The Art of Joseph Lycett and John Lewin: A Visual Window into the Aboriginal Cultures of NSW

The Lycett Album by convict artist, Joseph Lycett, consists of 20 watercolour and gouache paintings, showing the life and country of Aboriginal peoples from the Newcastle and Sydney districts. The ten hand-painted aquatint prints, Field Sports of the Native Inhabitants of NSW, reproduced by John Heaviside Clark - after what are now believed to be the likely works of the first official free-settler artist in the colony, John Lewin - became the first pictorial publication that dealt with the lives and cultures of Aboriginal Australians. These works of art are among our most significant visual sources for Aboriginal cultures and identity just prior to the full impact of British colonialism. This class will consider the dual function of these images as vivid windows into Aboriginal cultural identity as well as visual embodiments of the European landscape tradition.

This class will be delivered face-to-face at WEA Sydney. Enrolling students need to ensure they have read the current COVID-19 Safety Guidance that WEA Sydney has put in place before enrolling.


  • Val Attenbrow, Sydney’s Aboriginal Past: Investigating the Archaeological Records (UNSW Press: 2002).
  • Bill Gamage, The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia (Allen and Unwin: 2011).
  • Grace Karskens, People of the River: Lost Worlds of Early Australia (Allen Unwin: 2020).
  • John Maynard, True Light and Shade: An Aboriginal Perspective of Joseph Lycett’s Art (National Library of Australia: 2014).
  • John Maynard and Victoria Haskins, Living with the Locals: Early European’s Experience of Indigenous Life (National Library of Australia: 2016).
  • Joseph Lycett: Convict Artist edited by John McPhee, Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales: 2006).
  • Margo Neale and Lynne Kelly, Songlines: The Power and Promise (Thames and Hudson: 2020).
  • Bruce Pascoe, Dark Emu Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident? (Magabala Books: 2014).
  • Henry Reynolds. The Other Side of the Frontier: Aboriginal Resistance to the European Invasion of Australia (UNSW Press: 1981).


  • Joseph Lycett and John Lewin: We will discuss the lives of Joseph Lycett and John Lewin within the context of their role as artists within the New South Wales colony.
  • The Australian Context: We will then address the early relationships, interaction, conflict and impact of the collision of the 1788 arrival of the British colony and its colonial expansion into the Sydney basin and Hunter region, with the Aboriginal cultures of eastern New South Wales, who had a cultural origin and historical legacy in these areas dating back for 50,000 years.
  • The Visual Evidence and Aboriginal Cultures: We will address how the Lycett sketchbook and Field Sports of the Native Inhabitants of NSW, can function as historical visual documents for Aboriginal cultures of the Sydney basin, Newcastle and other areas of the eastern division of New South Wales. Furthermore, we will look at how this visual evidence can be viewed within a broader picture of Aboriginal identity(s) in the first decades of the nineteenth century, and as a record of traditions and life within the many millennia that preceded European occupation.
  • Image Making versus works of art: Drawing could function as a point of interaction and interest between Aboriginal Australians and the early European settlers. We will conclude with a comparative cultural analysis of Aboriginal image making and European artistic conventions. By the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the visual arts of Europe had moved further away from an intrinsic cultural role that was interconnected with religion. While in turn, art’s civic function, within a rapidly changing European continent, was constantly in need of re-evaluation. In stark contrast, the very notion of a distinct category called the “visual arts” was foreign to Aboriginal societies; where image making was entirely interconnected to cultural narratives that functioned as a unity with language, songs and geography.


By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Gain an understanding of what the Lycett Album and the aquatint plates, Field Sports of the Native Inhabitants of NSW can reveal to us about aspects of the cultures and country of some of the eastern Aboriginal peoples of New South Wales.
  2. Gain an historical context of early relations, between Aboriginal peoples and the colonial occupiers, from which to view the works of Lycett and John Lewin.
  3. Compare and contrast how visual language and expression functioned within two different cultural heritages.
$39 Limited

<p>The Lycett Album by convict artist, Joseph Lycett, consists of 20 watercolour and gouache paintings, showing the life and country of Aboriginal peoples from the Newcastle and Sydney districts. The

13 May

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