Queensland Rainforest Collection
This collection comprises of a significant number of late 19th century objects collected from the rainforest area of northeast Queensland. With over 280 items, the collection contains the distinctive kidney-shaped shields, bicornual baskets and crossed boomerangs, as well as spears, fire utensils, ornaments, traps and wooden clubs. The highlights are the softwood shields, crossed boomerangs and a rare firestick, all painted with the totemic designs for which this region is well known. One very rare object is a blanket made from beaten bark and painted with designs.
This collection comprises of a significant number of late 19th century objects collected from the rainforest area of northeast Queensland around Cairns and the Atherton Tablelands region. With over 280 items, the collection contains the distinctive kidney-shaped shields, bicornual baskets and crossed boomerangs, as well as spears, fire utensils, ornaments, traps and the large wooden swords or clubs. The highlights are the softwood shields, crossed boomerangs and a rare firestick, all painted with the totemic designs for which this region is well known. One very rare object is a blanket made from beaten bark and painted with designs. Significance: The Rainforest Collection attests to the rich diversity of Aboriginal cultural practices. The Indigenous people of the rainforest between Ingham and Cooktown in Queensland belong to four different language groups. They are known for making blankets from beaten bark, bicornual baskets made from lawyer cane, the softwood shields with their distinctive kidney-shape and cross boomerangs. There are many fine examples of these in the collection. The shields are made from the buttress roots of native fig trees, which accounts for their asymmetrical curved appearance. Highly decorative, they are painted with totemic designs associated with local flora and fauna as well as astronomical observations. The colours and complex abstract designs have specific meanings and reflect the close connection with and deep understanding of the rainforest environment. The blankets are made from the inner bark of native fig trees. The bark was cut with a stone axe and stripped from the tree. The thin sheets of inner bark were then peeled off and made pliable by pounding them with a wooden mallet over a smooth tree-root anvil. The bark blanket was then folded into a small bundle to carry inside a dilly bag. One rare example collected on the Tully River around 1928 has been painted with distinctive totemic designs. Crossed boomerangs are made from two equal sized sections of wood set at right angles to each other. They are secured in the centre with strips and form a cross. Like the rainforest shields, they are decorated with yellow, red, white and black natural pigments and are unique to this region. Bicornual or 'two cornered' baskets are also unique to this region. They were crafted by both men and women, and made using the fine strands of the climbing lawyer cane palm. The distinctive shape was achieved using a twining technique. A number of these are painted with natural pigments or ochres. A complex trade network existed across this region and the shields, blankets, boomerangs and baskets were all central to this. They became valuable trade items with European settlers following the opening of mines and other ventures there in the 1870s. Given the large number of rainforest holdings in museums, particularly the distinctive shields and baskets, a thriving artefact market seems to have existed. By the 1880s Aboriginal people were trading their wares at places like Atherton, Babinda, Cardwell, Herbert River, Kuranda, Russell River and Tully River that had depots for the distribution of government rations and blankets to Aboriginal people. This became known to collectors and photographers who appear to have travelled to these locations. The large numbers of historical objects in museums today suggests these were much prized with a steady supply available.
1870-1930; Bark blankets; Bark cloth; Baskets; Bicornual baskets; Boomerangs; Crossed boomerangs; Rainforests; Shields
Kuranda, Queensland, Australia; Cooktown, Queensland, Australia; Cardwell, Queensland, Australia; Atherton, Queensland, Australia; Queensland, Australia; Ingham, Queensland, Australia; Russell River, Queensland, Australia; Tully River, Queensland, Australia; Herbert River, Queensland, Australia; Babinda, Queensland, Australia