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image icon 'An Aboriginal encampment, near the Adelaide foothills'

'An Aboriginal encampment, near the Adelaide foothills'
Art Gallery of South Australia

Description

This is a large oil painting, measuring 89.0 cm x 132.0 cm, by the colonial South Australian artist Alexander Schramm (1814-64). It shows an Aboriginal encampment of several groups of people scattered among straggly gums near a creek or river. Some hills (the Adelaide Hills) can be seen in the distance. The encampment is a hive of activity - people of all ages are gathered around fires, children are playing and dogs of all sorts are bounding from group to group. Near the centre and in the middle distance some traditional shelters (possibly made from branches and leaves) can be seen. Evidence of European contact can be found in the metal axe one man is using to chop down a tree and the hats and oddments of European clothing worn by figures on the far right.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is an outstanding example of a distinctive body of Australian art that was usually made by settler or explorer artists and that took as its subject the depiction of Aboriginal people - this style of art is not always accurate in its documentation of traditional life and material culture, but invariably revealed the perceptions and values that colonial Europeans held in relation to Aboriginal people and their culture
  • is a painting by one of the most significant artists to work in colonial South Australia - the German-born Alexander Schramm came to South Australia in 1849 as a trained artist (Berlin and Rome); he was one of the many thousands of Germans who migrated to South Australia around this time; he is best known for his paintings of Aboriginal encampments on the Adelaide Plains, which depicted Aboriginal people with great sympathy at a time when their traditional life was being disrupted by the colonists
  • demonstrates Schramm's skills in composing large groups of figures - at first glance the figures appear to be scattered informally but the artist has used various devices: the group with the man chopping the tree on the left, the standing group on the far right, and the single figure lower right lead the eye into the composition
  • illustrates the role of the artist as a reporter in colonial society
  • records a site of historical significance - this encampment may be near the River Torrens, close to the site of Adelaide's present-day Botanic Park; for a period after the arrival of the first group of colonists in the 1836 settlement, the Kaurna people and other neighbouring groups from around Mt Barker and the River Murray were able to camp on crown land, notably the parklands and the River Torrens embankment
  • references significant historical events within the Aboriginal history of South Australia - with the take-up of traditional lands by settlers, Aboriginal people were prevented from following the traditional practice of sheltering from the cold and wet winter in the Adelaide foothills (at places like present-day Morialta Falls); they were forced to remain around encampments like the one shown in Schramm's painting where many died of the cold and illness; at the time of European settlement it has been estimated that between 300 and 500 Kaurna people were living in the coastal territory between what is known today as Cape Jervis and Pt Wakefield; in 1860 the first Protector of Aborigines stated that the 'Adelaide tribe' had 'nearly died out'
  • references the impact of European settlement on the natural environment around Adelaide in the early years of colonisation - at the time this painting was made, this was one of the few areas in which trees and natural vegetation remained.