1. Nicolas Peterson received his Ph.D. in anthropology in 1972 from the University of Sydney. His research has focused on territorial organization among Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory of Australia, where he worked with Roger Sandall in the 1960s making observational record films of men's restricted ceremonies. He lectures in anthropology at the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at the Australian National University. He recently coedited Photography's Other Histories with Chris Pinney (Duke 2003).
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This article examines a set of postcard images relating to the Australian Aboriginal family circulating at the beginning of the 20th century, to ask whether the images were an illustration of Aboriginal social and economic circumstances or taken as evidence for it. It is argued that the imagery fits with two prevalent moral discourses of the period that helped explain Aboriginal people's impoverished circumstances, and provided evidence for the need for certain kinds of institutions and practices to redeem them. The analysis will suggest how these meanings were encoded in such a way that they were easily perceived by casual viewers.