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Image Indigenous Australian men with weapons, c1817

TLF ID R4019

This is a 17.7 cm x 27.8 cm watercolour of ten men carrying spears, spear throwers and shields as they walk along a dirt path. Some have clubs tucked into loincloths. Another group of five men can be seen further down the grassed hill.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset depicts Indigenous Australian men, each carrying two or three battle spears, a spear thrower and a decorated shield, some with a boomerang or club - although the boomerangs or clubs are shown tucked into loincloths, it is likely that the material was added by the artist for modesty; Indigenous Australian men on the north coast of New South Wales wore ornamental bands and hair or animal fur belts, with possum or flying-fox skins added for winter warmth.
  • It shows spears made in two sections, spliced or joined together using resin and sinews with a lump on each indicating where the barbed wooden spearheads meet the shaft - the spear shaft was made from a grass-tree stem, and wood for spearheads was hardened over a fire; resin was heated and used to hold the spearhead in place and the join was strengthened with sinew or two-ply twine; hunting spears had spearheads of hard wood, but for battle spears, pieces of sharp quartz were added on one side of the spearhead.
  • It includes spear throwers, or woomeras, with the pegs clearly visible - these instruments gave the throwers’ spears increased distance, accuracy and penetration but were only used in some parts of Australia; they were made in a similar way to spears, with the pegs added to hold the spear in place.
  • It reflects the level of attention paid to the role of men in Indigenous societies by English men in colonial times - there were very few English women in a position to record anything about Indigenous Australian cultures, as the fields of exploration, science, art and writing were virtually closed to them; in Indigenous Australian societies, men were not permitted to view or participate in women's ceremonies; as a result, the role of Indigenous Australian women was often overlooked and unrecorded.
  • 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 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 the stylised figures within it; it also has elements of Romanticism, marked by the exotic subject matter and the emotions the artist sought to stir in the viewer; the simple, stiff figures and simplistic choice of colours are characteristic of the naive style of painting.
  • It is one of four watercolours that Lycett appears to have at least partly copied from other works - the possible source for this image is 'Warriors of New S. Wales', published in John Heaviside Clarke's 1813 'Field sports etc. etc. of the native inhabitants of New South Wales'.
  • It was painted by the convict artist Joseph Lycett, who was transported to NSW in 1814 for forgery - Lycett 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

  • Author
  • Person: Joseph Lycett
  • Description: Author
  • Contributor
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Description: Content provider
  • URL:
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Person: Joseph Lycett
  • Description: Author
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
Access profile
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  • Hearing independence
Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements