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Aboriginal breastplates

WARNING: Visitors should be aware that this website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause sadness or distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Portrait of Bungaree, c1826, by Augustus Earle.
Portrait of Bungaree, a native of New South Wales, c1826, by Augustus Earle, oil on canvas, 68.5 x 50.5cm, courtesy the Rex Nan Kivell collection, National Library of Australia, NK1118.

A history of Aboriginal breastplates

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, so as 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: it had already been used in North America for the same purpose.

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 twentieth century.

Jakelin Troy's book titled King Plates: A History of Aboriginal Gorgets provides not only encouragement to scholars to engage in research in an area that has had little attention, but to Aboriginal people seeking information about their forebears.

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