Image Indigenous Australians gathering seafood, c1817

TLF ID R4026

This is a 17.7 cm x 28 cm watercolour of Indigenous Australian people and their canoes on the New South Wales north coast. In the foreground three people are spearing fish, while one sits on the rocks watching an underwater swimmer and a person diving off the rocks. Another person walks from the water carrying two crayfish, heading in the direction of eight adults (one carrying a baby) and a child all gathered around a fire on the beach. To the right of the picture, in the middle distance, a man can be seen drinking from a small waterfall and, to the left, two people walk towards the main group. Other people stand on the top of cliffs overlooking the beach. Two bark canoes can be seen, one in the centre of the picture and one to the far right.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset is a rare portrayal of the daily activities of Indigenous people in the early colonial period - other British and European artists of the time usually made portraits of individual Indigenous people; the painting shows Indigenous Australian people on the New South Wales north coast engaged in a variety of activities including cooking, fishing and diving to catch crayfish.
  • It shows men using fishing spears, probably made from the flowering stems of grass trees, each with four 30-cm-long prongs made from bone, stingray spines, shell, fish teeth or hardwood - the parts were bound together with two-ply twine or unplied plant fibre and coated with heated resin; fishing spears were up to 6 m long.
  • It depicts bark canoes used by the coastal people for fishing and transportation along rivers - to make a canoe, people used stone axes to prise a large sheet of bark from a eucalypt tree, then they tied the sheet at each end and inserted horizontal sticks to hold the bark open and in place; a clay hearth was made in the centre of the boat so fish could be cooked as they were caught.
  • It reflects the consequences of British settlement on the Indigenous population of the area, with only one child and one baby pictured; high death rates, mainly through killings and disease, and low birth rates drastically reduced the original population.
  • It indicates the variety of fishing methods employed by Indigenous Australians - the image shows people diving for crayfish (and possibly shellfish) and spearing scale fish; one man is lying prone on the edge of a rock shelf to gain a better view of his target; the canoes suggest that Indigenous Australians also travelled into the open ocean on fishing ventures.
  • 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
  • URL:
  • 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
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
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Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements