A new Tweed Regional Museum Murwillumbah exhibition includes breastplates given to Aboriginal people associated with the Northern Rivers in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Two years in the making, the exhibition opens on 23 August to coincide with the New South Wales Local Government Aboriginal Network Conference, a peak body event being held in Tweed Shire for the first time.
“The focus of this exhibition is very much on the individuals to whom these plates were given, and the information that can be found in the historic record about them - where they lived, why they were given the plates, and their interaction with settlers,” Museum Director Judy Kean said.
“We understand that the history of these breastplates is a difficult one. It tells a story of attempts at European domination and subjugation of Aboriginal people. Nonetheless, those named on the breastplates did exist and although the plates themselves can be contentious, the individuals are not, and it’s their stories that are the heart of this exhibition.”
Featured in the exhibition: Bobby, King of Grafton; Tommy, King of Carrs Creek; Rowley, King of Tomki; Bobby, Chief of Yulgibar; Billy Kelly, King of Broadwater; Jemmy, King of Big River; King Billy Morgan of Dyrabba; Margaret, Queen of Gundurimba; Peter Belmy, King of Yerally, Gindinbar and Gundirimba; Billy Barloo, King of Coldstream; Prince Newman of Tunstall; Wilson, King of Coraki; Drumble Charlie and Billy Moore.
“People may not be aware that breastplates have a military origin. They’re a remnant of metal body armour, the gorget, worn in medieval times and in continued use well into the 19th century,” Ms Kean said.
“Governor Macquarie introduced them to Australia in 1815 and intended them as a way of conferring status on the people to whom they were given.”
As part of the Museum’s work to assemble the exhibition, a publication has been produce and includes extensive original research. It includes a supplementary list identifying individuals from the region given breastplates or identified as ‘King’ or ‘Queen’ but for whom no breastplate is known to exist.
“We hope this extensive documentation will encourage further research into the lives of these individuals,” she said.
Delegates from the NSW Local Government Aboriginal Network (LGAN) Conference visited the exhibition on Wednesday, with some sharing their own memories triggered by the display.
LGAN Executive Member John Murray said the exhibition was a good way to educate the broader community about the past.
“It was sad for me to see some of the items on display but this is about recognising how far we have come as a culture and as a country. It’s good to see these things are only on display now for educational purposes,” Mr Murray said.
The National Museum, the Australian Museum, the National Library of Australia, the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences and the Richmond River and Casino Historical Societies have loaned breastplates for inclusion in the exhibition.
A talk about Aboriginal breastplates and the exhibition will be held at the Museum on Wednesday 14 September at 6pm.
For more information, contact the Museum on (02) 6670 2493 or visit museum.tweed.nsw.gov.au