Focus on lantern slides

Monday, 24 August 2015 - 4:00pm
A lantern slide from the United Aborigines Mission collection being scanned
A lantern slide from the United Aborigines Mission collection - Colebrook Home being prepared for scanning.

Two separate collections of lantern slides have been the focus of work for the AIATSIS Collections team recently. Both sets feature photographs taken at United Aborigines Missions (UAM) in South Australia and Western Australia between 1924 and 1944.

Lantern slides were produced from the late 1800s until the 1950s and were primarily used for educational purposes and home entertainment being projected using a ‘magic lantern viewer’. Their popularity waned following the introduction of colour transparencies in the 1950s.  

Mathews collection

A collection of 209 lantern slides dating from the early 1930s has been donated to AIATSIS by Mrs Diana Williams, wife of Reverend Ron Williams, notable Aboriginal pastor and leader who passed away in 2003.  The photographs were taken by W H Mathews and his son Arthur G Mathews between 1932 and 1939.

Arthur G Mathews was a UAM missionary at Ooldea, Mt Margaret, Warburton and Gnowangerup. Reverend Williams received the slides from old missionaries called Mr Wright and Mr Street when living in Kalgoorlie in the late 1960s. Many of the donated slides contain annotations with details of locations, names and activities which add to the value of the collection.  

Subjects of the photographs include: mission scenes and activities at those locations, housing, timber milling, religious instruction, education, individual and group portraits and traditional activities.

United Aborigines Mission collection – Colebrook Home

The latest photographic collection digitised is that of mission activities in South Australia: Colebrook Home, buildings and community portraits from the United Aborigines Mission (UAM) taken between 1924 and 1944.

UAM founded Homes throughout Australia for Aboriginal children taken from their families. These photographs were taken at the Colebrook Home located first in Oodnadatta and later moved to Quorn, South Australia.

The collectors of these images were two United Aborigines Mission Sisters, Sisters Hyde and Rutter, who left the slides to the collection donor Faith Thomas. Raised in the Colebrook Home, Faith remained close to the Sisters until their deaths, and wanted to ensure the slides they had passed to her were properly cared for. For most of the children raised in the Home, these photographs are the only record of them as children and are important resources for both themselves and their families.

Many of the 83 lantern slides were cracked with some even split into several shards making the material difficult to digitise without scratching the surface of the scanner or worsening the condition of the slides themselves. Mylar sheeting was used to protect the scanner beds as well as the careful placement of glass shards as close to the original breaking points as possible to be able to preserve a complete record.

Subjects of the photographs include: individual and group portraits, missionaries holding children, view of girls’ and boys’ dormitories, daily life, washing clothes and much more. Find more through the catalogue record, including access to the caption list (with names where known).

Last reviewed: 10 Nov 2015