William Barak’s work bought at auction, back in Victoria

As a boy, Barak witnessed the arrival of European settlers on his country in the 1830s, and is said to have been present when First Nations clan elders encountered John Batman’s party on the shores. of Merri Creek.

Many of Barak’s approximately 50 works were turned over to non-Aboriginal colonizers before his death in 1903. The shield and painting were in the possession of Jules de Pury, a Swiss whose family settled in the valley of the Yarra to open a vineyard.

William Barak’s parade shield, 1897.

Sotheby’s catalog notes explain that de Pury returned home with the works in 1897 or 1898. The pieces remained with the de Pury family for over 100 years. They were passed on to Sotheby’s Geneva recently after the death of de Pury’s grandson, Pascal.

Hunter called this art “cultural artifacts” and “windows to our past”. Although disappointed that the Wurundjeri had to redeem what was originally theirs, Hunter was pleased with the success of the campaign.

He thanked the state government and everyone who helped make this major rehabilitation possible.

“Uncle William will be sitting up there in the Dream Tunnel looking down on us and saying ‘well done,'” he said.

Hunter said the artifacts are old and delicate pieces that need to be kept in specific conditions. In collaboration with experts from the National Gallery, efforts will be made to ensure that they are well protected and presented for educational and cultural purposes wherever possible.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews tweeted that his government was proud to back the purchase.

“These coins are invaluable to the Wurundjeri people – to our state and to the country. Barak’s descendants hoped these coins could return to their rightful homes. Now they can,” Andrews wrote.


Nikita Vanderbyl, a historian of Indigenous Australian art at LaTrobe University, compiled the artwork listings on the Sotheby’s website. She applauded the success of the buyout campaign, calling it a “wonderful result”, especially given the timing.

“We were able to make the best of a really tough situation,” she said.

“It’s a great example of what can happen when people really commit and don’t give up. Very often, non-natives want to help, and this was a clear example of where they could actually help. »