‘Bungaree’s Club’
Donated by Robert Francis Wilkins in 1900
Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford UK

Keith Vincent Smith 2018

Trading in Aboriginal implements with ships’ crews visiting Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) seems to have been a sideline for Bungaree, the Broken Bay leader. In 1820 he supplied [the Russian] Captain Bellingshausen with a set of weapons, but four years later he failed to fulfil a commission given him by [the French] Jules Dumont d’Urville to obtain a returning boomerang.

A fighting club now in the Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford is said to have been used by Bungaree in ‘the war between the Tribes Liverpool and those of Five-Dock in about 1823. Those places are now suburbs of Sydney New South Wales.

There is no record of any ritual battle or hostilities at that time between the Sydney ‘tribes’ mentioned, but it is known that ‘about 100 less natives than usual’ (normally about 300) attended the annual Native Conference at Parramatta on 29 December 1823.
[Sydney Gazette, 29 December 1823, page 2]

In contrast, about 400 Aborigines were at Parramatta the following year.
[Voyages and travels round the world : by the Rev. Daniel Tyerman and George Bennett, Esq … between the years 1821 and 1829, London Missionary Society, 2nd ed.1841, page 178]

A similar fall-off in attendance was evident in 1826 when the Liverpool and Illawarra [South Coast of NSW] Aborigines were involved in a ‘war’ with the Cow Pastures  [Camden] ‘tribe’.
[Sydney Gazette 30 December 1836, page 2]

The club is supposed to have been given by Bungaree to ‘Mr Smith an assigned servant to Mr Kenyon of Smithfield’. The club was donated to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1900 by RF Wilkins as part of the Norman Hardy Collection.

Very little is known about Norman Hardy, but he appears to have obtained much of his collection from Harry Stockdale, an artist, explorer and pioneer ethnologist who made many drawings of Aboriginal weapons, utensils and decorations. Some are included with Stockdale’s unpublished essays on Aboriginal weapons, ceremonies, mysteries and folk stories now in the Mitchell Library, Sydney.

Stockdale’s article ‘On the Origin and Antiquity of the Boomerang’ appeared in Town and Country Journal, Sydney, on 12 June 1897.

During and after his travels in north-western Western Australia in 1844-46, Stockdale collected thousands of Aboriginal implements. While living in Sydney at the turn of the twentieth century, he sold scores of weapons in small lots to the Australian Museum in Sydney. These replaced the Museum’s collection of early Aboriginal artefacts which were destroyed in the fire which swept through Sydney’ Garden Palace exhibition building in 1882.

Bungaree’s club resembles many fighting clubs and waddies of a later date collected by Stockdale in northern Australia. Documents in the acquisition files at the Australian Museum show that Stockdale acquired a few weapons from the Sydney area, including ‘a very old shield’ from Windsor, north-west of Sydney.
[Australia Museum Acquisition papers, 5 August 1897

[Adapted from ‘Bungaree’s Club’, in Keith Vincent Smith, King Bungaree, Kangaroo Press, Kenthurst, NSW, 1992]


‘Bungaree’s Club’ was displayed in the exhibition Flesh+Blood: A Sydney Story 1788-1998, curated by Anthony ‘Ace’ Bourke at the Museum of Sydney in 1998. I was fortunate to meet Ace there in December that year. We went on together to curate the exhibition EORA: Mapping Aboriginal Sydney, 1770-1850 at the State Library of New South Wales in 2006.

As well as circumnavigating Australia with Matthew Flinders, Bungaree travelled with Ace’s great-great-great uncle Phillip Parker King on his first voyage mapping the north-west coast of Australia.

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2018


Nouvelle-Hollande: Nelle Gallles du Sud
Bedgi-Bedgi [Bidgee Bidgee]
Barthelmy Roger (1767-1841) after Nicolas-Martin Petit (1777-1804)
Hand-coloured engraving. Plate 22, Atlas in Péron & Freycinet, Voyage de découvertes aux terres australes … Paris [2nd ed. 1824].

Keith Vincent Smith

Sydney’s coastal inhabitants, who called themselves Eora, meaning ‘people’, had little need for clothing. They wore bands around their arms, wrists and waists, nose-bones and ornaments in their hair and ‘painted up’ their bodies for ceremonies with ochre and white pipeclay.

However, both women and men liked to wrap necklaces made from cut segments of reeds threaded on cord around their necks. The common reed (Phragmites australis) grows widely in clumps in saline, swampy places throughout Australia and in other parts of the world.

Such a necklace is clearly seen in Nicolas-Martin Petit’s portrait of ‘Begi-Begi’, better know to the British colonists as Bidgee Bidgee, a young man from the Burramattagal who was later created a ‘chief’ by Governor Lachlan Macquarie. The engraving is based on sketches Petit made during a five months stay in Port Jackson by the French expedition led by Nicolas Baudin in 1802.

Necklace of reed segments.
Gift of M. Lesueur
Museum of Le Havre

This might be Bidgee Bidgee’s necklace –  or perhaps it belonged to another Indigenous person from the Sydney area. Either way, it’s a miracle that it has survived intact for more than 200 years.

In 2005 a curator at Le Havre Museum found this reed necklace on a shelf.
It had previously been hidden away at the bottom of a crate in a glass cabinet for about 40 years. The donor’s name,  cited on a very old handwritten label, was revealed as ‘M. Lesueur’. This was Charles Alexandre Lesueur, Petit’s fellow artist on the expedition. Both men, who were first taken on the French ships as assistant gunners,  were close friends and often worked together.

