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image icon 'Bungaree. A Native Chief of N.S.Wales', 1829-38

Curriculum Corporation seeks to treat Indigenous cultures and beliefs with respect. For many Indigenous communities, hearing the names and/or seeing the image of a deceased person may cause sadness or distress. People using this digital resource should be aware that the material may include references to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have passed away.

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Art Gallery of South Australia

Description

This is a hand-coloured lithographic portrait on paper by Augustus Earle (1798-1838), of an Aboriginal man who was known to early colonists in New South Wales as ‘King Bungaree’. Made in the period between 1829 and 1838, it is a head and shoulders portrait measuring 17.4 cm x 21.8 cm. The subject is posed front-on looking slightly away from the viewer - his hair is short and wavy and his face is distinguished by deep furrows that run from his eyes and across his brow. He is wearing a red military coat with a very high collar and wide blue lapels, which feature a series of stripes in elaborate gold braid. A metal, crescent-shaped plate hangs from a chain around his neck on which is engraved the word ‘BUNGARY’. An inscription beneath the portrait reads ‘BUNGAREE. A Native Chief of N.S.Wales’.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is an outstanding example of a style of art used by early colonial artists to depict Aboriginal people - this style of art is not always accurate in its documentation of traditional life and material culture, but can be seen to reveal the perceptions and values that colonial Europeans held in relation to Aboriginal peoples and their cultures
  • is one of a series of studies of Aboriginal people made in the colony of New South Wales in the early 19th century - images of Aboriginal subjects appeared in the sketchbooks of amateur artists, but it was not until the 1810s that separate images of individuals began to be in demand; by this time Aboriginals were no longer regarded as a threat, and their images were seen as depictions of a conquered people and enjoyed for their curiosity value
  • was made by Augustus Earle (1793-1838) - Earle was an adventurous world traveller, colonial painter and lithographer who spent several years in the colony of New South Wales during 1825-28 painting portraits (including full-length portraits), landscapes in oils and local genre subjects in watercolour, which included portraits and figure studies of Aboriginal people; his relatively brief time in the colony was productive and groundbreaking; his watercolour landscapes and genre scenes often incorporated personal insights and touches of humour, which distinguishes them from conventional illustrations and views made by other artists at the time
  • is the only known impression of this portrait lithograph - lithography (from the Greek word 'lithos', for stone) was a commercial method used in the early 1800s to print newspapers, documents and maps; the basic process involved drawing an image using an oil-based pigment onto a smooth block of limestone, 'burning' the oil into the surface using acid, dampening the surface of the stone to ensure that only the oily areas (the image) picked up ink, rolling greasy ink over the surface of the stone to 'pick up' the original image, and then passing the stone through a lithographic press to transfer the inked image onto a blank sheet of dampened paper
  • is an example of a work of art with an Australian subject that was first published in Britain - Earle published a series of prints in Australia and, on his return to London in 1829, produced a more elaborate series of views around Sydney ('Views in New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land'); some were picturesque and flattering views of the harbour, while others showed more squalid aspects of life in the colony, which included convicts and the degradation of Aboriginal people
  • depicts Bungaree, a remarkable Aboriginal individual, who was known to the early colonists as ‘King Bungaree’ - from the Broken Bay area, he was both a prominent mediator for his people, dealing with the white authorities, and a well-known character around Sydney, who was always distinctively dressed in cast-off military clothes and hat; a friend of Governor Macquarie, he was an entertainer who impersonated the governors and other local figures; the naval explorer Matthew Flinders was attracted to his 'good disposition and manly conduct'; Bungaree accompanied Flinders on the ship ‘Investigator’ during the explorer’s circumnavigation of Australia; he was one of the most discussed Aboriginal people of the early 19th century and was a popular subject for a number of artists, including Charles Rodius (1802-60); in 1826 Earle also made a full-length figure portrait in oils of Bungaree
  • illustrates a ‘king’ or ‘chief’ breastplate - the brass breastplate around Bungaree’s neck was bestowed by Governor Macquarie as a public sign that he was recognised as a king of his people; Bungaree was often referred to as ‘King of Port Jackson’ or ‘King of the Blacks’; he was the first Aboriginal person to be appointed a ‘Chief’ by Macquarie and to receive a metal plate (gorget) bearing his name and title; such plates carried European titles such as ‘King’ ‘Queen’ or ‘Prince’ and represented an ignorance of Aboriginal customs; the wearers were often alienated and ridiculed and the practice was discontinued by Governor Darling in 1830.