to E. Stirling

Appendix 2 Letters to R.H. Mathews

Appendix 3 Official police correspondence

Appendix 4 Cost of escorting prisoners

Appendix 5 Byrne Kurdaitcha article

Appendix 6 Surviving letters from Baldwin Spencer to P.M Byrne


Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Imprint: Allen & Unwin
Pub Date: September 2000
Page Extent: 352
Format: Paperback - C format
Age: 0 - 0
Subject: History