The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in Art & History

Aboriginal King Plate of Billie Hippie

National Museum of Australia - Joy of Museums - Billie Hippie

This Aboriginal King Plate was presented to Billie Hippie about 1870. Billie Hippie was an Aboriginal stockman on Minnion station Queensland, he was given this plate by the station owner Dugald Cameron. King plates were valued with pride by Aboriginal families. Unfortunately they were also used as a way of controlling Aboriginal groups.

Aboriginal king plates, also called breastplates or gorgets were a form of regalia used in colonial Australia by white colonial authorities to recognise those they perceived to be local Aboriginal leaders. King plates were presented to perceived ‘chiefs’, courageous men and to faithful servants both male and female. The presentation of king plates also had a great deal to do with whether or not the recipient was seen as useful or respected by the white Australian community. The breastplates were usually metallic crescent-shaped plaques worn around the neck by wearer.

Augustus Earle - Bungaree A Native Chief of N.S. Wales - Google Art Project

Bungaree A Native Chief of NSW, c.1829-38, by Augustus Earle (1793 – 1838)

Aboriginal people did not traditionally have kings or chiefs. They lived in small clan groups with several elders, who consulted with each other on decisions for the group. By appointing kings and granting them king plates, the white colonial powers undermined traditional Aboriginal culture.

Other historical objects from the National Museum of Australia, featured in “Joy of Museums include the following are some highlights:

Essential Facts:

  • Title:                          Aboriginal King Plate of Billie Hippie
  • Dates:                        1870
  • Museum:                   National Museum of Australia

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“The more you know, the less you need.” -Australian Aboriginal saying

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Photo Credit: By GordonMakryllos (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 2) By Augustus EARLE (1793 – 1838) (Britain/Australia) Born in London. Dead in London. Details of artist on Google Art Project [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons