Unknown ARTIST, Shield Enlarge 1 /2
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Unknown ARTIST

Murrumbidgee and Lachlan River people


Shield 19th Century Place made: Murrumbidgee and Lachlan Rivers, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: sculptures, woodwork, natural earth pigments on hardwood

Dimensions: 86.7 h x 7.0 w x 10.0 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2005
Accession No: NGA 2005.599

Shields, boomerangs, spear-throwers, carrying dishes and other artefacts made by Indigenous Australians were the first type of objects collected by the early European settlers of this continent, not as art but as examples of the technologies of traditional peoples or as curiosities. Indeed, as the explorers and settlers generally found little or no evidence of paintings and sculptures—eighteenth- and nineteenth-century art forms in the European tradition—Aboriginal Australians were considered to be a people without art.

In the early years of settlement little heed was paid to the significance of the designs these objects carry, and rarely was any detailed information of their origins or their maker recorded. Nonetheless, the finer items displaying exceptional skill in carving and design were, and continue to be, highly prized. Such objects are supremely functional, yet their engraved and painted decorations and exquisite forms render them works of fine art and design.

The distinct shape and size of this shield is common to the southern Queensland, New South Wales and Victorian regions. Parrying shields were used only by men in hand-to-hand combat, protecting them from blows of clubs. In this shield, the intricate incised repetitive lines, delicately inlaid with contrasting red ochre and white clay, form a pattern that can be clearly seen on the front angular lozenge section of carved hardwood. Such designs identify the owner and the clan to which he belonged. Furthermore, it is believed they have associations with the ancestral realm, thus rendering the object more effective as it embodies the spiritual powers of the ancestors.

Tina Baum

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Franchesca Cubillo and Wally Caruana (eds) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art: collection highlights National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010