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This web feature is the first of its kind for the National Museum of Australia. In 1993 the Museum co-published, with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), Jakelin Troy's book on Aboriginal breastplates titled King Plates: A History of Aboriginal Gorgets. The book is now out of print, nonetheless the Museum's collection of, and knowledge about, such breastplates has continued to grow.

In order to provide this information to the widest audience possible, the Museum has decided to republish the updated book as a new website called 'Aboriginal Breastplates'. The 2009 website version comprises the 1993 book with minor revisions, plus additional objects and information based upon the Museum's growing collection and research.

What's changed?

The decision to publish online created challenges and opportunities. One of the challenges side was the need to retype the entire volume - 16 years is a very long time for computers and the original digital files used formats and required hardware that is now obsolete.

There were also editorial challenges:

  • Terminology: Jakelin Troy chose to use the terms 'king plates' or 'gorgets', whereas the National Museum prefers the term 'breastplates'. The Museum opted for compromise: where Troy's text remains true to the original, new content uses the Museum's preferred terminology.
  • Physical descriptions of breastplates: Troy chose to use the heraldic convention of assigning left and right from the point of view of a breastplate wearer (see the section 'Explanation of terms' for a diagram explaining this). The Museum assigns left and right from the point of view of an onlooker. To avoid confusion we have edited Troy's text to conform to the Museum's convention.

The website serves as a living, and growing, resource:

  • Links: the website links with other online material, particularly the breastplate collections of other cultural institutions as collections, both in Australia and overseas, are digitised.
  • Building knowledge: the website is continually improving as the Museum discovers individuals and organisations who can contribute to the growing body of knowledge on Aboriginal breastplates.
  • Extending the catalogue: this digital version also affords us the opportunity to upgrade the catalogue of breastplates as the National Museum continues to improve its collection.

Content of Aboriginal Breastplates by source

  • Preface – new in 2009, Michael Pickering
  • Foreword – 1993, Margaret Coaldrake, Director, National Museum of Australia
  • Introduction – includes the original 1993 introduction by author Jakelin Troy plus a new 2009 introduction by David Kaus, curator at the National Museum of Australia
  • Acknowledgements – 1993 and 2009
  • Chapters: History of king plates to Epilogue – 1993
  • List of breastplates by state – 1993 with updates from 2009 onwards
  • Other Aboriginal breastplates - 1993
  • Bibliography – 1993 and 2009
  • Resources – 2009
  • Feedback – 2009


We hope that Aboriginal Breastplates will prove to be a valuable resource and that you will help us to improve it. We welcome your suggestions, comments, images, annotations and corrections.


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