True Light and Shade: An Aboriginal Perspective of Joseph Lycett's Art

More images by Joseph Lycett


'Aborigines using fire to hunt kangaroos', by convict artist Joseph Lycett, c1820, watercolour and gouache on paper. (National Library of Australia)

In 1811, artist Joseph Lycett was found guilty of forging bank notes and sentenced to 14 years' transportation to New South Wales. He would go on to paint intricate scenes of Aboriginal people adapted to European settlement before cultural destruction took its toll.

This video is worth look, providing a glimpse at his images and the story behind them. The video was made specifically for school children so it would be a good resource for teachers and parents.

Video: National Library of Australia (Edited)

Worimi man Professor John Maynard
True Light and Shade: An Aboriginal Perspective of Joseph Lycett's Art
Author: Maynard, Professor John
Publisher: National Library of Australia
Edition: 1st Edition
ISBN: 9780642277084
Pages: 172
Publication Date: 01 November 2014
Price $49.99

Book Review by National Library of Australia

True Light and Shade is filled with beautiful images by convict artist Joseph Lycett that powerfully capture in intimate detail Aboriginal life, a rare record of Aboriginal people within the vicinity of Newcastle and how they adapted to European settlement before cultural destruction impacted on these groups.

John Maynard writes an engaging short biography of Lycett and his life in Australia and follows this with a detailed commentary on each of the 20 images in the album. Each image is reproduced in full on a double page spread and then, on the spreads following, details have been enlarged to accompany John's text as he takes us through exactly what is happening in every picture: ceremony, hunting and fishing, carrying food (carving up whalemeat), land management and burning, interactions with Europeans, family life, dances, funeral rituals, and punishment. When you return again to examine the full image, you see it in a completely different light. John also includes written records from the time that corroborate Lycett's views.
Some dreamtime stories connected with the areas Lycett depicted are also included, with accompanying Indigenous art. One story explains the earthquakes in the area (kangaroo jumping up and down).

The title quote ‘true light and shade’ comes from Lycett’s words: ‘I consider a complete drawing to be an accurate delineation of anything with its true light and shade.’

An audio documentary that brings to life the story behind Joseph Lycett.


The audio below is an interview with the author of the book Prof John Maynard by Phillip Adams on Radio National ABC RN LNL.

As a Worimi man from the Newcastle/Port Stephens region, John Maynard brings his own knowledge and insight to his exploration of the drawings, and to the fascinating character of Lycett himself. John is currently a Director at the Wollotuka Institute of Aboriginal Studies at the University of Newcastle and Chair of Indigenous History. He has held several major positions, including as Deputy Chairperson of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and Deputy Chair Humanities, National Indigenous Research and Knowledges Network.

Prof Maynard's grandfather was the noted political activist and the President of the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association (AAPA), Fred Maynard, was one of those people fighting for self-determination in this period.

"Most Australians see Aboriginal self-determination as belonging to the 1970s and the Whitlam government, and this is not the case," Prof Maynard said.

"Aboriginal people were front page news in 1925 in Sydney demanding self-determination."

In his paper, Fred Maynard and the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association (AAPA): One God, One Aim, One Destiny, Maynard stated that 'the groundswell of Aboriginal resistance to domination has been on-going since Cook and the Endeavour first appeared over the horizon'.

Maynard's ground-breaking studies revealed that African-American political movements, in particular Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association, played a role in the evolution of Aboriginal political activism.

"African-American and West Indian sailors were arriving on the merchant ships at the height of the white Australia policy. For black men to come off a ship and walk the streets of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and elsewhere - it wasn't very comforting, friendly or inviting.

"Straight away they connected with the Aboriginal workers on the dock and were introduced to their community. This was the beginning of the connection between the African-American and Aboriginal political movements."

A number of respected historians have recognised the importance of his work, with Professor Henry Reynolds stating Maynard 'has made a major contribution to Australian historiography'. Read More

View of the Heads, at the entrance into Port Jackson by Joseph Lycett - circa 1822 (Art Gallery of NSW)