People Represented in Plaster
Aboriginal Group Sculpture by Rayner Hoff, 1925
In 1925 the Australian Museum put on display the sculptures of three Aboriginal people. The exhibit was created in the context of a popular belief at that time that the Aboriginal population was in irreversible decline. It was instructive therefore to document the physical characteristics of selected individuals in order to show the public faithful representation of the original Australians. The people in the group were meant to interact, so they were depicted showing a man throwing a boomerang, while a woman, presumably his partner, and their child observing the hunting episode.
Sculptures in plaster were made by Sydney artist Rayner Hoff, then teacher at the East Sydney Technical College (now the National Art School). The finished sculptures were painted by Miss Ethel King, an accomplished illustrator and artist at the Australian Museum, to reproduce their natural body colours.
The boomerang thrower was modelled on real person, Yangar. He was a man from the Wiradjuri group, also known as Jimmy Clements or King Billy. Yangar was a son of Billy Lambert, or Gayan-Blouer-Galoom, a former ‘King of the Orange tribe’. At the time Yangar claimed to be 85 years old. He definitely had witnessed the past, including the old bush-ranging days. He was intelligent, a great conversationalist and a good story teller. He often lived in the bush, returning periodically to the city.
In 1927 Yangar wanted to witness the opening of the First Parliament House in Canberra on 9 May that year. In the company of his friend, Jim Noble, also a Wiradjuri man, and his dog, Yangar went to Canberra. Dressed in their best clothes, both friends walked barefoot all the way from where they lived, near Gundagai, across the Blue Mountains to Canberra, a journey of almost a week. When they arrived at the Opening Ceremony, the police tried to turn them away because they were ‘not properly attired.’ However the attending crowd supported the men’s request and so they were allowed inside with other prominent citizens for the ceremony. Yangar and Jim Noble were the first Aboriginal elders to enter Parliament House and Yangar was also presented to the Duke and Duchess of York.
Yangar died in August 1927 in Queanbeyan and was buried outside the cemetery as, at that time, indigenous people were not allowed to be buried in consecrated ground.
Nellie Walker was one of the daughters of Geri-Bungul of Bombala, Monaro district, in southern New South Wales. At the time of the sculpture project she lived in Sydney.
Little is known about Harold Marsh. He was born at Kinchela on the Macleay River, northern New South Wales. Later he lived at the Brewarrina Mission. He was about nine years of age at the time he modelled for Hoff.
Dr Stan Florek , Database Manager