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On display in Gallery Three

Robert Oatley Gallery

Corroboree, or Dance of the Natives of New South Wales, 1820 by Walter Preston
Corroboree, or Dance of the Natives of New South Wales, 1820 by Walter Preston

Facing New Worlds

The story of Australia’s settlement is often told as one starting in 1788 with the arrival of a fleet of British convict ships. These ships, captained by Arthur Phillip, came both to solve a crisis in the prison system back home and to rebuild the empire after losing thirteen American colonies a decade earlier.  This common story also often assumes that Britons easily overpowered or pushed back the Indigenous peoples already here. But the British settlement of Australia was the result of a general European push into the Pacific region that started as early as the 1760s. And the colonization of Indigenous lands and bodies was neither simple nor straightforward.

The Death of Captain Cook, 1784 by John Webber, Francesco Bartolozzi, William Byrne

Facing New Worlds moves away from a focus on significant individual Europeans in the colonization of our region. Instead, it highlights the way that Europeans had to negotiate with Indigenous interlocutors to achieve anything. The portraits here illustrate those negotiations in their pairings of Europeans and Indigenous people. They also remind us that all portraiture is a representation of a relationship between sitter and artist. Indigenous people were not passive victims of European force, but fought, engaged, and shaped European intentions all through the so-called Age of Exploration. They also faced more than just the British during this era; they had to face French incursions quite as often. European exploration in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries opened up new worlds for everyone involved.

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