Spencer & Gillen

A journey through Aboriginal Australia

Letter from Spencer to Fison

Physical Description

Letter, handwritten in ink. Single sheet, four pages.

Primary Comments

Annotation in ink at top of letter in Fison's handwriting "Rec 5th Oct 1901"



[Fison's handwriting] Rec'd 5 Oct. 01
Tennants Creek
Aug 6. 01
My dear Fison,
Just a line to report progress. We are hard at work amongst the Warramunga Tribe at the above--so far as the country is concerned--most monotonously miserable place. However fortunately for ourselves we have no time to spend in lamenting lack of scenery as the natives keep us going from morning till night. These Warramungas are a fine people physically & ceremonially and just now we are in the midst of what appears to be a long series of ceremonies with various totems--Mungai they call the latter here. Things have of [Page 2] course to be done as they were in the Alcheringa--just like a parson in this climate must wear a robe when preaching because his forbears did the same in the Alcheringa. It is just a trifle monotonous at times because one of their great ancestors--a black snake--walked generally over the country performing ceremonies wherever 'he stood up and looked about'--and each one of these has to be repeated. However we have the following totem groups at work performing their series--black snake--water snake--deaf adder --'honey bag'--native cat--white cockatoo & a very queer totem "laughing boy". The decorations for all are elaborate and often decidedly artistic and by means of [Page 3] their ceremonies we are getting into their beliefs and way of thinking.
The totem business is quite distinct here from what obtains in the Arunta Kaitish and Unmatchera but the whole will form I fancy a beautiful series. Gillen is just wonderful with the natives and they evidently like us both--in fact they say so & often remark "you see em everything you all same blackfellow" They are just as anxious that we should see & understand everything as we are and go to no end of trouble to help us. The photographs interest them immensely and the snap shutter of my little hand camera is a continuous source of amusement & wonderment to them also. In a few days we are off away to {page 4] the east somewhere with a few of the old men who are very anxious for us to see some of their sacred spots. We have got out of the land of Churinga & Nurtunja? but other generally interesting things take their place. I would like to have you here just for a day or two. These old men would interest you immensely and we have got quite attached to some of them. The old fellows are having a great time in the way of flour & tobacco: there never was such a supply of the latter in the camps before.
I trust that all goes well with you in Melbourne. After this it will be probably two or three months before we can write but up till now we have had exceptional fortune in the way of mails. Then they are usually 3 or 4 months without letters.
Yours very sincerely
W. Baldwin Spencer
Gillen sends very kind regards

Rights: Museum Victoria

Document Details

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Document Details

Letter To
Fison, Lorimer
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Museum Victoria