Danie Mellor / Mamu/Ngadjonji people / Australia b.1971 / Trunk Shield II (Middle Nellie Kelly shield) 2001 / Reclaimed metal / 106 x 46 x 12cm / Purchased 2003. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Grant / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Danie Mellor

Danie Mellor
Trunk shield II (Middle Nellie Kelly shield) 2001

Not Currently on Display

Trunk Shield II (Middle Nellie Kelly shield) 2001 is made from reclaimed metal sourced from the bottom of a travelling trunk. This style of trunk was used in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to carry possessions when travelling, but only by those who could afford them.

Here, Danie Mellor uses the travelling trunk as a metaphor for the displacement from her land of his great-grandmother, Nellie Kelly (née Brackenridge), who was a member of the Mamu/Ngadjonji people. For Mellor, the deterioration of the shield’s metal surface references the erosion of traditional Indigenous culture over time as a result of the intervention of Christian missionaries.

The surface of the shield is decorated with contour land maps to resemble the totem-like designs of wooden shields and body painting from north Queensland, while the shape resembles the curve of the figtree buttress roots from which traditional shields were cut.

Danie Mellor was born in Mackay, Queensland, and is a descendant of the Mamu/Ngadjonji people of north Queensland. Mellor’s practice encompasses sculpture, photography, printmaking and drawing.

In his printmaking and drawing, he predominantly employs the technique of mezzotint, a process that affords subtle gradations of tone and detail. Mezzotint was invented around the mid-eighteenth century, the time of colonial settlement in Australia. During this period much of the local flora and fauna was first illustrated by travelling artists for botanists such as Joseph Banks. In Mellor’s works, the colonial feel of the image is subtly subverted through a focus on the flora, fauna, and landform details crucial to Indigenous society. He says: ‘The rainforest area in the Cairns/Atherton district is the home of my maternal Indigenous family. As such, it is the ‘mother country’ — a place that holds both a spiritual and heritage significance’.1


1. Danie Mellor, ‘Heritage Statement’, in Art Right Now, <http://www.artrightnow.com.au/ahc/award/artist/Wy_5145.htm>, viewed 13 May 2003.

Discussion Questions

1. This artwork tells the story of Danie Mellor’s great-grandmother, who lost touch with her culture because she was forced to move from her traditional lands. This shield is made from an old travelling trunk, like those used many years ago to carry possessions on a long journey. Why do you think the artist has chosen to use metal from this particular object?

2. Danie Mellor’s artwork resembles a traditional Aboriginal shield. Can you explain how the artist tells his story by choosing to make a shield?

Classroom Activities

1. Using recycled materials, make an artwork that tells a story about you or your ancestors. Decorate your work with text, patterns and images to help explain why this story is important for your family. Give your artwork a title and explain your choice.

2. A shield is used for protection against the threat of danger. Draw a shield and decorate it with lines, shapes and images that represent your local environment — for example, fruit, flowers and plants.