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The German Ethnographic Expeditions to the Kimberley, Northwest Australia

WAC Shed 10 KDPhoto: Kim Doohan A Collaborative Assessment of Research History, the Interpretation of Australian Aboriginal Heritage and Digital Repatriation.

Funding: German Research Foundation (DFG) and University of Western Australia (Perth)

Project duration: February 2021 to January 2024

Directed by: Dr. Richard Kuba and Ass. Prof. Martin Porr (University of Western Australia)

Project collaborators: Christina Henneke (MA), Melda Demir (Student Assistant), Marius Heimer (Student Assistant), Ruben Sutterlüty (Student Assistant), Matilde Vergara (Student Assistant)

Cooperation partners:


What is the value and significance of historical ethnographic collections today? Which roles can they play in the intellectual landscape today? How can their potential for Traditional Owners, museums and the wider public be assessed and accessed?

The aim of this project is to develop a systematic and collaborative assessment of the Ger­man ethno­graphic expeditions to the Northwest Kimberley that were conducted by the Institut für Kulturmorphol­ogie (now Frobenius Institute, Frankfurt am Main) in 1938 and 1939 and the then Museum für Völkerkunde (Munich) in 1954 and 1955. The project will foremost draw on unpublished archival materials in Germany (photos, drawings, sketches, repro­ductions of rock art images, personal notebooks), published books and papers and the direct input from members of the relevant Australian Indigenous communities. As such, the project is a case study of critical research history and anthropo­logical knowledge production. It is highly significant for the Aboriginal communities that are involved in this endeavour. The project is also designed to productively contribute to key contentious issues for ethno­graphic or anthropological archives, museums and collections today.

The project aims to contribute to the discussions about current challenges by concentrating on the analysis of a corpus of relevant materials from the Kimberley that are held in German institutions, summarise and digitise these, initi­ate the reconstruc­tion of the circumstances and intellectual contexts of their creation and assess their significance and future potentials together with members of the relevant Aboriginal communities. In this context, it will be of crucial importance to under­stand the various intellectual influences that have impacted on the expeditions and its participants.


Media response

The spirit of the Kimberley
The Weekend Australian Magazine, 6 February 2023

Wanjina Wunggurr rock art and archival materials return to country from Germany after 80 years
University of Western Australia, 22. November 2022

Wanjina Wunggurr rock art and archival materials return to the Kimberley from German collections after more than 80 years.
University of Western Australia, 28. Juli 2022

 "The Frobenius collection" in the brochure of the Wilinggin Aboriginal Corporation. Galamunnangga - Our Path from the dreaming, 2021.  

Interview with Martin Porr about the project on ABC-Radio (9-11-2020)

Project connects Aboriginal communities with rich cultural history
University of Western Australia, November 11th, 2020