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Australian Aboriginal Shields

Australian Museum - Joy of Museums - Australian Aboriginal Shields

Australian Aboriginal Shields

Australian Aboriginal Shields were made from bark or wood. Indigenous Australians made these wooden shields from south-eastern Australia.  Some of the shields have carved markings and are painted with a red, orange, white, and black design using natural pigments.

For most of these Australian Aboriginal shields, the makers are unknown, and the dates range from the 19th and the 20th centuries. Unfortunately, much of their ownership, history, and iconography have been lost.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people existed in Australia and surrounding islands before European colonization going back to time dated between 61,000 and 125,000 years ago. The trauma of loss that followed the establishment of a British colony in Australia had an enormously adverse effect on the indigenous Aboriginal People. The widespread damage to language, culture, and tradition changed aboriginal life and their art culture.

Some of these shields would have been used during conflict. They would have been used to protect warriors against spears in staged battles or clubs in close fighting, in contests for water, territory, and women. During the first encounter with Europeans, they would have been used as their armor of battle. The shield of leaf-like shape would have been used by the Eora people of Botany Bay, New South Wales, which were the first Aboriginal nation to encounter Captain James Cook on his voyage of British discovery to Australia in 1770.

Bark shield 2008 british museum

The first Aboriginal artifact captured by Captain Cook’s landing party in 1770, representing the potentially first point of violent contact. Now at the British Museum

Above is an Australian bark shield from Botany Bay, New South Wales, Australia. This bark shield has been identified as having been collected in 1770 on Captain Cook’s First Voyage in HMS Endeavour (1768-71). This shield is at the British Museum. The hole in the center may have come from a musket bullet, fired by the British sailors against the aborigines, who then dropped this shield.


Artwork depicting the first contact that was made with the Aboriginal people and Captain James Cook and his crew 

Some of these shields would have been used during a culturally significant occasion such as in corroborees, an Australian Aboriginal dance ceremony which may take the form of a sacred ritual or an informal gathering. These shields were often used in dances at ceremonies or traded as valuable cultural objects.

Showing method of attack with boomerang - NMA-15147

Below is a welcoming dance, “Entrance of the Strangers,” Alice Springs, Central Australia, 9 May 1901.

Walter Baldwin Spencer and Francis J Gillen - Arrernte welcoming dance, entrance of the strangers, Alice Springs, Central Australia, 9 May 1901 - Google Art Project

These shields were viewed as having innate power. A shield that had “won many fights” was prized as an object of trade or honor.

Australian Aboriginal Shields

  • Subject:       Australian Aboriginal Shields
  • Material:       Wood
  • Dates:           19th & 20th Century
  • Museum:      The Australian Museum

A Tour of Australian Museums

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“We are all visitors to this time, this place.
We are just passing through.
Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love… and then we return home.”

– Australian Aboriginal saying


Photo Credit: GM 2) By geni (Photo by user:geni) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons 3) Public Domain, Link 4) By Walter Baldwin Spencer and Francis J Gillen – Photographers Details of artist on Google Art Project [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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