King plate. Aboriginal breastplate. “King Paddy of the Nyunga, Hall Outstation”.

SKU SF001129 Category


In the early days of colonial Australia the governors and the land holders saw advantage in singling out certain Aboriginal people as leaders and distinguishing them in some way, so as to ensure their cooperation in the Europeans’ efforts to open up the land. A type of military gorget was chosen as a suitable badge of office: it had already been used in North America for the same purpose.

In Australia these became known as ‘king’, ‘brass’ or ‘breastplates’. They were presented not only to perceived ‘chiefs’ but to faithful servants and to the specially courageous – to many of the people, in fact, who helped in some way to ease the white people’s progress in the new land. They were presented from the earliest times through to the first decades of the twentieth century.

Jakelin Troy’s book titled King Plates: A History of Aboriginal Gorgets provides not only encouragement to scholars to engage in research in an area that has had little attention, but to Aboriginal people seeking information about their forebears. In this book they are called ‘gorgets’ because they were made not only for men and not only for people who were seen to be leaders. The name was also chosen because the plaques were modified copies of the gorgets worn as badges of office by infantry officers in Australia until 1832.

The gorgets are tangible physical links with Aboriginal people who were intimately involved in the colonial history of Australia. The names and affiliations inscribed on the gorgets are particularly important as documentary records of Aboriginal history. Ancestral connections with many contemporary Australians may be established through clues which the inscriptions provide.

(Source: National Museum of Australia)

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