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Image Simon, Indigenous Australian from Victoria, c1858

TLF ID R4660

This is a hand-coloured photographic print of an Indigenous Australian from Victoria, taken in about 1858. Measuring 24 cm x 19 cm, it is entitled 'SIMON. An Australian Aborigine of the Yarra Yarra tribe which opposed the landing of Batman 1835'. The man is pictured with a spear in one hand and a wooden club in the other. He is wearing a traditional possum-skin cloak.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset shows a member of the 'Yarra Yarra tribe' - this name is an early reference to the Wurundjeri people, whose land included the site where Melbourne was established in 1835; like all Indigenous Australian groups in the area, Wurundjeri numbers went into rapid decline with the arrival of Europeans, and in 1858 they were said to number just 23, down from 59 a decade earlier, and 124 in 1840.
  • It features 'Simon' of the 'Yarra Yarra tribe' - he was probably Simon Wonga (c1829-75), who became known as the 'chief of the Yarra Yarra tribe'; if the photograph is of Simon Wonga, and it was taken in 1858, he would have been aged about 29.
  • It is a rare early photograph of an Indigenous Australian man from Victoria, wearing a traditional possum-skin cloak and holding weapons - the photograph appears posed, and was probably made in a photographic studio; a possum-skin cloak similar to the one being worn by Simon required the pelts of dozens of possums, sewn together with kangaroo sinew.
  • It depicts an Indigenous Australian man at a time when Indigenous lifestyles were undergoing major changes, with many of the survivors adopting European clothing; Simon Wonga was photographed in 1866 at the Coranderrk Aboriginal station at Healesville, wearing a full suit and cravat; that photograph was for a special exhibition and was probably not his everyday dress.
  • It refers to John Batman (1801-39), one of the 'founders' of the British settlement that became Melbourne - Batman and eight supposed Aboriginal 'chiefs' signed two treaties in 1835 that involved the Indigenous peoples ceding control of much of their land to Batman for an annual rental of blankets, knives and other goods; the validity of the documents was rejected by the Governor of New South Wales, Richard Bourke (1777-1855).
  • It is an example of an item of historic interest that contains historically inaccurate information - contemporary reports say that Indigenous Australians resisted the British takeover of what is now Victoria, and that clashes resulted in deaths on both sides; however, there is no known evidence of Indigenous Australians attempting to prevent Batman from landing; rather, contact between Batman's party and Indigenous Australians was amicable and marked by exchanges of gifts.
  • It shows an Indigenous Australian man who adopted a European name - from the early days of European settlement in what is now Victoria, this was a common practice; in some cases, the colonisers also gave individuals nicknames that would now be considered patronising, such as Harlequin and Jupiter.
  • It is an example of a photograph by George William Perry (c1838-1918) - English-born Perry had portrait rooms on the south-west corner of Elizabeth and Collins streets in Melbourne; his photographs appeared in publications in Victoria from 1855 to the mid-1870s.

Other details

  • 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: George William Perry
  • Description: Author
  • Person: William Gould
  • 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
  • Colour independence
  • Device independence
  • Hearing independence
Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements