[vc_row css=”.vc_custom_1453293187806{margin-top: -200px !important;background-color: #ffffff !important;}”][vc_column css=”.vc_custom_1423574892319{background-color: #ffffff !important;}”][vc_custom_heading text=”Amalie Dietrich. German Naturalist. ” font_container=”tag:h2|font_size:46|text_align:left|color:%233a3a3a|line_height:1″ google_fonts=”font_family:Montserrat%3Aregular%2C700|font_style:700%20bold%20regular%3A700%3Anormal” css=”.vc_custom_1475143916148{margin-top: 0px !important;padding-right: 200px !important;padding-bottom: 35px !important;}”][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1475143980710{margin-bottom: 20px !important;}”]

Backwards and forwards, invisible threads are drawn across the sea,                                                              linking myself and all the scholars who go to work on what I send

(from a letter by Amelie Dietrich to her daughter Charitas, C. Bischoff, The Hard Road: The Life Story of Amalie Dietrich, translated by A. L. Geddie (Lond, 1931))


Amalie Dietrich was a German Naturalist who worked in Queensland from 1863-1872. She was an outsider and a paradox: a 42-year old single mother in a male dominated profession; a German speaker in an English colony; a poor working class uneducated woman working in learned scientific circles; a Hinterwälder (bushie) living in the wilderness of South-east and North Queensland. The scale of her collecting work make her one of the most important collectors in Australia, but Dietrich’s natural history legacy is mostly unknown outside of specialised biology and ethnography circles in Australia. Conversely, she has been very famous in Germany since the beginning of the 20th Century.

Her achievements were unparalleled in their time for a woman travelling and living alone in the Australian bush however she is a figure with a dark cloud surrounding her life and legacy. Dietrich was responsible for the shipment of the remains of thirteen indigenous skeletons and skulls to Germany, obtained under questionable ethical and moral means. In her comprehensive book on Amalie Dietrich, historian Dr Ray Sumner, argues that there are two Amalie Dietrich’s: the virtually unknown renegade who dedicated her life to science, and the fictional heroine, famous in Germany still today. Fictional Dietrich was created in a book written by her daughter in 1909: a clever amalgam of fact, fiction and plagiarism that created Dietrich’s fame in Germany.

From my initial research I further suggest the existence of a third Dietrich as ‘the angel of black death’; a hybrid construction of journalistic fiction and harsh historical truths. In Australia, Dietrich is still virtually unknown except for a brief highly publicised time in the 1990s when she was sensationally named and shamed by journalist David Monaghan’s article “The Body-snatcher” which appeared in the Bulletin 12 November 1991. Since 1991, Monaghan’s version of the Dietrich’s story has been retold by Australians as diverse as prominent Indigenous artist Fiona Foley, to Christian Creationists who argue that Charles Darwin was a racist in order to discredit his theories of evolution. Early in the 20th century Dietrich’s legend and fame in Germany had been used to sell the ideology of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and the virtues of Communism in the 1970s.

The multiplicity of personas of Amalie Dietrich in Australia challenges the conventional perception of history, in particular natural history, as a singular narrative. This has yielded to a more complicated, discursive understanding of multiple histories. As an artist and storyteller, I wish to critically examine the multiplicities of the Amalie Dietrich story, through the aesthetics, conventions and methodologies of natural history specimen collection and historic photo portraiture.

During January 2016 I visited key Germany museums holding specimens from QLD collected by Dietrich to conduct research in their physical archives and digital databases. I documented some of the still existing specimens and the museums documentation on Dietrich. These institutions included the Zoological Institute, the Ethnography Museum and the Herbarium in Hamburg, the Ethnographic museum in Leipzig and the Natural History Museum in Bamberg.

In February 2016, with the financial assistance from a Griffith University Honours College Summer Research Bursary I retraced part of Dietrich’s journey in North and Central Queensland alone in a campervan, collecting plant and insect specimens for the production of both scientific and artistic works.

re:collection Dietrich

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