Nerissa Broben, Senior Curator at the Koorie Heritage Trust, talks about how the artist Tommy McRae provides a valuable Koorie perspective from the late 1800s through his drawings.
Tommy McRae has a unique drawing style. He actually started the figures at the feet and worked his way up. The drawings that we have are ink on paper. And Tommy McRae is quite interesting because he incorporates traditional elements, elements of hunting and fishing, but he also incorporates some European elements. In a couple of the drawings we have here, we have the figure of William Buckley, who is an escaped convict from the Sorrento area, and in a number of McRae's drawings, he also includes figures like the Chinese miners and other European elements that obviously had significance to him during this period of time.
Through McRae's drawings we're able to see specific details of the activities that he chose to portray, whether it's someone up a tree hunting possum or the specific body decoration used during ceremony as part of a dance.
The CEO of the Koorie Heritage Trust purchased the Tommy McRae sketchbook back in 1988. We've actually separated the seven drawings in the sketchbook to the seven framed drawings that we have here today.
Tommy McRae was possibly a Kwatkwat man from the Goulburn region, which is in Northeastern Victoria. He was born around 1830, and this was at a time when many Europeans were actually moving into the region where he lived.
The earliest surviving drawings that we have from Tommy McRae date back to around the 1860s.
In the 1880s, Tommy McRae set up a camp with his family at Lake Moodemere, which is around the Murray River region. Around this time, he sold many sketchbooks, which was important to have a cash income at the time, because many of the Koorie people were actually living on rations and handouts from missions and things.
Tommy McRae was quite a resourceful man. He and his family actually sold Murray cod, raised poultry, and made possum skin rugs during this time as well.