Native taking a kangaroo is unique among colonial paintings in its attempt to capture an individual likeness while also recording the Indigenous peoples’ way of life. Benjamin Duterrau accurately recorded one of the methods that the Indigenous people used in the 1830s when hunting kangaroos. After dogs had been introduced to Tasmania by Europeans, the Aboriginal people used them to chase kangaroos and became dependent on them in their hunting. After being caught by a dog, the kangaroo was beaten to death. However, the double-headed pointed stick held by the Indigenous man in Duterrau’s image is a throwing stick and not the single-headed club that he is more likely to have used. Furthermore, although Indigenous Australians sometimes wore kangaroo skins as cloaks, they never wore them as loincloths.
Duterrau immigrated to Van Diemen’s Land in 1832 at the age of 65. In Hobart he painted both landscapes and portraits, but became known for his images of Indigenous people, including a number depicting their traditional way of life. He also painted the first Australian history paintings, a series of pictures recording the ‘conciliation’ of the Aboriginals in Tasmania by the Chief Protector of Aborigines, George Augustus Robinson.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008