Shield, Aboriginal, wood, made by Joe Timbery, La Perouse, New South Wales, Australia, 1940-1960
This shield was made and decorated by Joe Timbery (1912-1978) from the La Perouse region of Sydney. Joe Timbery was famous for making boomerangs and other Indigenous artefacts, which were either painted or engraved with motifs such as Australian flora and fauna, along with iconic images such as the Harbour Bridge. Such works reflect links to land and traditional cultural practices, along with changing circumstances within Aboriginal communities brought about by European invasion.
Shields have long been used within Aboriginal communities not only for protection, but as a symbolic implement used in rituals. This shield is a transitional artefact, produced for a tourist market. From the mid to late 1800s, Aboriginal people created artworks such as boomerangs, shields and clubs which were decorated with engravings or paintings. These were sold to tourists who were coming to the beachside area in increasing numbers. In addition sellers would take their wares to sell at market places and other tourist areas within Sydney. Aboriginal women from La Perouse became known for their shellwork, decorating boxes, boomerangs and other items with shells collected at La Perouse and nearby areas along the NSW coastline. Joe's grandmother Emma (1842-1916), known as 'Queen' or 'Granny' Timbery, became an accomplished and well known shellworker, selling her works to tourists as well as exhibiting in the Royal Easter Show.
Similarly, Joe entered this market and became famous for his engraved and painted boomerangs, along with his excellence in boomerang throwing. Joe offered lessons in boomerang throwing, including the rock group Abba, and taught at the Sydney Boomerang School. He demonstrated his skills near the Eiffel Tower in Paris and in 1954 presented his hand-made boomerangs to Queen Elizabeth II during her royal tour of Australia. Joe was also known for his storytelling, and was a keen writer of poetry.
This shield relates to a significant member of the La Perouse Aboriginal community, whose family has a long and considerable history within the region. An ancestor of the Timbery family, known as Timbere, King of the Five Islands, lived in the area at the time when colonists first arrived at Botany Bay. In 1929 his King Plate was unearthed at La Perouse and is now in the Mitchell Library. Members of the Timbery family continue to live at La Perouse.
In addition the shield is exemplary of the manner in which members of the La Perouse Aboriginal community have used art and craft activities to generate income since the late 1800s, often adapting traditional motifs or techniques for this new market. The Museum holds a number of items relating to Joe Timbery and the La Perouse Aboriginal community. This community was one of the first to be confronted with European invasion and material within this collection assists in documenting the social and cultural history of the region and its people.
Randwick City Council, http://www.randwick.nsw.gov.au/default.php?id=148
Australian Dictionary of Biography, http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/AS10461b.htm
Sydney Morning Herald, http://www.smh.com.au/news/National/A-tale-of-twohistories /2005/01/16/1105810768834.html
In the 1880s La Perouse became a regular camp site for displaced South Coast Aborigines. Some of these people had been expelled from the city of Sydney to the north; others had travelled north from traditional lands alienated by farming and grazing. Initially their occupation of this northern headland of Botany Bay was deemed illegal, however their camp was officially recognised as an Aboriginal Reserve in 1895. The establishment of a nearby Methodist Mission - soon to become the headquarters for the United Aborigines Mission - may well have influenced this decision.
Although La Perouse at this time was still beyond the southern perimeter of suburban development, it was already a popular seaside resort for the white inhabitants of Sydney. The Joseph Banks Hotel, with its renowned pleasure gardens and menagerie, was built there in the 1830s. By the 1880s the establishment was reaching its peak of popularity.
With very few other means of income and provision, the Aboriginal community of La Perouse were quick to engage with this new developing tourism market. They sold shell artefacts, shields, boomerangs and other items, and demonstrated boomerang throwing to the day trippers. What developed was a 'transitional culture' of production with traditional skills being employed to create 'non-traditional' artefacts for the new market. The production of souvenirs, such as decorated boomerangs, nulla nullas and shields, intricately designed shellwork patterns on cardboard baby slippers, jewellery boxes and other items grew in the 20th century with the establishment of a tram line to La Perouse in 1902, making the La Perouse Indigenous community one of the first to be involved with the tourism industry at the time.