Petit, aged 25 when in Sydney, died in 1804, not long after returning to France and his art works were dispersed. Many of them went to the naturalist François Péron, who wrote a book concerning the expedition, and some to Lesueur who donated them to the Le Havre Museum on his death in 1846.

The Museum of Le Havre was burnt and 80 per cent of the buildings in the city were destroyed when it was bombed, not by German planes, but in air-raids by 992 British aircraft on 5 September 1944. Some 5000 people were killed and 80,000 made homeless. Nothing was left except ashes and rubble.

Fortunately, as the Germans began to occupy France, the director of the Le Havre Museum selected 100 objects which were hidden and recovered after the end of the Second World War in 1945. The Eora necklace must have been among them.

Bidgee Bidgee probably attended the annual Native Feast at Parramatta on the 28 December 1824. The travelling missionaries George Bennett and Daniel Tyerman, who were present in the market place that day, wrote, in Voyages and Travels around the World (2nd ed. London 1841, page 276):

Most of them [Aboriginal people] were partially clothed, — some having skins of kangaroos or opossums, and some rags of European dresses, sufficient to hide their nakedness. The principal ornaments worn by the men were necklaces, composed of small joints of a reed strung together. The dangling locks of the women were tagged all round with kangaroo’s teeth; they had also necklaces of the same.

‘Necklace worn by the females’
Fibre cord necklace made of reed pieces, Port Jackson, New S. Wales c1860s
Oc. 1892, British Museum, London

A very similar necklace, said to be ‘worn by the [Aboriginal] females’ also seems to be made with dried reed segments. It was acquired in England by the British Museum sometime in the 1860s. Oc.1892 represents its number, not the date it came into their possession.

The necklace was presented to the B.M. by a collector called Henry Christy, an anthropologist and one of the founders of the Aboriginal Protection Society in Britain. Christy died in 1865, when much of his enormous collection of antiquities went to the British Museum.

A very good example of  a reed necklace worn by a ‘female’  is seen in the watercolour portrait of a pretty young Aboriginal woman titled ‘DIRR-A-GOA, painted in the Sydney area by the convict artist Thomas Watling (Watling drawing – no.35). Because it is copyright it cannot be shown here, but you can see her online in the First Fleet collection of the Natural History Museum in London at http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/art-nature-imaging/collections/first-fleet/art collection/ethnography.dsml?sa=2&lastDisp=list&notes=true&beginIndex=30

When asked her name by the artist the young woman has replied ‘Dirragoa’, referring to the reed necklace around her neck. In 1901 Mrs. Emma Timbery, known at La Perouse as ‘Queen Emma’, told the linguist RH Mathews that Dyirriguru (dirragoa) meant ‘Reeds – cut into beads’ in the Dharawal language spoken south of Botany Bay.

‘Dirragoa’ wears a fur tassel apron or barrin, a reed necklace and kangaroo teeth around her headband. She fits the description of Patyegarang or Badyegaráng (Grey Kangaroo), aged about fifteen, the principal language informant and close companion of Marine Captain William Dawes, who wrote her names as Tagaran Tuba Kanmangnal Patyegarang and often called her Patye. The little finger of her left hand is cut as a sign that she is promised in marriage, a practice the Eora  called malgun.

In an exchange with William Dawes (SOAS London, Notebook B 1791:34), Patyegarang speaks of ‘kamarigals’ (the North Harbour Gamaragal) interchangeably with eora (people) and ‘black men’. This suggests that she was a Gamaragaliang (woman of the Gamara clan).

Telopea speciosissima [Waratah]
John William Lewin (1770-1819)
PXC 304
Botanical sketches of Australian plants, 1803-1806
State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

This beautiful waratah, the floral emblem of the state of New South Wales, Australia, was painted by the English artist, natural history and botanical painter John William Lewin, who arrived in Sydney in January 1800. It features in the vividly illustrated book Mr JW Lewin: Painter & Naturalist, by Mitchell Librarian Richard Neville, published by NewSouth Publishing, Sydney in 2012.

Aboriginal people also used the stalk of the waratah (Telopea species) to make their necklaces. In 1791, a surgeon aboard the ship Britannia, whose identity is unknown, wrote in his log, now in the Dixson Library at the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney (DL MS Q36) :

Some of them adorn themselves with Beads made in the following Manner—They pull up the Stalk of the Warrataa Plant one of the most beautiful in the Country, and with a small Sharp Bone cut it into circular pieces, after which they reeve a string thro’ them and tye them about their Necks—

R.E. de Bertrodano, a scholar at London University, visited Bundjalung people at Yulgilbar on the Clarence River in 1864. His typed manuscript, ‘Description of an Aboriginal tribe’ was studied and edited by anthropologist Isabel McBryde in Records of time past: ethnohistorical essays on the culture and ecology of the New England tribes, published by The Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra, 1978 (page 220). Bertrodano wrote about the necklaces worn by Bundjalung women or gins:

Decorated with the “Kalgree Piv,” or necklace of rushes cut into little tubes of different sizes, and thrown gracefully round their necks in three or four circles—gins are considered either affianced, or actually married; in fact, when only children, and scarce off their mother’s back, they are often betrothed to some other child of a favourite friend.

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2020