A new photo from the Powerhouse Museum every day
Sailing across the Tasman after departing Sydney, the 1921 Kangaroos stopped at Wellington and played an exhibition match against a local side at the Basin Reserve. They also acquired their one Kiwi representative, for despite the domination of players from Sydney, it was intended that a fully Australasian team would play in England. I don’t know on which side of the proceedings Bert Laing featured in the one match on his home turf.
From Wellington the SS Tahiti headed out across the Pacific, stopping next at Rarotonga. In the image above, Frank Burge, Sandy Pearce and three of their teammates pose with a group of locals. It looks like a warm and beautiful South Seas day but the boys are, in line with both the fashion and the social requirements of the time, dressed as gentleman, their gold Kangaroo icons conspicuously pinned to their hats.
This is a fine-looking image, but in the context of the album its placement, on page 6, is curious. Clearly, if any form of chronological arrangement was being adhered to then this photograph should be present in the first couple of pages. Instead, a whole range of photos out of sequential order precedes it: pictures taken, for example, in the United States, across which the Kangaroos would of course travel after leaving Rarotonga, as well as numerous photographs from England, all of which were taken after the American photos. And yet there is still a vague chronology at work in the album’s narrative: the images depicting shipboard training do appear in the early pages, while pictures taken after the return home do come at the end. I don’t know how the album was put together, and there isn’t anyone I can ask about this because they’re all long dead. I don’t know if Frank started the album with just a few photographs in his possession and then added more as other team members gave him copies of their own photos. Or if he just sat down with a pile of pictures and pasted them onto the page whilst guided by a mixture of experiential importance and calendar order. And if I think about this, it occurs to me that such a process is a rough approximation of the functions of memory. As in, memory isn’t linear, but rather, in any act of recollection significant moments jump out at us from a jumble of events and places and then we have to work to place them into a form and a flow which, according to prevailing notions of common sense, generally runs in only one temporal direction. But Frank probably wasn’t worrying about such questions of narrative construction when he put his album together. He would have just got on with the job, doing it the way he did for his own particular reasons.
This image also features two of only four women to appear in the entire collection, the only women in fact who are not depicted in the circumstance of domestic help. I’m assuming that these people are part of a family group that must have hosted the tourists in some way, but again, I have no idea what the actual circumstances of this meeting were. But in terms of the greater narrative within which this encounter between the Rarotongans and the Kangaroos took place, I do have some idea. It was the European colonisation of the Pacific during the Nineteenth Century, by the French in Tahiti, the Germans in Samoa and New Guinea, the British in the Cook Islands and New Zealand and along the east coast of Australia, that was the context that had placed these white Australian men dressed in their European-looking suits in the company of these Pacific Islanders. Many decades after Frank and his mates stopped by, rugby league was being played with a passion in the Cook Islands, and numerous Cook Islands footballers would be contracted to NRL and English Super League clubs. Such a development probably seemed unlikely at the time, but then, the narrative of culture is, just like an album, one we’re always constructing in retrospect.
Guest Post by Lindsay Barrett, Writer and Cultural historian.
This project is supported by the Tom Brock bequest.