Spencer & Gillen

A journey through Aboriginal Australia

Sketchbook containing 23 sketches depicting camp life during the Spencer and Gillen expedition to the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1901

Physical Description

Materials: Graphite, Ink, Paper, Cardboard, Textile - non specific, String Dimensions Width: 140mm Height: 330mm Depth: 25mm

Primary Comments

Lined hardcover notebook, with marbled paper on the covers and a leatherette spine, containing 23 sketches, mostly captioned, depicting camp life during the Spencer and Gillen expedition to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Later pages are mostly blank, but include some incomplete sketches and other entries, including a list of ten names, a transcribed letter written by Brian Gillen (11 years old) to his father and dated November 17th 190[2?], and a brief poem titled "The blind mans life" written by Brian Gillen. Recorded on a page in the sketchbook is "All the drawings in this book were done by the natives during the expedition of Gillen & Spencer". The blank sketchbook was given by Frank Gillen to his Aboriginal guide Erlikilyika, who drew the sketches. Place of event Oodnadatta, South Australia, Australia Place of event Borroloola, Northern Territory, Australia Place of event Gulf of Carpentaria, Northern Territory, Australia Date of event 1901 Materials?Graphite, Ink, Paper, Cardboard, Textile - non specific, String Dimensions?Width: 140mm?Height: 330mm?Depth: 25mm


Page 2

‘Spencer Gillen Expedition Journal of Erlikilia, known as the “Subdued”. [Crossed out a number of times]

Parunda makes a damper while the Subdued sketches’ Woodforde Creek June 1st 1901

Page 3

‘Whitefellow shaking Hands’

Page 4

‘An old man in his wurley at Barrow Creek’

Page 5

‘The same old man having a snooze’

Page 6

‘Frogs in a Waterhole’

Page 7

‘Little Jack Named after John Besley Gillen who was the first white man born at Alice Springs in N. Australia’

Page 8

Blackfellows climbing rocks

Page 9

‘Chopping boughs to build a wurley’

Page 15

‘The artist is unable to say what this was intended for’

Page 17

‘The Professor’ ‘Professor’

Page 23

‘The turtle we got at Kurrabubba’
‘A crab’

Page 24

‘Alligator we did not get’

Page 31

Moonta November 19th 190[?]

Dear father
I hope you are very well. There was a big stormhear Sunday and roofs of three shops were blown off. The tram was ten minutes late and if it had bean in time it would have cut the horse to pieces. Their was a closet turned upside down with the roof up side down. I am getting on nicely at school now and get every sum right I have finished the flowerpot that I was doing for mother. I went to drawing on Thursday and did a drawing and did it very well. Spencer an Eily have grown so much since you have been away. Send me a letter as soon as you can when are you coming home I sent a letter to auntie yesterday good by from your loving son Brian
This letter was written by Brian Gillen at the age of 11 years.

Page 32

The blind mans life

(1) Oh it is a dreadful life to be blind. The days pass away so quickly, that I can hear the birds wings humming in the air.

Written by Brian Gillen.


Rights: National Museum of Australia

Document Details

Date Made
Circa 1901
Date Collected
Central Australia
Northern Territory

Document Details

Number of Pages


Language Groups


National Museum of Australia
Date Acquired


Primary Subject