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This is an Indigenous stone axe with a 34-cm-long wooden handle, or haft, from the Sydney region, dating from before European contact. The axe is made from hard igneous or metamorphic rock with one end ground to a sharp edge. A piece of flexible wood has been bent around the axe. Originally the handles would have been tied together with twine but the twine has been replaced with European string. Plant resin has been used to secure the axe to its handle.
The axe is one of only two existing examples of pre-European hafted axes from the Sydney region. The other axe is now in the Cambridge University Archaeology and Anthropology Museum in England.
The axe's haft made it possible for the user to take a powerful swinging action when chopping. The tool was used to remove bark from trees for making canoes, shelters and shields and to cut wood for making clubs, containers and other tools and weapons. It was used to make notches that acted as footholds in the trunks of trees and to enlarge holes in trees to access small animals. It was also used to kill animals and as a weapon in times of conflict.
After the British arrived in Australia in 1788, traditional Indigenous tools and weapons were exchanged for metal axes. By the early 1800s metal axes had become widespread in the Sydney region. However, stone axes such as this example remained in common usage, and were sometimes preferred, until at least the 1820s.
Ground-edged axes first appeared in south-eastern Australia about 4,000 years ago and were used either with handles or hand-held. The shape and style of hafted axes varies greatly throughout Australia and the materials with which the head and haft were made vary according to the geology and vegetation of the region from which they originated.
This hafted axe was presented by an Indigenous man to a young child at Manly between 1836 and 1839. It remained in the child's family for nearly 160 years until it was donated to the Australian Museum in 1995.