British Museum collections, £12.99
Height: 67.000 cm
Width: 31.000 cm
Depth: 13.000 cm
Donated by Kew Royal Botanical Gardens.
Drawing by Lindsay Kerr.
AOA Oc, 1827
Bark etching of a kangaroo hunt
From the Loddon and Murray Rivers area,
northern Victoria, Australia
Mid-19th century AD
This is one of the earliest surviving Aboriginal bark etchings. 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 etching is made of bark from a Eucalyptus tree (probably Yellow or Grey Box) which was blackened by smoke from a fire. The sooty surface was then incised to depict four figures armed with boomerangs, spears and clubs hunting a kangaroo. There are also images of a barbed spear and other equipment.
The layout of the image follows a tiered format also used by other nineteenth-century Aboriginal artists who drew on paper. Artists such as Tommy McRae organised their drawings like this, setting out a story in 'layers' across the page.
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. However, this etching was acquired by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London and in 1866 it was transferred to the British Museum.
E. Willis, 'Exhibiting Aboriginal industry: a story behind the 're-discovered' bark drawing from Victoria', Aboriginal History (2004), pp. 39-58
A. Sayers, 'Tommy McRae: Aboriginal artist' in Aboriginal artists of the nineteenth century (Melbourne, Oxford University Press and National Gallery of Australia, 1994)
A. Massola, 'A Victorian Aboriginal bark drawing in the British Museum', The Victorian Naturalist (December 1958)
C. Servaes and D.V. Prendergast, 'Out of the museum darkness: a mid-19th century bark drawing from Victoria, Australia', Economic Botany, 1 (2000)
C. Cooper, 'Traditional visual culture in south-east Australia' in Aboriginal artists of the 19th century (Melbourne, OUP, 1994)