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Original sound recordings of Jimmie Barker

We are humbled and excited at the donation of sound pioneer Jimmie Barker’s original field tapes to the AIATSIS collection by Jimmie’s grandson, Roy Barker.  

The first Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Australian to use recorded sound as a tool to preserve and document Aboriginal culture, Jimmie Barker’s innovation produced over 100 hours of audio recordings across 21 collections. 

Many of Jimmie’s recordings include detailed descriptions of, and reflections upon, what he often refers to as ‘the old ways’. They represent a crucial link with pre-colonial Muruwari and Ngemba culture. 

AIATSIS worked with Barker’s descendants to review the recordings he made in Brewarrina and Lightning Ridge, New South Wales, in the 1960s and 70s, as part of a reattribution project to restore all physical and intellectual property rights to the Barker family. This work led to the discovery that Jimmie had independently developed a technique to make sound recordings. This development occurred without prior knowledge of the work of Thomas Edison and others in the development of sound recording technology.  

The collection documents include detailed descriptions of his experiments, with their first successful recording taking place in 1909 - rewriting the history of sound recording in Australia.  

"Jimmie Barker's pioneering work in sound recording has not only preserved and documented Aboriginal culture but has also rewritten the history of sound recording in Australia. We are deeply honoured and thrilled to receive Jimmie Barker's original field tapes, generously donated by his grandson, Roy Barker. These recordings, with their detailed descriptions and reflections on 'the old ways,' provide a crucial link to pre-colonial Muruwari and Ngemba culture. AIATSIS has worked closely with Barker's descendants to ensure the restoration of all physical and intellectual property rights to the Barker family. This donation is a profound testament to the resilience and innovation of First Nations people in shaping the field of sound recording," said Leonard Hill, acting CEO of AIATSIS. 

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Jimmie Barker, Lightning Ridge.
Courtesy of the Barker Family.


Last updated: 15 August 2023