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Image Indigenous Australians using fire to hunt kangaroos, c1817

TLF ID R4029

This is a watercolour, measuring 17.5 cm x 27.8 cm, created by Joseph Lycett in about 1817. It depicts Indigenous Australians using fire to flush out kangaroos in order to hunt them. One man is ready to throw a spear using a woomera (spear thrower) and another has his arm raised to throw a boomerang. In the background, several small groups of men holding weapons surround the fired area. Some men prepare to throw their weapons while others wait, either standing or sitting. Smoke billows out from the bushland and three kangaroos are fleeing across the grassy hills.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset illustrates the practice of setting fire to the land during hunting - Indigenous people used fires, dogs, shouting and beating sticks together to frighten animals towards waiting hunters; such hunts were usually held when several groups of people met for ceremonial purposes; as burning understorey and grasslands promotes new growth and attracts other grass-eating animals to the area, burns occurred in a patchwork pattern over a number of years.
  • It demonstrates the use of spears, spear throwers (woomeras) and boomerangs in the hunting of kangaroos - spears were often made from the flowering stems of grass-trees; a hardwood spearhead was attached to the spear with resin and fibre; woomeras, used in some parts of Australia only, gave the throwers' spears increased distance, accuracy and penetration; hunting boomerangs were heavier than returning boomerangs and probably developed over time as a modification of the throwing stick.
  • It depicts the men in the foreground wearing white loincloths - prior to British contact, 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 people 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 of 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 - although four of the watercolours in the album appear to be at least partly copied from other works, Lycett 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:
Access profile
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Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements