Australia 1825 – 1891
not titled [fishing, native fauna and flora]
Ulladulla, New South Wales, Australia
Materials & Technique: drawings, drawing in black ink and pastel with watercolour and gouache Support: paper
Drawings on paper by nineteenth-century Aboriginal artists are an important record of the lives of Aboriginal people during the transition from a traditional to a colonised life. They document the changes occurring during these times and provide an insight into the individual artist’s vision and interrelations with the white settlers.
The artist also known Mickey the Cripple lived in the Moruya–Ulladulla area, but very little is known about his life. The drawings that have survived show he favoured scenes of ceremonial and daily life, and depicting the flora and fauna surrounding the Ulladulla region, although he also made a number of watercolours of ships of the day.
Most of Mickey’s works were made in the 1880s. No title (fishing, native fauna and flora) features a small fishing party trying their luck in the bountiful coastal waters. Surrounding them is the abundant native wildlife of the region including various species of fish, sharks, octopus, eels and a variety of birds including pelicans, lyrebirds, geese and owls. Other native animals like snakes, goannas, possums, kangaroos and an echidna are beautifully observed, although Mickey has found the lone white horse awkward to draw, perhaps as it was relatively unfamiliar him. Collectively, these images tell us of the resources available to the people around Ulladulla at the time.
Works like this provide a snapshot of the 1880s and allow us to wonder at Mickey’s vision and at how the luminosity of the watercolours—the azure blues and brilliant whites—give the drawing a freshness that still shines over a century after its execution.
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
Drawings by nineteenth-century Aboriginal artists are an important record of the lives of Australia’s Aboriginal people during the transition from a traditional to a colonised life. They document the changes occurring during these times and provide insights into the perspective of individual artists and their interrelationships with the European settlers.
Mickey of Ulladulla (also known as Mickey the Cripple) lived in the Moruya–Ulladulla coastal region of New South Wales. While little is known about his life, his surviving drawings—mostly made in the 1880s—show that he favoured scenes of both ceremonial and daily life, incorporating depictions of native flora and fauna. He also made a number of watercolours of ships that he would have seen at first hand.
No title [fishing, native fauna and flora] features a small fishing party trying their luck in bountiful waters. Various species of fish are shown, including snapper, sharks and an octopus. Assembled on the land are pelicans, lyrebirds, geese and owls, as well as kangaroos, snakes, goannas, possums and an echidna—all beautifully observed. Apparently Mickey found the lone white horse awkward to draw, perhaps because this animal was foreign to his experience. Collectively, these images indicate that abundant food resources were available to the people living in the region.
Mickey’s works move us to marvel at his acute observation of the world around him and wonder at the luminosity of his watercolours—with azure bluesand brilliant whites giving this drawing a freshness that shines more than a century after its execution.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014
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