Although not formally initiated, Beruk nevertheless retained clear memories and profound understanding of Woiwurrung traditions. He was the son of Bebejern and the great-nephew of Billiberi, both significant Wurundjeri elders, and in later life he became a primary informant of the pioneering anthropologists Alfred Howlitt and Lorimer Fison. While he painted a number of landscapes and hunting and fighting scenes, the vast majority of Beruk’s 50-odd extant watercolours represent aspects of ceremony. Recurrent features include lines of dancers in the familiar ‘shake-a-leg’ stance, with their bodies decorated in clan designs, wearing branjeps (pubic aprons) and lyre-bird-feather headdresses, and carrying waddies and boomerangs. These dynamic figures – the twisted torso of the third figure in the second row is typically well-observed (as much as it is schematic) – are often contrasted with and complimented by hieratic rows of standing men and seated women beating time to the corroboree song. Between these two groups are two firepits, and at the feet of the standing cloaked figure with clapsticks what looks like a hurricane lantern.

In his art as in his life, Beruk represents the meeting of Indigenous and British cultures. Here, as in the work of Aboriginal artists and craftsmen in other parts of Asutralia, he has extended the traditional local palette – charcoal black, pipeclay white and red and yellow ochre – by incorporating settler materials: both bodies and blankets are highlighted with Rickett’s Landry Blue.


  • Title: Ceremony
  • Creator: Beruk (William Barak)
  • Date Created: 1880/1890
  • Rights: Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria
  • Medium: Brown ochre and charcoal on cardbaord

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