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image icon 'A corrobery of natives in Mills Plains'

'A corrobery of natives in Mills Plains'
Art Gallery of South Australia

Description

This is an oil painting by John Glover, set in the Tasmanian bush in the early 19th century and depicting an Indigenous corroboree. In the gathering twilight, a group of Indigenous people are dancing around a fire; others, some of them children, sit or stand close by. The work, which measures 56.5 cm x 71.4 cm, appears to depict a peaceful, timeless scene, but it is a scene that for many, was becoming a mere memory - by the 1820s, Tasmanian colonists had begun to realise that settlement was bringing Indigenous Tasmanians to the point of extinction. In this painting, the clouds, coloured red by a dying sun, hint that all is not well in this antipodean paradise.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is an excellent example of a form of art produced in colonial Australia that recorded Australian Indigenous people and their culture - such art demonstrates European perceptions and cultural values relating to Indigenous peoples through the choices artists made when interpreting their subjects and their commentaries on those subjects
  • is an excellent example of the work of John Glover, a significant Australian colonial artist - Glover was a very successful professional artist who immigrated to Tasmania from England in 1830 and established a farm 40 kilometres south-east of Launceston; this work is possibly the first landscape he painted at his new farm
  • is one of a significant group of paintings on Indigenous subjects produced by Glover - the artist made 19 such works, more than half of which were painted in the last five to six years of his painting career; 'A corrobery of natives' ('corrobery' is Glover's spelling of the word) is the earliest painting produced by Glover on Indigenous subjects, and one of the finest in this group
  • reflects the 18th-century Enlightenment view of Indigenous people as 'noble savages', or as products of innocent but uncivilised cultures that were incapable of embracing European culture and technology, and therefore doomed - the dark tones of Glover's painting and many others dealing with similar subjects in Australian colonial art were intended to strike a note of sadness or melancholy associated with the passing of a lively race of people
  • demonstrates how colonial artists such as Glover used symbols to convey how they felt about what they saw as the extinction of the Indigenous Tasmanian race - the twilight setting, the dying sun and blood-red clouds are symbols of decline and approaching doom; the black-silhouetted tree that dominates the composition has been transformed by the artist into a thrashing monster that towers menacingly over the small figures below
  • illustrates aspects of Glover's intention to record local Indigenous life and culture for posterity - the artist never saw a scene such as this in any entirety, fabricating it from a variety of sketches; Tasmanian Indigenous people were gone from the area before Glover arrived, killed by British colonists or dispersed over other areas through government policy
  • refers to a significant period in the history of contact between Indigenous people and British colonists in Australia - Glover arrived in Tasmania at the end of a 30-year conflict between the Indigenous Tasmanians and the colonists; the last seven years of that conflict (1824-31) were called the Black Wars; near the end of this period the remaining Indigenous Tasmanians were moved offshore to Flinders Island in Bass Strait
  • is an excellent entry point to the work and ideas of modern Australian artists, particularly Sidney Nolan (1917-1992), Arthur Boyd (1920-1999), Russell Drysdale (1912-1981) and Josl Bergner (1920-), who explored themes of Australian Indigenous dispossession within a modern context - the painting is also an entry point to the social and political commentary within the work of many contemporary Indigenous artists, including Lin Onus, Ian Abdulla, Darren Siwes and Leah King-Smith.