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Image Indigenous Australian climbing a tree, c1817

TLF ID R4032

This is a watercolour, measuring 27.8 cm x 17.7 cm, created by Joseph Lycett in about 1817. It features an Indigenous Australian man about 2 m up the trunk of a eucalypt tree, with his feet and one hand in notches on the trunk. He is holding a small axe in the other hand, ready to cut another notch, apparently being directed by a man below who is holding a spear and spear thrower (woomera). In the background, closer to a river, another Indigenous Australian stands on the branch of a tree, high above the ground, with three others waiting below.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset depicts a man climbing a tree to gather honey or catch small animals such as flying foxes, sugar gliders or possums - notches large enough for the ball of the foot were cut into the bark as the climber ascended the tree.
  • It includes a small hand axe that could be either a stone hatchet or a metal tomahawk - stone hatchets had hafted wooden handles and stone blades with carefully ground edges and were often used to open hollow logs to extract possums, birds or honey; however, following British contact, Indigenous people soon adopted European tools such as steel tomahawks and traded them across vast distances; as a result, these tools often reached people who had not yet made direct contact with British.
  • It illustrates the cooperative nature of Indigenous hunting practices - in the background of the painting, three people gather around a tree, while another stands on one of its lower branches, apparently being directed towards a beehive or animal by one of those standing below.
  • It depicts the men wearing white loincloths - prior to British settlement, Indigenous people on the north coast of New South Wales wore only ornamental bands, and belts made of hair or animal fur, as well as possum or flying-fox skins in winter; the artist has painted these people wearing loincloths so viewers of his work would not be offended.
  • It is part of an important collection of paintings showing the daily life of Indigenous Australians in early colonial times - a bound album of 20 watercolours painted before 1828 by Englishman and convict artist Joseph Lycett and bought by the National Library of Australia at Sotheby's, London, in 1972 for £9,500; text on the album's title page, 'Drawings of the natives and scenery of Van Diemens Land 1830', is partly incorrect, as all the watercolours with identifiable locations depict areas in NSW, near Newcastle and Port Jackson (Sydney).
  • It was painted by the convict artist Joseph Lycett, who was transported to NSW in 1814 for forgery - Lycett did have some contact with Indigenous people, as there is a record of him being wounded in an attack before he returned to England in 1822.

Other details

  • Content provider
  • Copyright holder
  • Organisation: National Library of Australia
  • Remarks: Reproduced courtesy of National Library of Australia
  • Author
  • Name: Joseph Lycett
  • Remarks: artist
  • Publisher
  • Date of contribution: 02 Sep 2013
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL:
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Learning resource type
  • Image
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  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements