Warning: This website contains names and images of deceased Aboriginal people.
For Indigenous people today, breastplates have mixed meanings. While they are rare evidence of named individuals links to places across Australia, they are also linked to the dispossession of their land.
Read curator David Kaus's overview on breastplates in the Museum's collection — one of few cross-cultural objects from colonial Australia to survive into the 21st century in any number.Read the overview
In the early days of colonial Australia the governors and the land holders saw advantage in singling out certain Aboriginal people as leaders and distinguishing them in some way, to ensure their cooperation in the Europeans’ efforts to open up the land. A type of military gorget was chosen as a suitable badge of office.
In Australia these became known as ‘king’, ‘brass’ or ‘breastplates’. They were presented not only to perceived ‘chiefs’ but to faithful servants and to the specially courageous — to many of the people, in fact, who helped in some way to ease the white people’s progress in the new land. They were presented from the earliest times through to the first decades of the 20th century.
Jakelin Troy’s book titled King Plates: A History of Aboriginal Gorgets provides encouragement for scholars to engage in research in an area that has had little attention, and to Aboriginal people seeking information about their forebears.
Learn more about Aboriginal breastplates