About the collection

The Cuthbertson Photograph Collection contains photos taken by commercial pilot Rex Cuthbertson in the Territory of Papua and New Guinea in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Consisting of a photographic album, loose black & white photographs and coloured slides, the collection captures the developing connectivity and relationships between Australian commercial workers and the Indigenous peoples of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea in a post-WWII context. The photos span the regions of the Lower and Upper Highlands as well as the Sepik area and into Hela Provenance, Papua. As he flew into these remote areas, Cuthbertson captured the communities and landscape in rare aerial photos.

Aerial view of Ambunti with the airstrip marked in white, 1948 - 1953. From the Audrey and Rex Cuthbertson Collection. Image: Rex Cuthbertson
© Australian Museum

Although the local communities were familiar with Europeans, these interactions were sometimes sparse and Cuthbertson’s photos reveal peoples little impacted by these contacts. The photos include black & white and colour portraits and groups of people in both relaxed everyday poses and dressed for ceremonies. One series of photos show large crowds who gathered to listen to the Administrator of New Guinea, Brigadier Cleland in remote Highland villages. At each gathering the Australian visitors were welcomed with a Sing-sing ceremony.


Three people in traditional dress overlook a Sing-sing at Goroka, c. 1948–1954. Photographer Rex Cuthbertson.

Image: Rex Cuthbertson
© Australian Museum

The Cuthbertson Family

Returning from WWII to Australia, pilot Rex Cuthbertson took up a position as a commercial pilot in New Guinea in 1948. Residing in the coastal highland towns, Cuthbertson first moved to Lae where he was joined by his new wife Audrey. The family then moved to Wewak, and later to Medang. Cuthbertson was a skilled amateur photographer and set about recording not only family life and the challenges of his job but also his interactions with Highland cultures during the formative years of the post-war Australian administration.

Returning to Australia in 1954, the family established themselves in the Blue Mountains where Cuthbertson continued working as a pilot and lived until his death in 2014. The Cuthbertson photographic collection was donated to the Australian Museum Archives along with contemporaneous printed material and written memoirs by both Rex and Audrey. This Collection was donated to the Australian Museum Archives by Audrey Cuthbertson in 2019.

Two Indigenous men wearing Hagan traditional dress standing next to Qantas plane, 1948 - 1954. From the Audrey and Rex Cuthbertson Collection. Image: Rex Cuthbertson
© Australian Museum