Image: Breast plate E54311
This breast plate was owned by Joe Timbrey, a Dharawal man known as the Chief of Five Islands in the Botany Bay area of Sydney. Metal breast plates with engraved names and titles were presented to individual Aborigines by the colonial authorities, as well as by private colonists.
The idea of such distinction was adopted from the British army where breast plates were given for meritorious service. Breast plates were given to Aboriginal people for a variety of reasons - often for helping colonists or saving people from danger. For example three Yandruwandha people were presented with breast plates for their humanitarian assistance to members of Burke and Wills’ exploration party in 1860-61 at Cooper Creek in South Australia. Breast plates were also awarded as recognition of leadership and establishing a form of relationship and communication between indigenous people and colonists - sometimes with the intention of influencing the Aboriginal communities.
Robert O'Hara Burke and William John Wills lead the Victorian Exploration Expedition to cross the continent from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1860-61. The story of this tragic adventure is compellingly recounted in Alan Moorehead’s book Cooper’s Creek (publisher: Harper & Row 1963)
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