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The E-Sylum:  Volume 10, Number 6, February 11, 2007, Article 10

1861 ABORIGINE BREASTPLATE FOUND IN AUSTRALIA

The recent Ford sale of Indian Peace Medals (ahem, 'Medallic
Distinctions Awarded to First Peoples') brought attention to the
long-ago practice of giving medals and other ornaments to native
peoples.  An article published this week discusses a similar item
given to friendly Aborigines in Australia in the mid 19th century.

"Six years ago, on one of their desert day treks near Innamincka in
South Australia's far north-east, Eric spotted what he first thought
was a piece of browned tin, half buried in a dune.

"Picking it up, he noticed the 20-centimetre-wide, crescent-shaped
object had an inscription: "Presented by the Exploration Committee
of Victoria for the Humanity shown to the Explorers Burke, Wills &
King 1861."

"What is now known is that the Ganzerts had stumbled on a brass
breastplate that until then had been lost to history.

"An ornament meant to be worn around the neck, it was one of three
presented at Cooper Creek in 1863 to Aborigines who had tried to
sustain Robert O'Hara Burke and William Wills and the member of
their expedition who lived to tell their tale, John King. The other
two breastplates have never been found.

"James Bruce, managing director of Adelaide auctioneers Bonhams and
Bruce, says the piece is "as significant as Ned Kelly's armour". He
estimates the breastplate could sell for up to $500,000 when it is
auctioned at sister company Bonhams and Goodman in Melbourne next
month.

"Mr Bruce has been verifying the breastplate's origins. His staff
visited the State Library of Victoria to read the minutes of the
Exploration Committee  mentioned in the engraving  which had
bankrolled Burke and Wills in their bid to cross the continent from
south to north and back. They also read the diary of King, the
party's sole survivor.

"The Aborigines helped King survive. On his return to Melbourne, he
told the story. When Victorian anthropologist Alfred Howitt set out
for Cooper Creek to retrieve Burke and Wills's bodies, he carried
the three breastplates, bought from a Melbourne engraver named X.
Arnaldi for 4 17s.

"Mr Bruce says the item is like a king plate  a neck ornament that
European settlers used to give to Aborigines that they felt they
could befriend and negotiate with.

"The breastplate will be auctioned in Melbourne, at Bonhams and
Goodman's rooms, 540 Malvern Road, Prahran, on March 26. Viewing
is on March 23, 24 and 25 from 10am to 5pm."

To visit the Bonhams and Goodman's web site, see: 
bonhamsandgoodman.com.au

To read the complete article, see: Full Story

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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