Meston's Wild Australia Show 1892-1893

Exhibited at the University of Queensland Anthropology Museum, St Lucia Brisbane Australia from
20 February 2015 - July 2015 and a second iteration from 26 October 2015 - 5 February 2016.

The 'Wild Australia Show' was conceived by Archibald Meston and was a travelling troupe of 27 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people conscripted from the Queensland frontier who performed in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne during 1892 and 1893 in preparation for departure on an international tour in the era of World Exhibitions. However the plans were curtailed by contractual disputes, scandals of financial incompetence and accusations of the capture of certain troupe members against their will in chains.

The exhibition came out of a meticulous process of collection and research by Queensland Museum senior curators Michael Aird and Mandana Mapar, and University of Queensland academic, Professor Paul Memmott who place the previously unknown images in a visual and historic context. This exhibition catalogue uses the same title of Meston's show of more than 120 years ago, Wild Australia, and gives human dignity to the names and faces of the people in the photographs, whose strength of spirit and determination are evident in the gazes of the portrait subjects.

In 1892 and 1893 a troupe of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island performers was taken to Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne to stage what was known as the 'Wild Australia' Show. The project was conceived and promoted by a Queensland journalist entrepreneur, Archibald Meston, who conscripted a junior partner, Brabazon Purcell as the manager of the troupe. Photographs of the performers circulated in various forms, printed in magazines and even stationery, for over a century. 

This exhibition explores a brief period in the life of Archibald Meston, one of the most influential and controversial figures in Queensland Indigenous history. Meston attempted to portray a group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people as “primitive savages” and marketed them as untouched by European influences. He attempted to profit financially from these performers and even though this ambitious plan soon failed, he continued to promote himself over the next decade as an expert in regard to Aboriginal people. Following this failed business venture Meston managed to position himself as one of the most influential advisors to the Queensland Government on Aboriginal issues and was very influential in the introduction of Queensland’s first Aboriginal protection policy that was introduced in 1897.     
The main feature of the exhibition is a selection of photographs taken by Charles Kerry and Henry King of the Wild Australia performers in 1892 and 1893, which are held in the UQ Anthropology Museum Collection. Other photographs featured were taken by J.W. Lindt in 1893 held by the British Museum, as well as photographs from UQ's Fryer Library, Queensland Museum, the State Library of Queensland, the Macleay Museum, the State Library of NSW, Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences and the Pitt Rivers Museum. 

Acknowledgements: A research project initiated by Paul Memmott, Aboriginal Environments Research Centre, University of Queensland; exhibition curation Michael Aird and Mandana Mapar; curatorial research Paul Memmott. This exhibition was commissioned by Diana Young for the University of Queensland Anthropology Museum.