Rare artworks to return home to Wurundjeri Country

26 May 2022

Rare artworks by Wurundjeri artist and leader William Barak are set to be returned home to their rightful owners.

woman staring a painting on the wall

Auctioned by Sotheby’s in New York yesterday, The Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation has been successful in its bid to secure the works.

The Victorian Government will contribute $500,000 to secure the purchases, ensuring the Corporation can bring these culturally and historically significant works home to Wurundjeri Country where they belong.

Along with the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation’s own contribution, more than 1,000 donors contributed to a crowdfunding campaign which will see the successful repatriation of the significant indigenous artworks.

William Barak has had a profound influence on Victoria’s history, with his artwork providing an invaluable insight into the rich culture and way of life of the Wurundjeri people before European settlement - as a Ngurungaeta (headman), an artist, a leader, ambassador and advocate for his people, Barak continues to have an impact today.

The two artworks – a painting and a parrying shield – date back to 1897. Corroboree (Women in possum skin cloaks) depicts three rows of women wearing possum skin cloaks in a ceremony. The carved hardwood parrying shield is long and pointed with a geometric design and a unique motif at its centre.

While Barak’s artworks are held in prestigious public and private collections around the world, this is one of a rare few to return to Wurundjeri ownership.

Both the painting and the shield were gifted from Barak in the late 19th century to the de Pury Family. They have remained with this family until now. The artworks are expected to arrive home within weeks.