England 1807 – Australia 1876
Kertamaroo and Mocatta, natives of South Australia
[The aboriginal, Encounter Bay Bob & an aboriginal woman] c.1840
Collection Title: Kertamaroo and Mocatta, Natives of South Australia
Place made: Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
Materials & Technique: sculptures, cast wax Place Published: Adelaide
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1979
Accession No: NGA 79.2244.A-B
The 1841 Royal Academy Summer Show in London included two wax medallions by ‘Mrs Theresa Snell Walker’, catalogued as Model of Mocatta, Commonly called Pretty Mary, a Native of South Australia and Model of Kertamaroo, a Native of South Australia. Augustus Earle had exhibited an Australian subject at this prestigious forum in 1838, but his painting was sent from (and most probably painted) in London; Walker is the first resident Australian artist known to have exhibited there. Moreover, she was catalogued as ‘sculptor’, not in the lower class of ‘honorary exhibitor’ commonly reserved for women artists.
Several of Walker’s profiles of the two Aboriginal figures on circular slabs survive. All are undoubtedly from the same mould as Walker’s Royal Academy exhibits. Unlike the sculpted portrait bust, the wax portrait medallion tended to favour an intimate likeness and so avoided the devices of heroic portraiture such as classical dress. These figures are dressed by Walker according to gender rather than in line with the taste for dressing natives à la antique.
Kertamaroo was a popular character in Adelaide, where he was commonly known as King John; another of his native names was Mullawirra Burka, or the Dry-Forest Man. The settler John Adams recalled witnessing the burial of the ‘dead lubra [wife] of King John’ in the early days of the colony, so Mocatta apparently died within a few years of having her portrait taken.
Jane Lennon, 2002
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002