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Tommy McRae Collection



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A collection of seven drawings by the 19th century Victorian Aboriginal artist Tommy McRae (c. 1830-1901). Executed in ink and pen on paper, the drawings are characteristic of McRae's distinctive style. Beginning by drawing the ground, McRae worked his silhouetted figures upwards across the paper. The subjects of these works include hunting scenes and ceremonial gatherings as well as contact between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal groups. McRae was known variously as Tommy McCrae, Tommy Barnes, Yackaduna and 'Chief of the Wahgunyah tribe'.

Tommy McRae is a well known Victorian Aboriginal artist. Born in the area of Wahgunyah in northeast Victoria in the 1830s, he lived his life in this region witnessing the rapid reduction of his family's land due to pastoral farming and mining. In his youth, McRae worked as a stockman mainly for the pastoralist John Forde. He established his family at Lake Moodemere and subsisted by growing produce. McRae was well known for selling 'curios' he made and was able to sell his drawings for cash and obtained commissions as well. Recognised during his own lifetime, he was the first Aboriginal artist to be published. McRae's drawings are historically important as a record of traditional Aboriginal life and contact history from an Aboriginal perspective. Common subjects include ceremonies and scenes of hunting and fishing. McRae's artworks also provide insight into Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal relations and he chronicles through his sketches the lives of pastoral settlers in his country with parodies of the gentlemen squatters. He also produced images of Chinese people on the gold fields and from droving trips to Melbourne was able to also sailing ships. The impact of colonisation is further demonstrated by the depiction of Aboriginal people carrying guns. In several other works, McRae adopted a historical perspective and recorded the life of the escaped English convict William Buckley. McRae's drawings focussed on Buckley's integration into Aboriginal life, and thus provide an interesting alternative to illustrations by European artists which concentrated on Buckley's emergence from years living with Indigenous people. McRae's drawing Rutherglen Corroboree 1899 reveals the way in which perceptions of Aboriginal art have changed. In July 1929, a sketch entitled Rutherglen Corroboree 1899 was sent to the National Museum of Victoria with 'Presented by Mrs A. Pattenden 15.7.1929' written in ink on the sketch. The accompanying letter from Mrs Pattenden suggested the Director discard the work if it was of no interest. It is likely that Mrs Pattenden had seen the exhibition Primitive Art displayed earlier that year at the museum. Nearly 70 years later, the sketch and the letter were recovered in the original envelope when the museum's library was being packed for relocation to the site at Carlton Gardens.


1865-1900; Corroborees; Drawings; Ink & pen; Tommy McRae

Coverage Spatial

Waygunyah, Victoria, Australia; Victoria, Australia; Northeast Victoria, Australia; Lake Moodemere, Victoria, Australia

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