Emu feather skirt


British Museum

British Museum

The emu is a large flightless bird, very common in Australia. In south-eastern Australia, Aboriginal people used resources from the natural world to make beautiful items of clothing, such as decorated possum-skin cloaks and skirts made from emu feathers. The skirts were made of many bundles of emu feathers tied together and then fastened onto a vegetable fibre string belt. Some were also decorated with red ochre. The skirts were worn by Aboriginal girls and women.

This skirt dates from the 1840s. In 1863 skirts like this were sent by Aboriginal people living at Coranderrk near Melbourne as gifts to Queen Victoria upon the occasion of the marriage of the Princess of Wales, along with other gifts for members of the Royal Family. Such diplomatic gestures were a way of drawing attention to their demands for land and desire for compensation for dispossession.

The British Museum acknowledges contemporary cultural perspectives associated with the objects in its collection. Please note: cultural rights may apply to this object.

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  • Title: Emu feather skirt
  • Date Created: 1800/1850
  • Physical Dimensions: Width: 129.00cm (+ 2 ties 43 cm & 38cm long); Height: 40.00cm ((max))
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Registration number: Oc1981,Q.1757
  • Place: Found/Acquired Victoria
  • Material: emu feather; fibre
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Collected by Robinson, George Augustus. Previous owner/ex-collection Davis, Joseph Barnard. Donated by Franks, Augustus Wollaston