Rutherglen Corroboree

Tommy McRae1899

Museums Victoria

Museums Victoria

This pen and ink sketch is by the nineteenth century Aboriginal artist, Tommy McRae from southeastern Austalia. It is a fine example ofhis distinctive pen and ink drawings of silhouetted dancing corroboree figures, each sketched with their own distinctive clan markings. Images of corroborees and fighting scenes as well as hunting forays on tribal lands in years gone became McRae's trademark. Corroborees were a very common theme for McRae in his work. Little attention is given to the surroundings and this serves to highlight the figures and body decorations. The dancers are placed from edge to edge and clan affiliations are marked on each individual. The use of red ink provides contrast and accentuates the designs. Each man is portrayed with a distinctive pointed beard and is wearing a tasselled pubic cover. A shield and club is held aloft in the left hand while each also holds two spears upright in the right hand. They also stand astride of one another and knees are bent to give a sense of performance and movement. McRae began painting in the 1860s and much of his subject matter is drawn from memory or oral tradition in Australia's southeastern regions. He mainly used black ink, but worked at times with red, blue and purple. McRae typically drew the ground first and then worked on the figures from the feet upwards. Individual designs on dancers or others depicted in their portrayals of ceremonies linked each participant to a specific clan or totemic affiliation.

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  • Title: Rutherglen Corroboree
  • Date Created: 1899
  • Physical Dimensions: w335 x h270 mm
  • Type: Object
  • Rights: Copyright expired. Source: Museum Victoria. Indigenous or Cultural Rights Apply, Copyright expired: Source Museum Victoria / Artist Tommy McRae. Indigenous or Cultural Rights apply
  • External Link: Museum Victoria
  • Medium: Pen and ink on paper
  • Subject: Aboriginal peoples (Australians), Aboriginal art
  • Artist Information: Tommy McRae, Kwat Kwat clan, Wahgunyah district, northeast Victoria. Tommy McRae was variously known as Tommy McRae or Barnes, Yakaduna and Chief of the Wahgunyah tribe whose country is found along the upper reaches of the Murray River in southeastern Australia. Kwat Kwat was a dialect spoken by nine clans whose adjoining territories ran along the northeast region of the Murray River to within 20 miles of the junction with the Goulburn River. McRae’s clan was associated with the area around Waygunyah and remained there for most of his life until his death. The displacement of these clans from their lands had occurred with the incursions of squatters and settlers, and by the 1830s, the ‘Oven’s Tribe’ (referring to the Ovens River) was the name given by Europeans to the confederation of remaining clan members who mostly camped around Wangaratta and at Waygunyah. McRae was a prolific and much sought after artist in the late 19th century able to sell drawings for cash and commissions. He was perhaps the first Aboriginal artist in Australia to have works published under this name, with a selection from the museum and the State Library of Victoria included in the catalogue for the ‘Primitive Art’ exhibition hosted by the then National Museum of Victoria (now Museum Victoria) in 1929. McRae produced sketches on a single sheet and also completed whole sketch books. A good proportion of McRae’s works have titles, however it is not clear if he has assigned these to his works. The distinctive pen and ink drawings of silhouetted dancing corroboree figures, each sketched with their own distinctive clan markings, as well as fighting scenes and hunting forays on tribal lands in years gone by were McRae’s trade mark. McRae began painting in the 1860s and much of the subject matter for his works were drawn from memory or oral tradition. McRae began by drawing the ground and then worked the figures upwards. Using mostly black commercial ink and at times working with red, blue and purple, McRae’s repertoire includes detailed sketches of the sailing vessels that he saw as a young man when he worked on cattle drives to the markets in Melbourne. The three masted sailing ship the ‘Calcutta’ in fact features in his sketches. This vessel was the one that the convict William Buckley escaped from in 1803, some twenty years before McRae was born. Buckley and his life with the Wathaurong people of the Geelong region is a theme of many of McRae drawings. Much of his McRae’s art provided a social comment on the lives of the settlers, and remains a unique record of an era that wrought the greatest changes to the lives of Aboriginal people in Victoria from an indigenous perspective. McRae’s visual account of the life of settlers and squatters famously include a sense of parody in their portrayal as 'gentlemen' and more particularly the inclusion of Aboriginal 'gentlemen'. Chinese immigrants seeking their fortunes on the gold fields in the 1850s were also popular subjects.
  • Artist: Tommy McRae