Aboriginal breastplates, like this one, are rare reminders of the relationships that once existed between the Indigenous population of Australia and the European colonists. These breastplates were similar in design to the gorgets worn by Officers in British Regiments and were tailor-made for the recipient As a result the inscriptions and motifs are significant records from the early colonial period right up to the 1930s when they appear to have stopped making breastplates.
The earliest breastplate was handed out by Governor Macquarie to Boongarre in 1815 and was part of carefully controlled system which ensured only the Governor could decide who was, or was not, designated a ‘Chief ‘ or ‘King’. After Macquarie left in 1822 this system began to break down and from the 1830s a wide array of colonials issued these plates.
The inscriptions make it clear breastplates were most commonly presented to people who were perceived as Chiefs, Kings or Queens in a particular area. Less common were those given in recognition of service or as rewards. Land title claims, and a resurgence of interest in Aboriginal culture, from the 1980s onwards have added to the significance of Aboriginal breastplates and the records inscribed upon their surfaces.
In addition to the breastplate seen at the top of this page the Powerhouse Museum holds the following:
Geoff Barker, Curatorial, TAM Project
Tania Cleary, Poignant Regalia, 19th Century Aboriginal Breastplates and Images, Historic Houses Trust, 1993