Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art
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Yuin/Dhurga peoples

Australia 1825 – 1891

not titled [Corroboree] c.1888 Place made: Ulladulla, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: drawings, drawing in black pencil, colour pencils and brush and black ink Support: paper

Primary Insc: no inscriptions.
Dimensions: sheet 42.8 h x 68.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1991
Accession No: NGA 91.870
  • Purchased at a clearing sale in Moruya, on the South cast of New South Wales, in 1973.
  • On loan to the Moruya Historical Society.
  • Purchased by the Australian National gallery, from George Freeman, Sydney, December 1991.
  • Like his 19th-century contemporaries, little is known of artist Mickey of Ulladulla. Few of his drawings survive and the artist remains elusively out of reach for the present-day viewer, apart from a brief self-reference, as Andrew Sayers has stated: ‘From such inscriptions [by the artist on his drawings] we learn little except for one important thing: that the man supporting himself with two sticks who appears in many of the drawings is the artist himself.1

    However, Mickey’s vignettes of rural Aboriginal life on the south coast of New South Wales reveal the shared experience of hundreds of traditional south-eastern Indigenous communities on the cusp of irretrievable change. Non-Indigenous influences are apparent in the apparel of the artist and in other scenes not pictured here: sailing ships, sawmills and government rations, which replaced the bountiful native flora and fauna as portrayed in his drawings.

    The ephemeral nature of these drawings reflects their rarity, with so few represented in public collections today. Yet, almost two decades after the artist’s death, these works of art were considered extraordinary enough for a selection of them – drawn from government and judicial collections, including ironically, the New South Wales Aborigines Protection Board – to be exhibited at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago in the United States. Following this, they remained for a century relatively unknown to an audience that became increasingly engaged with Indigenous visual art until, in 1994, Mickey of Ulladulla’s work was addressed in Sayers’s publication and accompanying exhibition.

    The contemporary viewer can only imagine whether the artist’s depiction of the abundant native fauna portrayed in the Ulladulla region was a true representation of available bush tucker at the time, or whether it depicted a scene already past. Whilst seemingly idyllic on the surface, this and similar scenes must be considered in a more poignant light when the present-day viewer is aware that they portray a way of life denied Indigenous people of this region through the impact of over two centuries of colonisation.

    The luminosity of the watercolours, the azure blues and brilliant whites, gives the drawings a fresh tactility that still shines from the surface over a century after their execution: bittersweet cameos onto a not-so-distant, yet long-vanished past.

    Brenda L. Croft

    1Andrew Sayers, Aboriginal Artists of the Nineteenth Century, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1994, p.51.

    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

  • Description

    This is a drawing by Yuin/Dhurga artist Mickey of Ulladulla (1825-91) depicting the scene of a ceremony. The drawing is shown as an enlargeable image. Text onscreen gives information about the mystery that surrounds Mickey of Ulladulla and his contemporaries and the history of the documentation of his work. It describes how the artist captured rural Aboriginal life on the south coast of New South Wales at a time of irreversible change, revealing the shared experience of hundreds of Aboriginal communities in south eastern Australia. The drawing measures 42.8 cm high x 68.0 cm wide and was drawn using pencil, coloured pencil, black ink and brush on paper.

    Educational value

    • This is an excellent resource for the Responding strand of the visual arts curriculum in year 9-10, especially for those content descriptions that refer to considering the broader context of works of art, such as their social, cultural and historical context. The resource may also be of some use for the Making a nation depth study in year 9 History, especially its content description about the extension of settlement and the effects of contact with Aboriginal peoples.
    • The work is of considerable significance for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures cross-curriculum priority. Despite the mystery that surrounds the artist’s work, this resource exemplifies the priority’s first organising idea in relation to Aboriginal peoples: their special connection to country. It also connects to another organising idea: Australia acknowledges the significant contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people locally and globally. Mickey of Ulladulla is significant as he was one of the earliest Aboriginal artists collected and exhibited internationally.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra