Donald Thomson: Observations of Animal Connections in Visual Ethnography in Northern Australia

Natasha Fijn*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    2 Citations (Scopus)


    Donald Thomson is a legendary Australian anthropologist particularly noted for his early fieldwork in Northern Australia. He lived for extended periods in remote areas in Cape York then Arnhem Land from 1929 until 1943. While in the field, he made meticulous ethnographic and natural history fieldnotes, took aesthetically beautiful photographs and amassed a particularly large museum collection. Thomson made a delineation between his academic publications on anthropology-related subjects and those that related to natural history, reflecting the epistemological divide during his lifetime. Aboriginal engagement with different animals is hard to find by reading classic ethnographic texts, which tend to refer to animals as human symbols or totems, rather than as living beings of significance. Thomson’s fieldwork is exemplary, in terms of showing how anthropologists can utilise a combination of detailed observation, visual ethnography and zoological findings in order to enrich our understandings of relations between other cultures and other animals.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)44-68
    Number of pages25
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2021


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