Image Indigenous Australians hunting in trees, c1817

TLF ID R4027

This is a watercolour, measuring 27.8 cm x 17.6 cm, created by Joseph Lycett in about 1817. It features an Indigenous Australian man about 5 metres up the trunk of a eucalypt tree, with his feet and one hand in notches on the trunk. He is holding a small axe in the other hand, ready to cut another notch. Below, a man holding a spear and spear thrower (woomera) points to something in the tree. Two people are sitting beside a fire near the trunk. In the distance are two trees, each with a man in one of the branches, while four others wait below. There are many birds in these trees, and several flying away from the trees.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset depicts a man climbing a tree to gather honey or catch small animals such as flying foxes, sugar gliders or possums - notches large enough for the ball of the foot were cut into the bark as the climber ascended the tree.
  • It shows the man using a small hand axe that could be either a stone hatchet or a metal tomahawk - stone hatchets had hafted wooden handles and stone blades with carefully ground edges; however, following British contact, Indigenous people soon adopted British tools such as steel tomahawks, and traded them across vast distances; as a result, these tools often reached people who had not yet made direct contact.
  • It portrays, in the background, a group hunting birds in trees, with a man on one of the lower branches of each tree to frighten the prey, while two men wait to throw their spears - much skill and care were needed to approach birds in trees, and it was more usual to hunt birds near water; to capture birds near water, boomerangs were thrown into flocks of birds, or nets were used to capture low-flying birds.
  • It portrays two people apparently warming themselves beside a fire, waiting to cook the game being caught - fire provided warmth, light, heat for cooking and for straightening wood to be used in tools and weapons; a firebrand was often carried to enable new fires to be lit quickly; firebrands were also used in hunting, to start fires in order to flush out game; specially constructed fires were also central to many ceremonies.
  • It depicts Indigenous Australians wearing white loincloths - prior to British contact, people on the north coast of New South Wales wore only ornamental bands, and belts made of hair or animal fur, as well as possum or flying-fox skins in winter; the artist has painted these people wearing loincloths so viewers of his work would not be offended.
  • It is part of an important collection of paintings showing the daily life of Indigenous people in early colonial times - a bound album of 20 watercolours painted before 1828 by Englishman and convict artist Joseph Lycett, and bought by the National Library of Australia at Sotheby's, London, in 1972 for £9,500; text on the album's title page, 'Drawings of the natives and scenery of Van Diemens Land 1830', is partly incorrect, as all the watercolours with identifiable locations depict areas in NSW, near Newcastle and Port Jackson (Sydney).
  • It is one of four watercolours in the album that Lycett appears to have at least partly copied from other works - the probable source for this image is 'Smoking out the opossum', published in John Heaviside Clark'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
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  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
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Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements