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A Book of Drawings by Tommy McRae

State Library of Victoria - A Book of Drawings by Tommy McRae

A Book of Drawings by Tommy McRae

Tommy McRae (1835–1901) was an Aboriginal artist who lived in the Upper Murray district of Australia. His Aboriginal names have been recorded as Yackaduna or Warra-euea, he was from the Kwatkwat people, whose country stretched south of the Murray River near the junction of the Goulburn River in Victoria.

McRae’s earliest known drawings date from the early 1860s. He produced and sold books of drawings; his illustrations depicted traditional Aboriginal life, including ceremonies, hunting, and fishing, with people and animals predominantly silhouetted in landscapes of sparse trees and earth. His subjects included squatters, Chinese, and William Buckley, who was an escaped convict who lived in an Aboriginal community for many years.

Tommy McRae’s drawings are held by the National Museum of Australia, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Library of Australia Canberra, the State Library Victoria, New South Wales Library, and Melbourne Museum.

Tommy McRae

Tommy McRae (1835–1901) was an Aboriginal artist who lived in the Upper Murray district of Australia. McRae was a Wahgunyah man of the Kwatkwat people. McRae recorded the establishment of pastoral settler society in his country while he was a laborer on rural stations in northern Victoria. Producing and selling books of drawings, some of which were purchased by travelers.

In the 1860s, McRae settled on the shores of Lake Moodemere at Wahgunyah. By 1885 he had four children, and between 1890 and 1897, McRae’s children were taken from him sent to reserves under Victorian government regulations, despite efforts to prevent this.

This evil practice has become known today as the ‘Stolen Children’ or ‘Stolen Generations’ and refers to where the children of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were removed from their families by the Australian government agencies and church missions.

Aboriginal Peoples

Dispersing across the Australian continent, the ancient first people expanded and differentiated into distinct groups, each with its own language and culture. More than 400 different Australian Aboriginal peoples have been identified, distinguished by names designating their ancestral languages, dialects, or distinctive speech patterns.

At the time of the first European settlement in 1788, it is generally estimated that about 750,000 aboriginal people were living in Australia, in diverse groups. A cumulative population of 1.6 billion people has been estimated to have lived in Australia over 65,000 years before British colonization. The regions of the most substantial Indigenous population were the same temperate coastal regions that are today the most densely populated. In the early 1900s, it was commonly believed that the Aboriginal people of Australia were heading toward extinction. The population shrank after colonization to about 50,000 in 1930; this was primarily due to an outbreak of smallpox and other diseases plus the unofficial colonial wars/conflicts against the aborigines.

Today Aboriginal Australians comprise 3.1% of Australia’s population.


  • A talented artist with no training and against all the odds creating works that were not appreciated until many years later.

A Book of Drawings by Tommy McRae

  • Title:               A Book of Drawings
  • Artist:             Tommy McRae
  • Year:               1782
  • Medium:        Ink on paper
  • Dimensions:  Height: 238 mm (9.37 in). Width: 360 mm (14.17 in).
  • Museum:        State Library of Victoria

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A Tour of the State Library of Victoria

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“Traveler, there are no paths. Paths are made by walking.”
– Australian Aboriginal Proverb


Photo Credits: 1) GM