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Breastplate belonging to Cora Gooseberry
This is a colour image of a breastplate presented to the Aboriginal woman Cora Gooseberry. The inscription reads 'GOOSEBERRY' with 'Queen of Sydney to South Head' engraved underneath. It is made from hand-beaten brass, crescent-shaped with a hole at each apex. Both apexes are engraved with a fish, possibly a goatfish, shown attached to a fish hook. The centre is engraved with a five pointed coronet with two sprigs of foliage below it. It measures 9.8 cm by 4.7 cm.
Cora Gooseberry (1777-1852), the recipient of this breastplate, was a significant Indigenous woman of the area where Sydney was established. She was the principal wife of 'King Bungaree', the first person the British colonists presented with a breastplate in 1816, which read 'Boongaree Chief of the Broken Bay Tribe'. She was also the daughter of Moorooboora (c1758-1798) a well known Aboriginal leader after whom the Sydney suburb of Maroubra is named.
Gooseberry, whose name is recorded as Kaaroo, Carra, Caroo, Car-roo or Ba-ran-gan, meaning goatfish, is believed to have been presented with the breastplate between Bungaree's death in 1830 and 1844 when she is recorded as wearing it to a function at Government House. She was well known in Sydney, referred to herself as a queen when speaking to colonists and was often seen wearing a woollen blanket and headscarf and smoking a clay pipe.
The colonial authorities presented the breastplates as a way of fostering cooperation and loyalty. Governor Lachlan Macquarie (1762-1824) created 'chiefs' and 'kings' believing the local Indigenous people would appreciate the designation as an honour. He also presented breastplates as a reward for service, for acts of bravery or honesty, for acting as an intermediary between the colonists and the Indigenous people and to the last surviving member of a 'tribe'.
The various titles engraved on the breastplates reflected British customs and values. Men were given the title of 'Chief' or 'King' and women, such as Gooseberry, were given the title of 'Queen' and a specific geographical area was usually designated. Macquarie's breastplates were all of a similar size and shape and included the 'chief's' name in upper case and the area in lower case. When rewarding for service the reason would be given, such as 'for honesty'.
The breastplates are evidence of the cultural divide between the colonists and the Indigenous people. The title 'chief' had no meaning to the local people who based their decisions on the consensus of a group of Elders rather than the commands of a single leader. The colonists assumed the plates would be proudly worn but the recipients may have been ridiculed by their own people for wearing them and saw them as having no intrinsic value.
In December 1816 Governor Lachlan Macquarie initiated an annual ceremony to present breastplates at a large feast in the marketplace in Parramatta. Subsequent governors changed the style and decoration of the plates, but the annual presentation ceremony continued until 1835. Breastplates were distributed until the 1930s by which time hundreds, or possibly thousands, had been distributed throughout eastern Australia.