Summary

This is a typical example of the distinctive kidney-shaped shields from the rainforest area of north Queensland made from the buttress roots of native fig trees. The colours and complex abstract patterns are totemic designs associated with marine life, animals, birds, insects, leaf patterns or astronomical observations. These shields were usually painted by two men working from either end and, depending on the detail required, pigments were applied with a stick frayed at the ends to form a brush or those made from hair or with the fingers. Pigments were ground into a powder with a pestle-type stone and mixed with a binding fluid. Each of the four language groups of the rainforest region had their own specific design elements - those around Tully generally used stripes and in the Cardwell region diamond patterns dominated. These groups also traded, and according to Walter Edmond Roth, the Chief Protector for Aborigines in Queensland, shields were part of a 'southern foreign trade' from the Mulgrave River.

These shields were valuable trade objects and old shields that had been successfully used many times were particularly sought after by settlers and private collectors, as well as botanists, ornithologists, ethnographers and photographers who ventured into this northern frontier. From the 1870s the remote valleys behind Tully, Cairns and Mossman became a prime focus of mining and other ventures and in this and the following decade shields were collected in huge numbers. However by the turn of the twentieth century both this and the indigenous trade network, which Roth noted was unlike that of 'the old days', was almost at an end.

Physical Description

An assymetrical kidney-shaped shield made of single piece of softwood painted with natural pigments. The outer surface is painted red ochre and decorated with abstract geometric patterning outlined in black and infilled with white and yellow. The handle is carved into the reverse side and at the same point on the outer surface is a raised rectangular section.

Local Name

Pi-kan or Balan bigin

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