Research by Museum anthropologist, Dr Philip Jones


An ochred object from the Museum's Australian Aboriginal Cultures Collection: a wooden time-beating stick from Yirrkalla, Northern Territory. A47727, South Australian Museum.

Philip has worked as a Curator in the Museum’s Australian Aboriginal Cultures Section since 1984. His PhD concerned the history of the Museum’s anthropological collections and collectors. Fieldwork with Aboriginal people in the Simpson Desert region, particularly in collaboration with Dr Luise Hercus, led to several publications on this region’s history and ethnography.

Philip Jones has curated more than 30 exhibitions at the Museum, ranging from Aboriginal art to the history of anthropology and natural science, expeditions, and frontier photography. His most recent exhibitions were Australia’s Muslim Cameleers (2007) and Images of the Interior: Seven Central Australian Photographers (2011). The cameleers’ project took a new turn in June 2013 with the award to Philip and co-researchers of an Australian Research Council Linkage grant to investigate the traces of the cameleers’ built heritage within Australia.

Philip’s book of essays on Museum objects and the Australian frontier, Ochre and Rust: Artefacts and Encounters on Australian Frontiers, won the 2008 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction. He is currently working on a study of the life and work of the colonial artist, George French Angas, a book on the Yuendumu Doors and an analysis of the pioneering anthropology of W.B. Spencer and FJ Gillen. The latter research is partly expressed in the website ‘Spencer and Gillen: A Journey Through Aboriginal Australia’ and a forthcoming edited book dealing with their 1901–1902 expedition.

Philip’s research draws heavily upon the documentary material held in the Museum Archives, which complements the Museum’s ethnographic collection. Most recently he has been working on the ‘Tindale Shoebox Project’, to digitise Norman Tindale’s 11,000 data cards which record Aboriginal language terms for cultural concepts and material culture, matching these to objects in the collection. Another archive-based research project is a long-term commitment to write a history of the South Australian Museum itself, following the interlocking research trajectories of its staff.