Image Two Indigenous Australians hunting emus, c1817

TLF ID R4025

This is a 17.7 cm x 27.8 cm watercolour of two Indigenous Australian men hunting emus, with one man about to throw a spear using a woomera, or spear thrower. The birds are grazing on a grassy plain in the middle distance to the right of the picture, and the men are screened from them by large rocks and scrub. In the distance a heavily wooded landscape can be seen in front of a large mountain range.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset depicts two men hunting emus by hiding - although emus, kangaroos and wallabies were easy to find because of their size, they could easily outrun a person, so hunters often waited under cover for animals to come to them; waterholes and sleeping, nesting or feeding sites such as the one shown were ideal for this method of hunting.
  • It shows one way of hunting emus - they could be lured within range by imitating their calls with wooden tubes resembling short didgeridoos; alternatively, a hunter could lie on the ground and kick his legs in the air to lure the curious birds closer before jumping up and spearing them.
  • It demonstrates the use of a spear thrower, or woomera, with a spear about to be thrown - these increased the distance, accuracy and penetration of spears but were only used in some parts of Australia; the woomera and spearhead were made in a similar way, with the maker using his jaws as a vice, straightening the wood between his teeth before hardening it over a fire; tree resin was heated and used to hold the pegs or spearhead in place, with sinew or two-ply twine added for strength; the spear shaft was probably made from a grass-tree stem.
  • It shows two emus (‘Dromaius novaehollandiae’) - emus reach 1.5-2 m in height and weigh up to 60 kg, with the male slightly smaller than the female; these nomadic birds follow rain, feeding on grains, flowers, fruit, soft shoots, insects and grubs; they are able to travel great distances at a fast trot and can sprint at 50 km per hour; hunting techniques would need to take this into account.
  • It shows both men wearing loincloths - prior to British contact, people on the north coast of New South Wales wore only ornamental bands and hair or animal fur belts, adding possum or flying-fox skins in the winter; it is likely that the artist added the white material so viewers of his work would not be offended.
  • It demonstrates the use of European conventions to depict the Australian landscape - the painting has elements of Neoclassicism in its formal, carefully balanced composition; it also displays elements of Romanticism in the artist's choice of exotic subject matter; the simple, stiff figures and simplistic choice of colours are characteristic of the naive style of painting.
  • It is part of a bound album of 20 watercolours, painted before 1828 by Englishman Joseph Lycett, and bought by the National Library of Australia at Sotheby's, London, in 1972 for £9,500 - the album's title page 'Drawings of the natives and scenery of Van Diemen's Land 1830' is partly incorrect as all the watercolours with identifiable locations are 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 - although four of the watercolours appear to be at least partly copied from other works, he did have some contact with Indigenous Australians as there is a record of him being wounded in an attack before he returned to England in 1822.

Other details

  • Author
  • Person: Joseph Lycett
  • Description: Author
  • Contributor
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Description: Content provider
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  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Person: Joseph Lycett
  • Description: Author
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
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  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
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  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements