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Wurrundi - A Rare Feather Ornament

Gaye Sculthorpe

Crowns Land building 1854

This rare feather ornament was collected by G. A. Robinson, Chief Protector of Aborigines, on 12 May 1841 near Mount Bainbridge in western Victoria. Robinson sketched the man wearing this item and wrote in his diary:

Observed a small bundle of emu feathers tied up very neatly. I asked the owner, Corrermurremin, for what purpose he carried them and was informed for the dance, Corroboree. I requested an exhibition, to which he readily assented. He first divested himself of his raiment, then tied a cord tight around his abdomen and hooked the feather on behind. And then went through a variety of antics which appears to me to resemble some animal, probably the emu, and he made a low bellowing murmuring noise, brandishing at the same time his two native weapons the malk and [blank]. For his readiness in complying with my request and to have a memento of the circumstances, I gave him a blanket for the [blank] or the tail of feathers, for a tail it was intended to represent. He was mightily pleased with the gift.

Robinson was Chief Protector of Aborigines in the Port Phillip District between 1839 and 1849. He collected many items during his travels throughout Victoria. The collection was taken back to England and subsequently dispersed following his death in England in 1866. The historian Philip L. Brown 'discovered' part of this collection with the housekeeper of Robinson's son in Bath in 1939. He purchased the material and later donated the Victorian component, over forty items, to the National Museum of Victoria in 1981-2. The rest of Robinson's collection is dispersed among museums in Launceston, Oxford, Cambridge, London, New York, Chicago and Cambridge, USA.

Dr Gaye Sculthorpe is Head of the Department of Indigenous Cultures, Museum Victoria where she has worked, off and on, since 1981. Gaye is also a Commissioner with the Australian Heritage Commission and a part-time Member of the National Native Title Tribunal. She is also a descendant of the Pyemmairrener people of north-eastern Tasmania.

An essay in Carolyn Rasmussen, A Museum for the People: A History of Museum Victoria and its predecessor institutions, 1854-2000, Carlton North: Scribe Publications, 2001, ISBN 0 908011 69 5. Available at Museum Shops and all good book stores for $49.95.

Go to Museum Collections - Southeastern Australia for a general overview of this collection.

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