Image Indigenous Australians hunting kangaroos, c1817

TLF ID R4020

This is a 17.7 cm x 27.7 cm watercolour of a hunter poised to throw a spear at one of a number of kangaroos; he is lying on his front behind a fallen tree, his head and chest raised and his right arm stretching back ready to throw the spear from a spear thrower. Four other hunters wait behind trees in the distance with weapons in their hands. It is daytime and the figures are shown in a verdant landscape leading down to a river or lake in the middle background.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset depicts an Indigenous Australian hunting kangaroos by lying in wait - although kangaroos, wallabies and emus were easy to find because of their size, they could easily outrun a person so hunters often stalked them and waited under cover for animals to come; waterholes, sleeping, nesting or feeding sites such as the one shown were ideal for this method of hunting.
  • It shows four men waiting to launch a second attack on the kangaroos - after the first animal was speared the others would try to escape, but experienced hunters could predict their movements and spear the other animals as they fled.
  • It demonstrates the use of a spear thrower, or woomera, with a spear about to be thrown - woomeras increased the distance, accuracy and penetration of spears, but were only used in some parts of Australia; the woomera and spearhead were made in similar ways with the maker using his jaws as a vice, straightening the wood between his teeth before hardening such weapons over a fire; tree resin was heated and used to hold the pegs or spearhead in place, with sinew or two-ply twine added for strength; the spear shaft was made from a grass-tree stem.
  • It shows only the man in the foreground wearing a loincloth - prior to British settlement, people on the north coast of New South Wales 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 includes kangaroos, most likely eastern greys - these animals are found across most of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria as well as in the south-eastern tip of South Australia and north-eastern Tasmania; they rest in the shelter of trees and shrubs during daylight hours and move into more open country to feed from late afternoon to early morning, keeping alert for predators by using their large ears to locate any danger.
  • 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 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, and 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

  • Author
  • Person: Joseph Lycett
  • Description: Author
  • Contributor
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Description: Content provider
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  • 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
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  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
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  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements