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An Aboriginal wurley
Title : An Aboriginal wurley An Aboriginal wurley
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Creator : Gill, S. T. (Samuel Thomas), 1818-1880 artist
Source : B 43328
Date of creation : 1846
Format : Artwork
Contributor : State Library of South Australia
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Description :

An Aboriginal wurley

Gill was one of the most prolific water-colour painters working in Australia in the nineteenth century. He was an artist who was often out in the field in the Adelaide Hills or the Flinders Ranges, and on the spot at mining sites, in city streets, at Port Adelaide, the races or at the Agricultural and Horticultural Society's annual show. He was part of Horrocks' expedition of 1846 to central Australia, where he offered a free service as official illustrator.

In 1840, Gill established a studio in Adelaide and advertised for those 'desirous of obtaining correct likenesses of themselves, families or friends', animals, local scenery and residences, to contact him. He captured detailed scenes of colonial life in the streets of Adelaide and Melbourne, in the South Australian countryside and on the Victorian gold fields. Gill created a charicature folio of captioned portraits of well known Adelaideans named 'Heads of the people'. This was later published (1850).

Gill used techniques he had acquired in England in his youth and developed during his years in Australia. The immediacy and freshness of the water-colour painting technique was ideally suited to the lively style of the artist. Although Gill mostly restricted himself to the water-colour sketch, perhaps due to its portable and convenient nature (apart from his 'Heads of the people' lithographic series), his work faithfully describes the vastness of the land and the energy of its people. Gill displayed qualities of imagination, delicacy, and poetic feeling but is often only known as the artist of the gold fields.

Mary Thomas, the daughter of early pioneers and printing press operators, Robert and Mary Thomas, referred to wurlies, in her diary (PRG 1160/6, p. 42);

Mar. 31, 1846. ....(near the Port) Some few natives have been paying us a visit lately. Cow-eeta (?) was one who seemed to be a civil, quiet man. Another was a woman named Coonartoo. Mr. Wilkinson stayed some time in our house. We made an arrangement to go see the blacks in the evening. At the time appointed Mr. Wilkinson left home with Mrs. Skipper and my sister Helen, preceded by Mr. Skipper, Mrs. Wilkinson, and myself. We all walked down to their wurlies, which are erected at a place some distance from the town. On arriving at this spot we could not help admiring the splendour and wildness of the scene, as we stood surrounded by, I should think, four or five hundred natives and among large trees of which some [were] half hidden by the darkness, while others were partly illuminated by the native fires and, by throwing out their broad shadows, appeared in bold relief. The fires, by which we were guided to their place, were numerous and appeared to be made in circles to some degree of uniformity. Instead of having them crowded together they left good spaces between each. After visiting the blacks belonging to two or three different tribes, we went to another part of the ground, where we found a large number of natives assembled and making preparations for a corroboree, which we waited to see. The result was very gratifying. A great number of blacks ranged themselves with scrupulous regularity in a sitting position so as to face the dancers. These consisted of the Moorundee tribe and their corroboree was intended to represent the stealing of a wife from another tribe. The whole scene was well acted, and what especially delighted me was that they kept such true time with foot and voice. Although I have often heard the corroboree I never discovered anything in the shape of a song so nearly resembling vocal music as that we were favoured with. I should think that there were about 150 of the Moorundee tribe dancing, and the number of spectators was afterwards swelled by several natives from Encounter Bay who not in general being on friendly terms with those from Moorundee, kept their spears in their hands instead of laying them down. Besides these we saw some from Kapunda.

Related names :

Gill, S.T. (Samuel Thomas), 1818-1880

Horrocks, John Ainsworth, 1818-1846

Raye, Boulter Gabriel

Coverage year : 1846
Period : 1836-1851
Place : South Australia
Further reading :

Appleyard, Ron S.T. Gill, the South Australian years 1839-1852. Adelaide: Art Gallery of South Australia, 1986

Bernard, S Place, taste and tradition : a study of Australian art since 1788 Melbourne : Oxford University Press, 1979

Brock, Daniel George, To the desert with Sturt: a diary of the 1844 expedition Adelaide: Royal Geographical Society of Australasia, South Australian Branch, 1975

Bowden, Keith Macrae Samuel Thomas Gill: artist. [Collaroy, N.S.W.] : K.M. Bowden, [1971]

Cumpston, J. H. L. Charles Sturt: his life and journeys of exploration Melbourne: Georgian House, 1951

Dutton, Geoffrey S.T. Gill's Australia. South Melbourne: Macmillan, 1981

Gill, S. T. Paintings of S.T. Gill Adelaide: Rigby, 1962

Berndt, Ronald M. and Berndt, Catherine H. with Stanton, John E.,A world that was: the Yaraldi of the Murray River and the lakes, South Australia, Vancouver: UBC Press, 1993

Kartinyeri, Doreen, Ngarrindjeri Nation: Genealogies of Ngarrindjeri Families, 2006

The native tribes of South Australia, with an introductory chapter by J.D. Woods, 1997, first published 1879

The Ngarrindjeri people: Aboriginal people of the River Murray, Lakes and Coorong, 1990, Education Department of South Australia (an Aboriginal studies course for secondary students in years 8-10)

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