Dilly bag from south-western Queensland, c1905

Dilly bag from south-western Queensland, c1905

Dilly bag from Queensland

Dilly bag from Queensland
Photographer: Stuart Humphreys © Australian Museum


This is a yoke-shaped dilly bag from Boulia in south-western Queensland. It is made from woollen blanket thread and banded in green, orange and yellow with a navy and white polka-dotted cloth handle knotted onto the bag at diagonally opposite ends of the top opening. It is covered with the remnants of a red-brown ochre coating. It was collected in 1905 and feathers, plant matter and human hair were found inside it. It is 57 cm in width by 22 cm in length.

Educational value

This type of bag was designed and used by Indigenous people in what became the Boulia area to safely hold and transport plant material, including the chopped leaves and stems of pitjuri, a chewing narcotic. The small top opening and the close weave of the bag were intended to contain fine plant material. The handle was slung over a person's shoulder and supported by the same arm. The yoke shape allows the bag to be stored flat when empty.
The bag was made with two strands of woollen thread; one strand was the foundation element around the opening of the bag and the other was the continuous working strand. A bone or stick needle, using loop and twist stitches, made one large circular shape which was folded over and stitched along the bottom edge. The bag was then covered with a layer of dark red-brown ochre.

This bag has been made from introduced materials, but before contact with Europeans fibres were made from bark, leaves, stems, roots, human hair, animal fur and animal sinew. The bag maker either created a pattern using the neutral shades (white, cream or shades of brown) of the natural fibres, or dyed the fibres before constructing the bag. The fibres would have been dyed by boiling them with different coloured plant roots and wood ash.

The plant matter found inside the bag, 'Duboisia hopwoodii' (pitjuri bush), grows in the arid interior of Australia but because of its economic and social value it was transported long distances along trade routes. The plant has a high nicotine content and was used as an anaesthetic, a stimulant and an appetite suppressant and was smoked during ceremonies.

The pitjuri within the dilly bag would have been prepared by male Elders using a high level of technical knowledge. The leaves and stems were dried, chopped and ground to a fine powder. The powder was mixed to a paste with ash, which freed the nicotine from the acids in the plant making it quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. The paste was rolled into quids (balls) for chewing.
This bag was collected by Dr Walter Edmund Roth, who was Northern Protector of Aboriginals from 1898 to 1904 and Chief Protector of Aboriginals from 1904 to 1906. His role was to oversee the administration of Aboriginal people and to record their culture. He collected more than 2,000 ethnographic objects and in 1905 the Australian Museum purchased the objects, now known as the 'Roth Collection'.

Ms Jen Cork , Senior Digital Producer
Last Updated: