Aboriginal Breastplate

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Bungaree, A Native Chief of N.S. Wales painted by Augustus Earle

Aboriginal breastplates (also called king plates or aboriginal gorgets) were a form of regalia used in pre-Federation Australia by white colonial authorities to recognise those they perceived to be local Aboriginal leaders. The breastplates were usually metallic crescent-shaped plaques worn around the neck by wearer.

Aboriginal people did not traditionally have kings or chiefs. They lived in small clan groups with several elders—certain older men and perhaps women—who consulted with each other on decisions for the group. By appointing kings of tribes, and granting them king plates, the white colonial powers went against the more collegiate grain of traditional Aboriginal culture.

Brief history

In the 19th century, king plates were given by numerous communities in various Australian States to esteemed Aboriginal men and women, who were usually elders of their particular tribal or kinship group. The plates were presented to perceived 'chiefs', courageous men and to faithful servants.[1] There have been suggestions that the presentation of king plates also had a great deal to do with whether or not the recipient was seen as useful or respected by the white Australian community of the area in question.

The plates were far less regal than a European monarch's crown jewels, consisting of a material composition of industrial metals such as brass or iron rather than the gold or silver that many leaders are more familiar with. A typical format of inscribing the breastplates was to write the recipients name across the upper part of the plate's face, with the title below, sometimes 'King', 'Queen', or 'Chief'. Some particularly distinguished Aboriginal characters are said to have ironically had the royal seal of Queen Victoria engraved somewhere on the plate to add an extra air of prestige. While some Aboriginal people wore their breastplates with pride, others saw them as yet another insult to their culture from the white European settlers.[2]

The practice of presenting respected Aboriginal leaders with king plates declined in the post-Federation years,[3] becoming virtually unheard of by the end of the 1930s. This could be attributed to shifts in racial relations in different parts of Australia, amongst other possible explanations.

Aboriginal breastplate holders

Many of the 'Indigenous kings' have fallen into obscurity and while there is hope of recovering more of the country's historical figures, many are sure to remain unknown to present and future generations. However, since there remains a fair amount of reliable historical data from the 19th Century and early 20th century, it is possible to learn about some of these Aboriginal figures, who were presented with king plates.


Neddy - King of Neis Valley. Note: the Australian Capital Territory used to be part of New South Wales. 'Neis' is now spelt 'Naas'.[3]

New South Wales

Brass breast plate presented to the Aboriginal leader Coborn Jackey of the Burrowmunditory tribe by the squatter James White. The artifact is held in the museum at Young.

Billy Moore - the famous Tweed Aboriginal. This breastplate was found in 1920 under a log in Bray’s Scrub at Kynumboon, Murwillumbah, New South Wales.[4]

Billy Andrews - King of Murwillumbah [5]

Bungaree (Bungary) - a native chief of New South Wales. His portrait wearing the kingplate was painted by artist Augustus Earle (1793 - 1838).

Coburn Jackey - Chief of Burrowmunditroy was a Koori Aborigine of the Wiradjuri people in New South Wales. He was presented with his king plate in the 1800s by James White - one of the first European settlers in the region. The two men were good friends and Jackey provided the pioneering White with much assistance in their time together.

Sandy and Charlotte - King and Queen of Kynnumboon [5]

Wilson - King of Coorin Coorin and Cudgen [5]

Taboo Jackie - King of Karara [5]

Umbarra - King of Bermagui, also known as King Merriman. A leader of the Yuin people of the Bermagui area. He was reported to be able to tell the future through a black duck.

Jemmy - King of Bolara Maneroo. Bolara is/was in the Adaminaby district.[6]

King John Cry - Chief of the Duedolgong tribe, Argyle [6]

Jack the traveller - King of Bendora Bellevue and Jembicumbane [3]

U Robert - King of Big Leather and Big River tribes [3]

Jemmy - King of Big River [3]

Paddy - King of Boobarrego [3]

King Billy - King of the Barwon blacks. Brewarrina area.[3]

Jimmy, King - Brisbane Water [3]

Billy Kelly - King of Broadwater [3]

Charley York - Chief of Bullangamang [3]

Queen Milly of the Burunji - Burunji is a language name for the people whose country straddles the Darling River in the vicinity of its junction with the Paroo River.[3]

Dicky - King of Clyde Road [3]

David - King of the Woronora Tribe [7]

Tommy - King of Connai [3]

Michael Kinsela - Chief of Cudgelbong [3]

Tommy - King of Gongolgon [3]

Billy Lambert - Holwood, King's Plains, 1834 [3]

Budd Billy - II, King of Jarvis Bay [3]

Jack the Traveller - King of Bendora Bellevue and Jembicumbane [3]

Billy Lambert - Holwood, King's Plains, 1834 [3]

John Neville - King of Mahaderree [3]

James Fearnought - King of Merigal [3]

Timothy - Chief of Merricumbene [3]

Sam - King of Merton [3]

Dennis - Chief of Morbringer [3]

Georgy, Mudgee police man - given by Mr Whitling [3]

Coomee, last of her tribe - Murramarang, [3]

Thomas Tinboy - King of Nelligan [3]

Tumberilagong - Chief of the Nuneree tribe [3]

Mr Briney of Pialliway [3]

Wombail Oouthenang - Chief of Shannon Vielle [3]

Geroone - Chief of Unanderra [3]

Dawalla - King of Wgga [sic] Wagga [3]

Peter - Chief of Warangesda Mission [3]

Tommy. Constable - Wellington [3]

Sawyer - King of Wickham Hill [3]

Jemmy Muggle -King of Wiggley [3]

Dan - Chief of the Wiljakali. Wiljakali is a language name for the people whose country straddles the SA/NSW border in the Silverton/Barrier Range/Mootwingee/Olary region.[3]

Eve -Queen of Wurtimurti [3]

Jimmy - King of Wurtimurti [3]


Jagar - King of Barron was a North Queensland Aborigine of the Yirriganydji people. He was presented with his King plate in 1898.[8]

George of Saxby Downs with his wife at Barambah Aboriginal Settlement, 1909

George of Saxby Downs was photographed at the Barambah Aboriginal Settlement in 1909 wearing his kingplate.[9]

King Dick of Boondie

King Dick of Boondie was the chief of the Palparara tribe of western Queensland in the Winton-Windorah area, near Julia Creek.

Bilin Bilin - King of Logan and Pimpama was known to roam through the area that is now Logan City, Queensland. He was presented his king plate in 1875. He was the leader of the Yugambeh people and held this position from the mid 19th Century to the very early years of the 20th Century. He was very well respected by Aborigines and European settlers alike.[10]

Minippi - King of Tingalpa was a one-time companion to Bilin Bilin, who died when the two were returning from a trip to Brisbane. He is buried near the suburb of Waterford West, but the exact location is unknown.

Billy - King of the Albert was an Aboriginal leader in the South of Queensland. Little is known about his historical identity, although he was a contemporary of Bilin Bilin and Minippi and may have played a significant part in the Indigenous history of the Gold Coast.

Nobby, not known if he received a king plate, but was described by a white Australian living in Bundaberg as "the King of the Blacks in this district."[11]

Brady, an aboriginal man with a king plate who died at the Bribie Island Mission Station in 1892 and was buried on the beach by the mission's schoolmaster.[12]

Billy, King of Bonnie Doon, Lorne. Bonnie Doon and Lorne are stations now located about 70 kilometres just west of south of Blackall.[3]

Bob 'Wheelpoolee' - King of Boulia, 1930 [3]

Nugget, 'Billee-ling-oo' - Queen of Boulia, 1930 [3]

King Pepper of the Biria - Burdekin River, 1897 [3]

Peter - King of Tchanning. current spelling of 'Tchanning'.[3]

Billy Hippie - King of Minnon [3]

Ada Derika - Queen of Durham [3]

Dick - King of Evesham, Darr River [3]

King Too Too - crack horsebreaker & Glastonbury, coach, groom [3]

Paddy - King of Nive Downs and Duke of Tambo [3]

Paddy - King of Nive Downs and Duke of Tambo [3]

Hippi - King of Teraicha [3]

Brandy - Uanda [3]

Toby - King of Vanrook [3]

King Tommy of Waverney [3]

Billy Coonangul - King of Eidsvold 1857, from the Burnett district. His breast plate is held by the Queensland Women's Historical Association.[13]

Jackey Hippi - King of Eurella, from the Warrego district. His breast plate is held by the Queensland Women's Historical Association.[13]

King Bally Surbiton Belyando, from the South Kennedy district. His breast plate is held by the Queensland Women's Historical Association.[13]

South Australia

King Mulga of Coongie Lakes, 1911 [3]


Dick-a-Dick, member of the 1868 Australian Aboriginal cricket team to tour England, was awarded a King plate by local white authorities.

Western Australia

King Billy of Geraldton, also known as "Left-Handed Billy" was one of Western Australia's Aboriginal leaders to be presented with a king plate.

King Mallee of the Nyungar - Danoo outstation, 1881 [3]

Chief Leckie - Windarra tribe [3]

Unknown location

Bulgra - King of Arremutta, 1920.[3] Arremutta is an unidentified location.

Joey - Chief of Petraman.[3] Petraman is an unknown location.

Count Dorsay [3]

King Wanney, 1861 [3]


  1. ^ National Museum of Australia, Aboriginal Breastplates, Australian Government, archived from the original on 5 September 2015 
  2. ^ "Aboriginal people's reactions | National Museum of Australia". www.nma.gov.au. Retrieved 2016-08-24. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi National Museum of Australia, List of breastplates, Australian Government, archived from the original on 14 June 2015 
  4. ^ "Kingplate / breastplate; Unknown; 1900-1920; S0776-98 - Tweed Regional Museum on eHive". eHive. Retrieved 2016-01-25. 
  5. ^ a b c d Fox, Ian (2016). Aboriginal Breastplates of the Northern Rivers, contested recognition, uncontested identity. Murwillumbah: Tweed Regional Museum. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-646-96010-4. 
  6. ^ a b "List of breastplates | National Museum of Australia". www.nma.gov.au. Retrieved 2016-08-23. 
  7. ^ Breastplate for David King of the Woronora Tribe, 1810, retrieved 4 May 2017 
  8. ^ Information on the current whereabouts and historical adventures of Jagar's king plate is at http://www.abc.net.au/farnorth/stories/s1378689.htm
  9. ^ Unidentified (1909), George of Saxby Downs with his wife at Barambah Aboriginal Settlement, 1909, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, retrieved 25 January 2016 
  10. ^ Reference to Bilin Bilin can be found in most sources dealing with Logan's indigenous history e.g.; "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 July 2005. Retrieved 5 December 2005. 
  11. ^ "Indexes to correspondence relating to Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in the records of the Colonial Secretary’s Office and the Home Secretary’s Office, 1887-1896" www.slq.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/82169/COL_SEC_1859_to_1866.pdf
  12. ^ "Indexes to correspondence relating to Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in the records of the Colonial Secretary’s Office and the Home Secretary’s Office, 1887-1896" www.slq.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/82169/COL_SEC_1859_to_1866.pdf
  13. ^ a b c Mackay, Judith (June 2016). "Significance assessment of the collection" (PDF). Queensland Women's Historical Association. Retrieved 11 November 2016. 

External links

Media related to King plate at Wikimedia Commons

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