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Inkwell - 'Abo' Brand, Mulga Wood, 1930s Object Reg. No: HT 28135

Oblong shaped piece of mulga wood with the centre cut out for an inkwell.The Mulga wood 'Abo' brand was patented by Albert J. Wiley of Adelaide in 1932. A.J. Wiley had owned a woodturning business in Adelaide at least since 1902. By the 1930s Wiley had become a specialist in mulga wood ornaments. Wiley inspired Fred Eaton, camp missionary at Nepabunna, to install lathes at the mission in order to teach the Aboriginal people under his care woodturning in 1938.
Oblong shaped piece of mulga wood with the bark left on the top side side. The centre has been carved out and there is a plastic insert for the inkwell. On one side there are two metal hooks upon which a pen would rest. On the reverse is stamped in gold the maker's mark of a map of Australia, missing Tasmania and the face of a bearded Aboriginal man.
Statement Of Significance:
The historical significance of this ink well is in its brand name which uses the racial slur 'Abo', combining it with an Aboriginal man's head and outline map of Australia as a trademark. Mulga wood, an Australian acacia, was used by Aboriginal people to make boomerangs, spear points and shields. In the early twentieth century the wood became a popular timber for ornaments and souvenirs, such as this cribbage board. The way this particular piece was branded shows an awareness of a new Australian identity after Federation while exploiting Aboriginal imagery and and legitimising a common racial slur.

The use of images of Aboriginal people and the word 'Abo' has reappeared in a contemporary context with Tourism NT, a Northern Territory government agency who had paid for a sponsored Google link to this slur on the internet until it was removed on May 12, 2010. This object forms part of a small collection of objects which demonstrate the various ways Indigenous imagery, designs and materials have been referenced, appropriated and even exploited to produce popular consumer products which at times are branded in inappropriate and even offensive ways.
Discipline: History
Dimensions: 50 mm (Height), 196 mm (Width)

More information

Tagged with: aboriginal depictions, woodturning industry, office equipment, racism, cultural stereotypes
Themes this item is part of: Cultural Diversity Collection, Objects & Cultural Stereotypes in Museum Victoria Collections, Advertising, Branding & Cultural Stereotypes in Museum Victoria Collections
Primary Classification: ART & CRAFT
Secondary Classification: Woodworking
Tertiary Classification: turning work
Inscriptions: Reverse: maker's mark: Mulga wood Abo brand
Maker: Mr Albert Wiley, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia, 1930s
South Australia, Report of the Chief Protector of Aborigines for the year ended 30th June, 1938, p.2;dvs=1271306650611~227

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