A revered 19th century Aboriginal shield now has a permanent home in the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA), on the land of the Kaurna people.

Mulubakka (shield), 1800s, Art Gallery of SA
Mulubakka (shield), 1800s, Art Gallery of SA

The rare Murlapaka (also spelt Mulubakka) shield is attributed to the Kaurna people from the Adelaide Plains and for Senior Kaurna Man Mickey Kumatpi O'Brien to have the shield back on traditional lands is ‘Paitya’ (deadly).

‘The Murlapaka shield shows strength in its design, protection in its history, connection to country in its image, and the spirit of its creator in its life. We know the land is the oldest living thing, the trees are connected to this land the knowledge and wisdom of the land is in the trees,’ Mickey Kumatpi said. 

‘The shield itself was cut from a tree and its shadow remained in the tree and the shield took with it the knowledge and wisdom of the land, culture and people. It returned to its home of the Kaurna Miyurna (Adelaide Plains People). And now it tells many stories, when we listen, observe and share its journey and place, thanks to the support of the Gallery.’

AGSA Director Rhana Devenport ONZM said the Gallery is immensely proud to now be home to this revered Murlapaka, made possible through the support of the Australian Government’s National Cultural Heritage Account and through Tarnanthi: Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, supported by BHP. 

‘To celebrate this milestone acquisition, the Art Gallery of South Australia is committed to having the Murlapaka permanently on display in the Gallery, for all visitors to Kaurna Country to appreciate and acknowledge,’ Rhana Devenport said.

Barkandji artist and AGSA Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Nici Cumpston said the Murlapaka is made from the inner bark of a Eucalyptus tree with remnants of red earth pigments over the shield surface. It is one of two types of shield made by the Kaurna people and a powerful symbol of identity.

‘Dated to the early contact period, it is the first shield made by a Kaurna person to enter the Gallery’s collection. Through its significant acquisition, the Gallery continues its commitment to building and sharing understanding of Kaurna culture,’ Nici Cumpston said.

The Gallery has now reopened to the public following COVID-19 social distancing restrictions so members of the public are able to visit the Gallery to view this shield, one of only seven known examples from the 19th century.

Funding of $100,000 was provided to support the acquisition through the National Cultural Heritage Account to support the acquisition. The Account helps keeps items of cultural significance in Australia so they can be preserved and made available to the public. Cultural organisations can apply for funding to purchase and provide permanent public access to these items.

Kaurna People, South Australia, Mulubakka (shield), 1800s, Adelaide, wood (eucalyptus) and earth pigments, courtesy of Art Gallery of South Australia.

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