A Pictorial History of Australia

By placing objects in historical perspective and context, we get a better understanding of the artistic achievements of little-known individuals whose works might otherwise have remained unrecognised.

Southern Australia Map

Southern Australia Map
Creator: Design Unit © Australian Museum

From the early 1800s, Aboriginal people created artworks that document the history of their interaction with European settlers. The oldest such item in the Australian Museum collection was acquired near Wagga Wagga in 1865.

Aboriginal people made boomerangs, shields, spear throwers, clubs, walking sticks, stock whip handles and other objects which they decorated with engraving, painting and pokerwork. The design s show Aboriginal links to their land and traditional cultural practices. They also show contact situations and chart changing circumstances brought about by European settlement.

In south-east Australia, wooden objects with such imagery quickly became sought-after trade items. This led to the establishment of a tourist industry, which itself records important aspects of Australia's history.

In 1998, Dr Paul Taçon began a project to document this art movement by contacting other museums, Aboriginal elders and communities and over 120 members of the public throughout Australia. He has defined ten style areas in the region from the east coast of New South Wales through to South Australia, and identified 18 artists by name.

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