Aboriginal Material Culture of South Eastern Australia

This page is contains a few examples of Aboriginal material culture from Victoria and the Murray/Riverina region. It exists so that I can show students studying Introduction to Aboriginal Australia at Albury-Wodonga some aspects of indigenous material culture with which they may not be familiar. Apologies if there has been any unintended infringement of cultural ownership or copyright.

Aboriginal material culture that survives in the archaeological record includes:

Carved trees (not just trees from which bark canoes and coolamons [dishes] have been cut).

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Wiradjuri carved tree, Riverina. These trees were carved at burial sites. Similar geometrical patterns were also carved into warriors’ shields.

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Wiradjuri carved tree, Riverina

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Incidentally, contemporary Wiradjuri artist Brook Andrew still makes reference to these designs. Here is a wall mural from 2016 at Murray Art Museum Albury.

Rock art

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Mount Pilot 2 rock art site, Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park

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Mt Pilot 2 rock art site, Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park. This and Mt Pilot rock art site 1 (Yeddonbah), depict thylacines, which disappeared from the mainland more than 3000 years ago.

Shell middens

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Shell middens, Lake Mungo National Park (photo Ian Brown). Middens commonly contain the remains of fresh water mussels, fresh water crayfish, yabbies and Murray Cod.

Fish traps/farms

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Ranger Greg Shelton, with woven eel trap, surveys a canal at Budj Bim, Western Victoria. (Photo: Leanne Pickett) The Budj Bim site was an extensive eel farm. Eels were eaten both fresh and smoked.

Plenty of Aboriginal material culture did not survive in the archaeological record, but some few items made it into museums, and some items are still being made to this day, including:

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Possum skin cloaks (this is a reproduction of one that came from Echuca in 1850). (Photo: National Museum of Australia). Thankfully many talented artists are making these again. I’ve had the honour to try one of these on: it was the softest, most luxurious garment I’ve ever felt.

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The cloaks were decorated with with clan insignias, and made waterproof with fat. This is one of two recently-made cloaks in Albury Library Museum. During the gold rush, many European diggers bought cloaks from local Aboriginal people.

There is a collection of material culture from south eastern Australia at the Museum of Victoria, with items from the mid-nineteenth century through to recent times.