Image Indigenous Australian family sheltering in a cave, c1817

TLF ID R4030

This is a watercolour, measuring 17.7 cm x 27.7 cm, created by Joseph Lycett in about 1817. It depicts an Indigenous Australian family sheltering from a storm in the entrance of a cave in New South Wales. A man holds a fish and a firebrand and a woman sits on a rock nursing a baby. A third adult squats before a fire, apparently placing wood on it. Trees and bushes nearby are being blown by the wind; in the background, waves pound a rocky headland beneath a cloudy sky.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset portrays Indigenous Australian people taking shelter in a cave - caves and spaces under boulders or overhangs in cliffs were used mainly as temporary shelters for short periods; on the coast, people often sheltered under dense bushes, as the thick outer layer of leaves provided excellent shelter from the weather; they also commonly constructed huts using a frame made of branches and covered with sheets of bark, leafy branches or grass.
  • It portrays a man holding a fish - to catch fish, Indigenous Australians would probably have used a fishing spear made from the flowering stem of a grass-tree, with four 30-cm-long barbed prongs attached; women in coastal south-eastern NSW fished using hooks and lines; in inland riverine areas, stone fish traps were used and regularly maintained.
  • It depicts the adults wearing white loincloths - prior to British contact, Indigenous people on the north coast of NSW 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 Indigenous Australians 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 Australian 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 of the watercolours with identifiable locations depict areas in NSW, near Newcastle and Port Jackson.
  • It was painted by the convict artist Joseph Lycett, who was transported to NSW in 1814 for forgery - although four of the watercolours in the album appear to be at least partly copied from other works, Lycett did have some contact with Indigenous Australian people, as there is a record of him being wounded in an attack before he returned to England in 1822.
  • It demonstrates the use of European conventions to depict the Australian landscape - there are elements of Neoclassicism in the formal, balanced arrangement of the landscape and the figures within it, a large tree on the right balancing the cave on the left; Romanticism is also apparent, in the 'exotic', melancholy figures and the drama of the wind and waves; the struggle between these two movements combines with Lycett's simplistic rendition of colours to create a naive style.

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:
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Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements