The Ross Family

Colin Ross was accompanied by his wife and two children on many of his journeys. This was was fairly unique at the time, and key to his brand of travel reporting.

When, in 1927, Colin Ross started featuring his family in his writing and filmmaking he repeatedly stressed that bringing them along was not a publicity stunt. Rather, he presented traveling with his wife Lisa, daughter Renate, and son Ralph as a pragmatic alternative to being separated from them for the extended, often year-long trips that he undertook.1 Yet he also prided himself, often within the same texts, that traveling with his family was an extraordinary and occasionally perilous enterprise.2

This push and pull between foregrounding family life and courting adventure pervades Ross’s reporting on his family’s travel experiences. In fact, it developed into a veritable sub-franchise of his travel writing: four of his travel books that feature a variant of the phrase mit Kind und Kegel (with kith and kin) in their title prominently include  family-oriented, anecdotes.

His family’s presence provided Ross’s travel media with a recognizable hook and ensemble of characters. It is also a key part in his petit-bourgeois inflection of travel media conventions, downplaying both the threat and the sexual lure of faraway places to the male Western traveler. Rather, Ross takes German domesticity on the road.  

Joachim Schätz

1 See: Colin Ross. [Excerpt from] Warum die Kinder mit nach Afrika kamen. In: Mit Kamera, Kind und Kegel durch Afrika. 17. Aufl. Leipzig: Brockhaus; 1936; 3–9. See Library.

2 See: ibid.; 4; Colin Ross. Als Dreijähriger durch Afrika. Die Afrikareise meines Sohnes Ralph Colin. Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung: 1927 Jun 7; 36 (23); 939–40; Colin Ross. Eine Reise durch Afrika. Mit Frau und Kindern durch die Wildsteppe. Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung: 1927 Dec 18; 36 (51); 2103–5. See Library.


This is most obvious in the way the family is deployed in the feature film Achtung Australien! Achtung Asien! (1930). The film’s overarching contrast between sparsely and densely populated areas is reinforced by the screen time the Ross family has been allocated over the course of the film. Generally, the less populous an area is, the more room there is for scenes of camp life (see A family outing, with snakes) or for 14-year-old Renate and 5-year-old Ralph’s shenanigans (see: Child explorers on the loose). This shifting balance with the more impersonal views of faraway places corresponds to the film’s central argument about struggle for space that defines international relations.

In a less programmatic fashion, many of Ross’s texts from the trip highlight the instrumental role they played, not just as collaborators (Lisa Ross especially), but as part of his research into foreign cultures. Some of the most lively observational passages in Ross’s writing stem from his family’s experiments in ‘going native’, for instance in a Sydney suburb (see: ‘Going native’ with the suburbanites). In such embedded reporting, the Ross family figures both as curious cosmopolitans and as assertive Germans registering cultural difference.

Joachim Schätz

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