Crossing Aboriginal Country
Tommy McRae, Aboriginal man chasing Chinese man and Aboriginal men fighting, Wahgunyah Region, Victoria, 1881.Contributors
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In their overland journeys, Chinese travellers passed through many Aboriginal countries.
These drawing by Tommy McRae show Chinese men interacting with Aboriginal people. Two depict Aboriginal men chasing Chinese men.
Tommy McRae, also known as Tommy Barnes, Yackaduna and Warraeuea, was an Aboriginal artist born in the 1830s. He uniquely depicted colonial and Indigenous life in the mid nineteenth century. He was probably a Kwatkwat man from North Eastern Victoria. His country stretches from south of the Murray River to near the junction of the Goulbourn and Murray Rivers. Several drawings of his depict Aboriginal interactions with Chinese people, dating probably from the 1860s to the 1880s.
Tommy McRae lived much of his life on or near the Murray River at Wahgunyah in Northern Victoria near Rutherglen. It was a convenient crossing point over the Murray for those travelling overland from New South Wales seeking to join the 1850s-60s goldrushes of the Ovens and Indigo Valleys in the North-East of Victoria, or for those in Victoria seeking gold in New South Wales. A shortlived gold rush in Wahgunyah/Rutherglen itself saw many Chinese people take up residence there in the 1850s and 1860s.
There is strong evidence to show that Victorian Aboriginal people prior to and during the gold fields period viewed Chinese people in a disparaging light. From an Aboriginal cosmological perspective they were neither ngamadjidj (resuscitated clans people), as many Victorian Aboriginal people in the colonial period considered whites to be, nor mainmait, foreign undesirable Aboriginal people.
With thanks to Fred Cahir and Ian Clark for parts of this text.