Saturday, February 16, 2013

Tribal artefacts take sister, brother on cultural journey

Image: From my collection of tribal artefacts, bought from garage sales.

THE great British broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, or a similarly eminent personage, could make a 'doco' paddling around in the cultural streams that flow through the Classifieds. Classified advertising always offers some intriguing posts as collectors of all things great and small pursue their passions. Even without the dulcet tones of an educated Englishman, a browse through any edition is a cultural journey littered with messages from the hearts and minds of people who really 'know their stuff'.

RECENTLY I had the great experience of chatting with Beth Saussehrd, who with her brother Jonathan, recently placed 'wanted' notices for Aboriginal and Oceanic tribal artefacts. The Saussehrds grew up in the family home in Price Avenue, Birkdale, and inherited their collector genes through their mum and dad, Angela and John, who had an antique shop at New Farm. With the family now living on the Sunshine Coast, Beth enjoyed a trip down memory lane when she returned to Redland City to follow-up the responses to her notice. She says she bought several small items to add to their extensive collection of artefacts, which they started about 15 years ago; the pair has a special interest in old shields and clubs.

"ABORIGINAL shields were used importantly as weapons of defence to deflect spears boomerangs clubs etc in warfare and combat but there significance is much broader than that," Beth says. "Depending from where or what tribe an Aboriginal belonged the shields and their form varied in shape and use separate to their primary function of defence. Shields from Central Australia were used for making fire; placing the shield face down two men squatting would rub the face of the shield in a sawing motion with the bladed edge of a spear thrower until the surface glowed and began to char.

"CENTRAL Australian groups also believed that shields carried powers of divination forewarning owners of death. Painted with totemic bearing symbols they were also used in ceremony and considered necessary accoutrements in some types of ritual performances. The shields from NSW and Victoria frequently were highly carved with series of parallel undulating lines traditionally incised, using possum tooth engraving tools. The elegant form of these shields and meandering patterns really transcends the ethnographic value and can be appreciated and as standalone pieces of art in their own right."

BETH says the pair's study into the shields' origins and use has uncovered fascinating history about their owners and the former colonial owners. The search has taken them to "far-flung corners of Australia ... from rummaging through junk shops and driving dusty roads in the country visiting old outback farms". Accustomed to some arduous journeys, Jonathon was delighted to find a shield under a firewood pile in a rental house that he had just moved into, Beth says.

This column has appeared in The Redland Times.


  1. An anonymous visitor has submitted a comment suggesting readers of this article visit a certain site for more information but I decided that rather than promote just one site I would best suggest that interested readers google keywords from the article. JR

  2. Another anonymous comment has been lodged. It has made allegations that I don't have the time/resources at present to follow up:
    John, the anonymous person was [name removed] of Sydney, he also goes by [name removed] as a stage name of an indig identified person. he operates on ebay under various names such as [five names removed]. He loots artefact sites and sells faux named artefacts to deceived. he is known as "the clown" in auction circles.