Image Stone axes and picks, early 1900s

TLF ID R6695

This is an image showing six stone axes and picks made by people of the Warumungu and Tjingali groups near Tennant Creek in central Northern Territory. On average, the axes are 50 cm long and 20 cm wide, while the picks are 40 cm long and 25 cm wide.



Educational details

Educational value
  • These examples of Aboriginal axes and picks from a central part of NT show the Warumungu and Tjingali people had two types of locally found stone that they could use to manufacture tools. Some Aboriginal groups elsewhere in Australia had ready access to only one type of stone suitable for toolmaking.
  • The rounded heads of the three axes shown are made of pieces of diorite. Blocks of diorite were carefully chipped into the required shape. The sides were then smoothed down on a block of quartzite, using water and sand in a grinding process.
  • The generally three-sided blades of the three picks shown taper to a point and are made of quartzite. They have been made by using a piece of quartzite to strike flakes off a larger block of quartzite, and then to strike the flakes until a suitable shape was produced. The process involved both practice and an element of luck, with a high failure rate.
  • Wood of the mulga tree ('Acacia aneura') has been used for the handles of both the axes and picks. The heads and blades have been tied onto a piece of split mulga with string made from human hair or vegetable fibre. The join is strengthened with resin, collected by burning the leaf stalks of a species of 'Triodia', commonly known as spinifex or porcupine grass, on a piece of bark. The resin was moulded around the wood while still warm, and it set very hard when cold.
  • The handles of the axes and picks have been covered with red ochre. This was characteristic of Aboriginal implements in central Australia.
  • The people of the Warumungu and Tjingali groups made axes and picks like these for their own use, and for trading with other Aboriginal groups in central Australia. They also made knives with flakes of quartzite, which were similarly traded.
  • One of the pick blades in this group is shown with a sheath. To protect the blades, sheaths were made of bark from a gum tree or a paperbark tree ('Melaleuca leucodendron'). Usually the sheaths were tied around with string made from animal fur, and some were decorated with a coating of white kaolin and tufts of emu feathers, coloured with red ochre.
  • The anthropologist Walter Baldwin Spencer (1860-1929) recorded in 1914 that stone axes, picks and knives were still being used among those Aboriginal groups in central Australia who had thus far had limited contact with non-Indigenous people. However, they were decreasing in numbers as the use of European metal implements spread.
Year level

4; 5; 6; 7

Learning area
  • history
Strand
  • History/Historical knowledge and understanding

    Other details

    Contributors
    • Content provider
    • Copyright holder
    • Organisation: Museum of Victoria
    • Address: Carlton VIC 3053 Australia
    • Remarks: Reproduced courtesy of Museum Victoria
    • Publisher
    • Date of contribution: 05 Sep 2013
    • Organisation: Education Services Australia
    • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
    • URL: http://www.esa.edu.au
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    Learning resource type
    • Image
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    Rights
    • © Education Services Australia Ltd and Museum Victoria, 2016, except where indicated under Acknowledgements