Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
Height: 69.000 cm
Width: 30.000 cm
Depth: 27.000 cm
Donated by Kew Royal Botanical Gardens
AOA Oc.+ 1281
Bark carving representing an emu
From the Loddon and Murray Rivers area,
northern Victoria, Australia
Mid-19th century AD
This is a unique surviving Aboriginal ceremonial carving. It was made in the mid-nineteenth century by people who lived around the Murray and Loddon Rivers in northern Victoria. John Hunter Kerr, a Scotsman who settled near the Loddon people, joined them in some activities, participating in hunting expeditions and observing certain ceremonies. He collected the etching along with a range of other objects and also took some photographs.
The carving was made from the bark of a River Red Gum and has a painted design in red ochre and white clay. It represents the silhouette of an emu. It was carried by a dancer in a dance ceremony that Kerr witnessed. He described how the dancer 'imitated the gait of the bird, while the others danced around'.
Kerr exhibited his Loddon collection at the Melbourne Exhibition in October 1854. It was then sent to another exhibition in Paris but when that closed it was dispersed and mostly lost. The emu was acquired by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London and transferred to the British Museum in 1880.
C. Cooper, 'Traditional visual culture in south-east Australia' in Aboriginal artists of the 19th (Melbourne, OUP, 1994)