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image icon 'Natives of N.S.Wales as seen in the streets of Sydney', 1830

'Natives of N.S.Wales as seen in the streets of Sydney', 1830
Art Gallery of South Australia

Description

This is a lithograph created by Augustus Earle (1793-1838) and printed by C Hullmandel, London, in 1830. It shows a group of Indigenous Australians in a Sydney street in 1830. Most members of this group are wearing ragged remnants of European clothing or simply material wraps, while one wears a military coat. There are some empty 'grog' bottles on the ground. Behind this group is a two-storey hotel with a kangaroo sign. Another sign on the side of the building reads 'George Street'. A number of fashionably dressed British settlers are promenading down the street or standing near the hotel. Beyond a few other buildings in the background, a tiny glimpse of Sydney Harbour can be seen, with the masts and rigging of some sailing ships visible. The lithograph measures 19.8 cm x 28.8 cm.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • was made by Augustus Earle - born in England, Earle was an adventurous world traveller, colonial painter and lithographer, who spent several years in the colony of New South Wales between 1825 and 1828; there he painted portraits and landscapes in oils, and local genre subjects in watercolour, including portraits and figure studies of Indigenous Australian 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 distinguish them from the conventional illustrations and views made by other artists at the time
  • is an outstanding example of a style of art made by early colonial artists and depicting Indigenous Australian people - this style of art is not always accurate in its documentation of traditional life and material culture, but invariably reveals the perceptions and values that colonial settlers and visitors held in relation to local Indigenous people and their culture; by the time Earle made the sketch on which this print is based, the local people were no longer regarded as a threat; generally, they were depicted as a conquered people, and enjoyed for their curiosity value
  • is a confronting image - this scene of Indigenous Australians sitting around in the street drinking alcohol while fashionably dressed townsfolk look on was intended to be taken by colonial audiences as amusing; contemporary Australian audiences may not share this view
  • references grog culture in the early colonial years - 'grog' is a mid-18th-century colloquial term that means (usually cheap) alcohol; two men are shown gathered around a bucket of 'bull', which was a cheap source of alcohol made by soaking and fermenting old sugar bags
  • illustrates fashions of the period - one woman is dressed in a high-waisted, floor-length dress with elaborately puffed sleeves; her large bonnet has an extravagant pink ribbon and she carries a matching pink parasol; her male companion is wearing a long frockcoat and top hat
  • is one of the earliest lithographic prints to depict (in lively detail) scenes of daily life around Sydney town - the first lithographic prints produced in Australia were made by Earle in 1826; on his return to London in 1830, he produced a more elaborate series of views ('Views in New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land') around Sydney town, some of which were picturesque and flattering views of the harbour, while others (including 'Natives of N.S.Wales') showed more squalid aspects of life in the colony, such as convicts and the degradation of the local people
  • is a lithographic print - lithography (from the Greek work 'lithos' for stone) is a printing process based on the repulsion of oil and water; it was a commercial method used in the 19th century to print newspapers, documents and maps; the basic method involves 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) 'pick 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.