Unknown artist / Rainforest shield and sword pair c.1900 / Shield: Carved softwood (Ficus sp.) with natural pigments; Sword: Carved hardwood / Shield: 111 x 34 x 7.2cm (irreg.); Sword: 152 x 15 x 2.5cm (irreg.) / Purchased 2012 with funds raised through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Appeal / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art

Rainforest shield and sword pair c.1900

Not Currently on Display

This shield and sword are from the rainforest region of north Queensland, which stretches from Cardwell in the south to near Cape Tribulation in the north. The artistic culture of this area is quite distinct.

Shields were made from the buttresses of huge figtree roots, and scarred tree roots can still be seen in the rainforest today. The designs decorating these objects are often an abstraction of a totemic ancestor — animal, plant or object.

These softwood shields would absorb the blows of a hardwood sword, and many show the aftermath of such battles, with chipped edges and holes from spears, and in some cases bullet holes.


Discussion Questions

1. These objects contribute to our understanding of Indigenous Australian culture, histories and traditions. What can we learn about the way of life of Indigenous people by studying their cultural artefacts?

2. What are totems? Why do you think they were depicted on weapons?

Classroom Activities

Design you own totem and explain what it represents. Incorporate your totem into a name label to personalise your belongings.