Bungaleen’s grave marker
The memorial for Thomas Bungaleen (184765), made at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station in 1866, is a rare example of Aboriginal woodcarving. The artist was probably Simon Wonga, the headman of the Wurundjeri people, who inhabited the land around Melbourne.
The story of the carving has been interpreted to represent an inquiry into Bungaleen’s death. The upper figures carrying spears are the investigators. The cluster of animals indicates that he had not starved, while the strange forms below were said to be the spirits who caused his death by ‘their wicked enchantements [sic]’.
Thomas Bungaleen was the son of a Gippsland headman whose family was brought to Melbourne by the Native Police in 1847. After his father’s death, the boy was placed in the Merri Creek Aboriginal School under the supervision of Assistant Protector of Aborigines William Thomas.
In 1861, Bungaleen was bonded to work on the steamship Victoria, where he won approval following a trip to the northern coast in search of the missing Burke and Wills Expedition. Bungaleen died in 1865 and was buried in the Melbourne Cemetery.
The style of incised decoration on Bungaleen’s memorial is similar to the distinctive linear designs featured on south-eastern carved shields and on possumskin cloaks. The layering and figurative elements of the composition are also linked to the beautiful ochre and watercolour drawings of renowned Coranderrk artist William Barak, who became the Wurundjeri headman after Wonga’s death.