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image icon 'King Bungaree, Chief of the Broken Bay Tribe, New South Wales'

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 portrait by Charles Rodius (1802-60) of an Aboriginal man known to early colonists in New South Wales as 'King Bungaree'. It is a head and shoulders portrait, measuring 23.7 cm x 20.5 cm, dated 1834. The subject is posed with the upper body turned slightly to the viewer and looking away across the viewer's right shoulder. The man is wearing some kind of uniform consisting of a high-crowned brimless hat and a heavy coat with high collar and a set of buttons that run down the chest. His features clearly suggest that the man is Aboriginal, but his cultural identity is stamped on this portrait in the form of a 'king plate' - a metal crescent-shaped plate hung from a chain around his neck on which is engraved 'BUNGAREE. CHIEF BROKEN-BAY TRIBE'. An inscription beneath the portrait reads as 'KING BUNGAREE. CHIEF, OF THE BROKEN-BAY TRIBE N. S. WALES DIED 1832'. An additional inscription on the base of the sheet identifies the printer of the image and the fact that the portrait was 'Drawn from Life, 1831 and on stone, 1834, by Cha. Rodius'. The 'drawn on stone' wording refers to a printmaking method called lithography.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is an outstanding example of a style of art that was usually made by early colonial artists and which depicted Aboriginal people - this style was not always accurate in its documentation of traditional life and material culture but invariably revealed commonly held European perceptions of Aboriginal people and culture
  • 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 Aboriginal people were no longer regarded as a threat and images of them were seen as depictions of a conquered people and enjoyed for their curiosity value
  • was made by Charles Rodius, a prominent artist in the cultural life of the colony of New South Wales - Rodius was a German artist and trained architect who was sentenced to seven years transportation (for stealing an opera glass, a handkerchief and a silk bag from a lady); he worked as a draughtsman for the Department of Public Works and supported himself by drawing portraits of lawyers, judges and other prominent figures around Sydney; he is best known for his series of portraits of Aboriginal people made between 1831 and 1834; Rodius was the first of many German artists to make a career in Australia and, like most of his countrymen, showed great sympathy for the Aboriginal people
  • depicts Bungaree, a remarkable Aboriginal individual - he was known to the early colonists as 'King Bungaree' from the Broken Bay area and was prominent as a mediator for his people with the colonial authorities around Sydney; he was also an entertainer who impersonated the governors and other local figures, a friend of Governor Macquarie and an explorer who sailed with Matthew Flinders; 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 Rodius
  • 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 false titles such as 'King', 'Queen' or 'Prince' and represented an ignorance of Aboriginal customs; the wearers were often alienated and ridiculed; the practice was discontinued by Governor Darling in 1830
  • references an entrepreneurial aspect of colonial art production - the series of lithographic illustrations published by Rodius in 1832 was one of a number of business ventures involving other early colonial artists including Augustus Earle (1793-1838); the first lithographic prints produced in Australia were made by Rodius who, on his return to London in 1830, produced an elaborate series of Sydney views; the lithographic method of printmaking involved the artist drawing the image onto a polished block of lithographic stone from which an edition of images could be printed
  • is an early expression of an ongoing visual art tradition in Australia of the representation of Indigenous Australians.