Walter Baldwin Spencer, one of the founding fathers of anthropology in Australia and Director of the then National Museum of Victoria (now Museum Victoria) from 1899 to 1928, was invited to participate as zoologist and photographer in the The Horn Scientific Expedition. This was the first primarily scientific expedition to study the natural history of Central Australia. The expedition took place from May to August 1894. At the end of the Expedition, at Alice Springs in July of 1894, Spencer met Frank J. Gillen, the operator of the Alice Springs Telegraph Station and the South Australian Government Sub-Protector of Aboriginal people. Gillen had for many years maintained an interest in and concern for the Arrernte Aboriginal people.
In 1901 Spencer and Gillen set out on an expedition together to study the Arrernte people, establish 'intimate relations with the natives' and study other groups between the Arrernte and the north coast. Spencer and Gillen were concerned to get the most detailed possible records of the societies they studied, and to achieve this, they used the most advanced technology available to them. Photography was a collecting device, and the two men became pioneers not only of photography but also of sound and film recording. The cameras that they used had developed sufficiently to record action sequences as they occurred. Spencer's desire was to take photographs of people engaged in the activities of daily life, while remaining as unconscious as possible about the presence of the camera.
This photograph was taken on 9 May, 1901 in Camp 22 at Alice Springs. Spencer noted in his field diary "just at midday word came that a mob of strange natives was coming up. There was much excitement in the camps as strange natives may mean a big row... After about half an hour, during which time no notice had apparently been taken of the visitors, though, in reality, the local men had provided themselves with their weapons and gone to the spot where visitors were received, one or two of the older local men went to them, squatted down on the sand in front of them, and invited them to come up. After being thus invited they formed themselves into a solid square and approached at a fairly quick run, every man with his spear aloft and all of them adopting the curious high knee action".