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National Museum acquires rare drawings of remarkable stories

23 April 2012

The National Museum of Australia has acquired two pen and ink drawings of a significant moment in Australian history drawn by an Aboriginal artist of the nineteenth century.

“Buckley’s Escape’, drawn by the Aboriginal artist Tommy McRae (c.1835 – 1901) re-creates the scene in Victoria when a convict, William Buckley – ‘the wild white man’ , escaped and spent the next thirty-two years living with Aboriginal people before returning to European colonial life.

Tommy McRae lived in the Upper Murray, Victoria where he made and sold books of drawings, he is one of only a few Aboriginal artists who depicted life in 19th century Australia.

“William Buckley’s story is one of the great Australian stories from the period of early European colonization and contact. What is significant about Tommy McRae’s drawing is his treatment of William Buckley’s story from an Aboriginal perspective. The work contrasts with the way European artists tell Buckley’s story.  For them the climatic point was the end of his three decades with Aboriginal people; for McRae it was the moment of Buckley’s entry into the Aboriginal world,” said Andrew Sayers, Director of the National Museum of Australia.

The National Museum of Australia paid $79,300 for ‘Buckley’s Escape including auction house commission and GST and $24,400 for another of McRae’s drawings, ‘Murray Tribal Warfare’, which shows Aboriginal people fighting in northern Victoria.

Both of the McRae drawings were held by the same NSW family since they were bought directly from Tommy McRae in the 1890s.

The National Historic Collection, which is held by the National Museum of Australia, includes another sketchbook by Tommy McRae, which was acquired in 1986, as well as other works by 19th century Aboriginal artists including William Barak and the pen and ink drawings by the artist known only as Oscar of Cooktown.

For interviews, images and more information please contact Dennis Grant on 02 6208 5351, 0409 916 481; Caroline Vero on 02 6208 5338, 0438 620 710 or media@nma.gov.au