SPENCER, Sir Walter Baldwin (1860-1929). Native Tribes of the Northern Territory of Australia. London: Macmillan and co., Limited, 1914.
8vo., (8 6/8 x 5 6/8 inches). Half-title. 2-page publisher's advertisement at end. Folding lithographed map. * colour plates, and illustrated throughout from photographs. Original green cloth, gilt, top edges gilt, others uncut.
Provenance: with the library label of Marion C. Walker on the front paste-down.
First edition, and an attractive copy. Spencer emigrated to Australia in 1887 and in 1896 he and colleague F.J. Gillen embarked on the "most intensive field-work then attempted in Australia. The Native Tribes of Central Australia (1899) which resulted was to influence contemporary theories on social evolution and interpretations of the origins of art and ceremonial. It impressed (Sir) James Frazer, author of The Golden Bough, who developed a lifelong friendship with Spencer. Selections from their correspondence were published in 1932.
"Frazer also raised a petition which obtained from their respective governments the release of the partners for a year. Spencer and Gillen drove a buggy from Oodnadatta to Borroloola in 1901-02, working among Aboriginal groups for several weeks at a time. They pioneered sound recording on wax cylinders and shot movie film under conditions of sheer hardship. Their last joint venture took them briefly to Lake Eyre's Arabana people in 1903. Their research produced The Northern Tribes of Central Australia (1904); Across Australia (2 vols, 1912) was a popular version, originally partly serialized in the Age during 1901. These articles provided £1000 towards expedition costs, but all Spencer's other field-work was self-financed.
"When the Commonwealth government assumed control of the Northern Territory, Spencer led three other scientists, including J. A. Gilruth, on the 1911 Preliminary Scientific Expedition. Impressed with their findings, the government immediately appointed Spencer to Darwin for a year. As special commissioner and chief protector of Aborigines for some weeks until the arrival of administrator Gilruth, he was the Territory's most senior official. The opposition which his decisions aroused among Darwin's polyglot community anticipated the issues which dominated Gilruth's turbulent era. Spencer's comprehensive but costly blueprint for Aboriginal welfare was tabled in parliament in 1913, and forgotten. His concepts were paternalistic, authoritarian and reflected social Darwinism, yet they were innovative and advocated the creation of extensive reserves.
"An infected leg severely restricted Spencer's field-work during 1912. In spite of this permanent source of discomfort, he was hosted by Joe Cooper on Melville Island and by Paddy Cahill at Oenpelli and Flora River. Native Tribes of the Northern Territory of Australia (1914) described his ethnographic observations and extensive collections. An ethnographic quarry today, it was the source of the term 'Kakadu'. Despite humid conditions, Spencer did more filming. Less fortunate was his trail-blazing 1000-mile (1609 km) drive with Gilruth to Borroloola which achieved little" (D. J. Mulvaney, 'Spencer, Sir Walter Baldwin (1860–1929)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University).