Nannultera was born into a culture suffering inexorable pressure from land-hungry colonists. By 1838, Governor Gawler was voicing what many colonists believed was the only hope for survival left to the Indigenous people. ‘We wish to make you happy’, he proclaimed. ‘But you cannot be happy unless you imitate good white men. Build huts, wear clothes, work and be useful. Above all … love God.’1
Archdeacon Mathew Hale sought to create the conditions for this ‘happiness’, establishing the Aboriginal Mission Institution of Poonindie near Port Lincoln in 1850. Cricket was introduced at the mission as a healthy recreation and useful part of the ‘civilising’ process. The Poonindie cricketers were considered the best in the district. On occasion they played in Adelaide and it is most likely on one of these visits in 1854 that Nannultera sat for his portrait.
Crossland accepted an uncharacteristically small fee for this work and its companion portrait of Samuel Conwillan, a lay preacher at Poonindie. He had exhibited at the Royal Academy and the Society of British Artists in London before migrating to South Australia in 1851, becoming society portraitist to eminent South Australians.
His Poonindie portraits are amongst the earliest depictions of Indigenous Australians appearing fully Europeanised and were commissioned by Hale in an attempt to show that colonisation had benefited the Indigenous population.
The portraits accompanied Hale back to England, where he died in 1895. That year government indifference and the greed of surrounding pastoralists saw the mission closed, its lands reallocated, and its inmates dispossessed once again.
Michelle Hetherington 2002
1 South Australian Gazette & Colonial Register, 3 November 1838, p.4.
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