Image Corroboree, c1817

TLF ID R4015

This is a 17.7 cm x 27.7 cm watercolour showing Indigenous Australian men at a moonlit, night-time corroboree around a central fire in a bush clearing. Five men are dancing in a line on one side of the fire, while another six men stand on the other side, all painted with white ochre ceremonial markings on their legs, arms and chests. Several small groups of men are sitting or lying on the ground, most watching the dancers. One onlooker is using his shield as a drum and one of the dancers also carries a shield. All are wearing white loincloths. In the distance the silhouettes of several people can be seen in front of another campfire near a lake.



Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset depicts a corroboree being performed by men in front of a large rock that may be a sacred site - in Indigenous Australian belief, Dreaming beings are associated with parts of the landscape that they created or where they performed certain feats; ceremonies were often performed at these sites; the second group in the background (beside the water) may be women performing a separate ceremony.
  • It depicts the men participating in the ceremony with white designs painted on their bodies - body decoration was associated with the ritual and ceremonial side of life and the designs used by different groups varied across New South Wales; red paint was made from ground ochre and water; white paint was made from fine white clay and water.
  • It shows the men all wearing loincloths - prior to British settlement, people on the north coast of NSW wore only ornamental bands and hair or animal fur belts, adding possum or flying-fox skins in the winter; it is likely that the artist added the white material so viewers of his work would not be offended.
  • It suggests the consequences of British contact on the Indigenous population of the area, with 29 adults but only one child and one baby pictured; high death rates, mainly through killings and disease, and low birth rates drastically reduced the original population.
  • It includes two shields that are painted white - the small one being used as an instrument (lower left) was made for ceremonial purposes as it is too small to have been used as a weapon; the larger one held by the dancer was used for protection in both spear and club fighting; significant designs were often painted on shields, especially those used in ceremonies.
  • It includes a dog that may be a dingo (‘Canis familiaris dingo’) - Australia's only native dog probably arrived 3,000 to 6,000 years ago through trading between Indigenous Australians and Indonesian seafarers; dingoes were used for hunting but they were only partly domesticated, foraging for food and returning to the wild to breed; after the arrival of Europeans, domestic dogs often replaced dingoes in Indigenous communities.
  • It demonstrates the use of European conventions to depict the Australian landscape - the painting has elements of Neoclassicism in the formal, carefully balanced composition of the landscape and of Romanticism in the choice of subject matter, dark tones and moon peeping through the clouds; the simple, stiff figures and simplistic choice of colours are characteristic of the naive style of painting.
  • It is part of an important collection of paintings showing the daily life of Indigenous Australians in early colonial times - a bound album of 20 watercolours, painted before 1828 by Englishman Joseph Lycett, was bought by the National Library of Australia at Sotheby's, London, in 1972 for £9,500; the album's title page 'Drawings of the natives and scenery of Van Diemen's Land 1830' is partly incorrect as all the watercolours with identifiable locations are in NSW, near Newcastle and Port Jackson (Sydney).
  • It was painted by the convict artist Joseph Lycett, who was transported to NSW in 1814 for forgery - although four of the watercolours appear to be at least partly copied from other works, he did have some contact with Indigenous Australians as there is a record of him being wounded in an attack before he returned to England in 1822.

Other details

Contributors
  • Content provider
  • Copyright holder
  • Organisation: National Library of Australia
  • Remarks: Reproduced courtesy of National Library of Australia
  • Author
  • Name: Joseph Lycett
  • Remarks: artist
  • Publisher
  • Date of contribution: 02 Sep 2013
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL: http://www.esa.edu.au
Access profile
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Learning resource type
  • Image
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Rights
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements