The Wild Australia Show (1892–93) was staged by a diverse company of Aboriginal people for metropolitan audiences in colonial Australia. In this ISSR-led research, it becomes the focus of an interdisciplinary study of performance, photography, collections and race relations in colonial Australia using archival and visual records.

Archibald Meston toured the Wild Australia Show in 1892 in what was one of the first examples of manipulating and marketing Aboriginal people for a broad audience. He commodified Aboriginal people and culture for public display in photographs and performances, and conscripted 27 Indigenous people from the Queensland frontier for choreographed performances on stages in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.

His advocacy and stylised representations of Aboriginal culture affected the treatment and perceptions of Aboriginal people. Meston was appointed Queensland’s Southern Protector of Aboriginals in 1898 after colonial legislation adopted his ideas about the protection and incarceration of Indigenous people. Photographs and artefacts from the Wild Australia Show were traded worldwide, and performances were reported by the international press, contributing to a widespread understanding of what it meant to be Aboriginal in Australia.

Our research interrogates the Show’s enduring legacy in mainstream attitudes and policy, museum collections and cultural tourism practices. We are engaging with Australian Indigenous communities to generate new knowledge about the Wild Australia troupe and the impact of the show and we are using genealogical research and photographic analysis to produce contemporary knowledge. The research findings have the potential to engage the descendants of troupe members in recovering the history of their ancestors and to help strengthen their important connection to history and heritage.


  • Produce an authoritative and original interpretation of the Wild Australia Show and its impact on race relations in colonial Australia
  • Interpret the extent to which the Wild Australia Show has shaped contemporary race relations
  • Engage Indigenous Australian communities in building new knowledge about participation in the Wild Australia troupe


  • Academic Research Publications
  • Banner Exhibition to translate the findings to communities

Project team

  • Professor Paul Memmott
  • Dr Timothy O’Rourke
  • Dr Maria Nugent (Australian National University)
  • Lindy Allen (Museums Victoria)
  • Charlotte Smith (Museums Victoria)
  • Chantal Knowles (Queensland Museum)
  • Richard Neville (State Library of New South Wales)

Project details

Duration: September 2016–August 2019


  • Australian National University
  • Museums Victoria
  • Queensland Museum
  • State Library of New South Wales

Funding: ARC Linkage Project

Contact: Professor Paul Memmott (