• Group hunting animals

    Group hunting animals (1890s)

    William Barak Wurundjeri

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    Notes

    William Barak embraced the media and materials that the settlers brought. He added brightly coloured paints and gouaches to his ochres and pigments and used paper instead of bark. In Group Hunting Animals from the 1890s, he used watercolour on top of pencil and charcoal.

    In this work hunters dressed in long possum skin cloaks carry spears and a stone axe. They stalk native reptiles, birds and animals including emu, kangaroo, wallaby, turtle, turkey, platypus, echidna, snake, dingo and lyrebird.

  • Figures in possum skin cloaks

    Figures in possum skin cloaks 1898

    William Barak Wurundjeri

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    Notes

    Wurundjeri artist and Ngurungaeta (headman) left an indelible record of his culture in a corpus of 50 or so extant drawings, produced during dangerous times of traumatic social upheaval and dispossession for his people.

    Figures in possum skin cloaks 1898 shows men engaged in a ceremonial procession. Though the patterns Barak depicts on their cloaks are reminiscent of the marks carved and burned into Aboriginal artifacts, his viewpoint is striking and unusual. As we view the men from behind, we are witness to the patterns on their cloaks that are similar to those carved and burned into Victorian broad shields. These designs are worn as markers of identity, and are firmly linked to the paen (freshwater) of Barak’s father’s Yarra country.

  • Corroboree at Coranderrk

    Corroboree at Coranderrk 1890

    Captain Harrison Wergaia

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    Notes

    Captain Harrison was born in the mid 1840s in the Richardson River district of Victoria and passed away at Coranderrk Station in 1908. It was likely that he was a Wergaia man but his country is also close to that of the Dja Dja Wurrung people so he may have been affiliated with both or either tribal group.

    Captain Harrison lived at Ebenezer mission near Lake Hindmarsh before moving to Coranderrk Station. He was a contemporary of William Barak (Wurundjeri c. 1824–1903).

    Corroboree at Coranderrk depicts five men and five women taking part in a corroboree. The work is covered with tiny blue dots that surround the figures. The men are depicted with lyre bird feathers in their hair while the women wear colourfully patterned possum skin cloaks with necklaces or painted designs on their necks. Two fires burn in the foreground, possibly symbolising the moieties taking part in the corroboree and to acknowledge the local ancestral beings Waa (crow) and Bundjil (eagle).

  • Barak

    Barak (1991); 2001 {printed}

    Leah KING-SMITH

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    Notes

    The Pattern of Connection series was created after Leah King-Smith worked with the nineteenth-century photographs of Aboriginal people in the State Library of Victoria's collections. King-Smith re-photographed the images she found at the library using a camera with a fish-eye lens. She then created the final photo-compositions by layering the photographs with her own paintings and photographs of the Australian bush.

    In this image, King-Smith combines a reflected landscape with a figure raising both spear and boomerang towards the camera. The centrally placed figure is the renowned Aboriginal artist, activist and Wurundjeri leader, William Barak.

    ‘This photo-composition series is essentially about renewing people’s perceptions of Aboriginal people ….  By re-placing the Koories in my work, I am showing my concerns about how the original photographs, and those generally of Indigenous peoples in the 19th century, are evidence of the cultural bias of the civilization which produced them, and in so being, generate an inaccurate version of the presence of Aboriginal people from this point of view.’ – Leah King Smith, 1991


Melbourne

The Original Custodians

The Wurundjeri people are the original custodians of the land now known as Melbourne. Explore images that offer an insight into Wurundjeri history and culture.

  • William Barak

    Joy Murphy-Wandin writes of her great uncle: “Beruk was the name given their son by Bebejan the Ngurungaeta, (or headman) of the Wurundjeri people and Tooterrie of the Ngurailum balluk, the Murchison people. He was born in the 1820s, the youngest of six children, at Brushy Creek near present-day Croydon, Victoria, on part of the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people. In 1844, when he joined the Native Mounted Police, Beruk was given the name of William and Beruk, mispronounced by the whiteman as Barak, became his surname. Barak had three wives and was the proud father of three children. He outlived them all and his Barak family lives on through his nephew Wandoon (Robert Wandin), the only surviving son of his sister Borate.

    Barak was born into the Aboriginal society some forty years after the arrival of the whiteman to Australia. As a young boy he experienced the occupation of his father’s traditional land and it is said that he was present at the meeting of the calculated ‘possession’ between his Elders and John Batman in Narrm (Melbourne).”1

    As an artist, Barak embraced the media and materials that the settlers brought. He added brightly coloured paints and gouaches to his ochres and pigments and used paper instead of bark. In Group Hunting Animals from the 1890s, he used watercolour on top of pencil and charcoal.

    In Figures in possum skin cloaks 1898, Barak shows men engaged in a ceremonial procession. His viewpoint is striking and unusual. We see the men from behind, the patterns on their cloaks similar to those carved and burned into Victorian broad shields. These designs are worn as markers of identity, and are firmly linked to the paen (freshwater) of Barak’s father’s Yarra country.2

  • Coranderrk Aboriginal Reserve

    Barak was largely responsible for the choice of location of Coranderrk Aboriginal Reserve, which was established on Badgers’ Creek near Healesville in 1863. Dispossessed of their land by the Europeans, some members of the Kulin nation were relocated on this customary site to re-establish a home.

    In 1877, Frederick Kruger was commissioned by the Victorian Board for the Protection of Aborigines to photograph Coranderrk. He created images of a tamed, idyllic bush landscape as we can see in this fishing scene at Badgers’ Creek, Coranderrk.

    In 1890, Captain Harrison moved to Coranderrk. Harrison was a contemporary of Barak and also created works on paper to document Aboriginal culture and ceremony.

    Corroboree at Coranderrk 1890 depicts male dancers and women in brightly coloured possum skin cloaks taking part in a corroboree, the men placed along the foreground in the style of Barak.

    Harrison creates a holistic impression of cultural life prior to contact with European settlers, which resulted in the traumatic removal of Indigenous people from country, clearing of land and transition to a sedentary, cross-cultural existence. The open-air corroboree, lit by blazing campfires, is seen as a vital part of daily life in an environment replete with plant and animal life and human habitation, emblematic of the balanced interconnections between all living things.3

  • Contemporary perspectives

    Contemporary artist Leah King-Smith found a photograph of William Barak, posed in the cleared landscape, in the State Library of Victoria. Symbolically, she returns Barak to the bush in her work Untitled 1992 from the Pattern of Connection series. She aimed, she said at the time, to renew our perceptions of Aboriginal people.4

Endnotes


  • 1 Joy Murphy-Wandin in William Barak et al., Remembering Barak, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003, p. 5.

    2 Judith Ryan in Alisa Bunbury (ed.), This Wondrous Land: Colonial Art on Paper, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2011, p. 105.

  • 3 Judith Ryan in Alisa Bunbury (ed.), This Wondrous Land: Colonial Art on Paper, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2011, p. 104.

  • 4 Leah King-Smith, Pattern of Connection, Victorian Centre for Photography, 1992.