Colonial jewellery and objects were often descriptive of the ‘exotic’ Australian environment, so utterly different from Europe. Specific regional imagery developed as the colonists searched for a personal and collective identity in their unfamiliar situation. Successful miners fashioned locally prospected gold into brooches in the form of miniature tools, as souvenirs or gifts for loved ones. They used Australian flora and fauna as motifs and sometimes carved emu eggs, combining them with elaborate silver mounts to form inkwells or even teapots – objects that epitomised the European way of life yet were also presentations of native exotica. Tiny gold emus and kangaroos, such as are in this brooch, had a similar iconic function, suggesting not only that it was possible to control the overwhelmingly strange environment, but also importantly demonstrating to those in Europe the existence of such remarkable flora and fauna.
Colonial goldsmiths were almost all European trained and the objects they produced derived from ‘old world’ models, reinterpreted to incorporate the new environment. The great European curiosity about Australia was an additional commercial incentive, for the work sent back was highly desirable and proved an effective way of adding value to the exported raw materials.
This gold brooch was made by Thomas Wright for his wife, Emma (née Wollard), probably as a wedding present. It was a treasured object, kept in the family until presented to the National Gallery by their grand-daughter, 130 years later.
Eugenie Keefer Bell 2002
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002