‘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 Some are included with Stockdale’s unpublished essays on Aboriginal weapons, ceremonies, mysteries and folk stories now in the Mitchell Library, Sydney.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