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Queensland Rainforest shield - circa early 20th cen

natural earth pigments on fig wood
94.0 x 38.0 cm
Price Realised: $13,000.00

MP #314


Ex Gumbuya Park Museum, Vic
Private Collection, NSW
Private Collection, Vic

In duelling as well as in other fighting, rainforest men used large wooden shields as protection against the blows of heavy wooden swords. The shields were of the soft corky wood of the wild fig (Ficus sp.) and were carved from slabs cut out of the buttress roots of these trees. The shields were light in weight and absorbed the sword's blows. While pieces were sometimes cut off in the process, the complex grain of the buttress wood prevented a heavy blow from splitting the shield completely, as would happen with normally grained timber. A boss was carved on the face of the shield to protect the hand grip hollowed out behind. The shield also provided protection against spears, and shields in museum collections sometimes show spear tips embedded in them.


The polychrome designs on the shields were bold and geometric in form, relying on reds, yellows, white and back, as did the designs on baskets, boomerangs and other surfaces. The shield designs, however, were symbolic of totem creatures and were individual to the owner.*


* In Australians to 1788, Chapter 8, Challenge and Response in the Rainforest, Barrie Reynolds