NORTHEAST QUEENSLAND, late 19th – early 20th century

Important Aboriginal Works of Art
25 May 2016


NORTHEAST QUEENSLAND, late 19th – early 20th century

carved from the buttress root of a tropical fig tree, of elongated ovoid form, the front with raised boss and decorated with traditional designs in red, brown and white pigments

81.0 cm length

bears inscription verso: WG Frampton
bears inscription on label verso: Shield made by natives of North Queensland

$35,000 – 45,000
Sold for $39,040 (inc. BP) in Auction 43 - 25 May 2016, Melbourne

Executed in the Cape York region of Far North Queensland
Private collection, New York
Sotheby’s, Melbourne, 31 October 2006, lot 64
Private collection, New South Wales

Catalogue text

The present distinctive kidney-shaped shields were traditionally made by the Yidinyji clans in the area around Cairns and the hinterland of the Atherton Tablelands on the north-eastern coast of Cape York Peninsula, Queensland. Fashioned from the buttress roots of the native fig tree, the shields feature a central boss for strength with a raised handle on the reverse. As part of a man’s weaponry, such shields may also be accompanied by large, man-sized wooden swords, often painted in similar designs – the shape of the shields, rounded on one side and straight on the other, thus allowing the holder to wield the sword freely.

The shields are usually painted in natural pigments and ash by two male elders, simultaneously working from opposite ends in initiation rituals using lawyer can brushes. Designs, such as the one featured on this shield, are quasi-symmetrical and depict a range of totemic flora and fauna; the constellations; atmospheric phenomena like rainbows, and hand-made objects of material culture, including bark water-bags, axe heads and boomerangs.

Shields bearing similar designs may be found in the collections of the Queensland Museum, Brisbane; the Australian Museum, Sydney; and the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.