Lycett & Wallis – The Convict & The Commandant

“I think the importance of artwork like Lycett’s in regards to a city like Newcastle is that you don’t have to go to Arnhem Land or the Kimberley to be in touch with Indigenous culture and important cultural sites. There are so many of these really significant sites right within this city.”

Professor John Maynard

At the beginning of the 19th Century in one of the World’s most vicious settlements, two fractured European men started an art revolution that resulted in the preservation of vast amounts of Aboriginal Cultural Knowledge. Before the existence of cameras, convict Joseph Lycett captured traditional Aboriginal life in Newcastle as it had existed for millennia, at the nexus point before most of their lifestyle would be lost forever.

Every Australian should know this story.

Produced by Stories Of Our Town, this brilliant short film clearly and coherently illustrates the cultural life of the Awabakal people living in the Newcastle region at the time of European settlement in the early 19th century.

The relationship between these two men over 200 years ago – Captain James Wallis and convict forger Joseph Lycett – has left us with a rich and important source of what life was really like for Aboriginal people at that time. We can clearly see in Joseph Lycett’s paintings the daily life of the Awabakal people – hunting, fishing, relaxing, a corroboree and even a burial ceremony.

Born in Staffordshire, England, Lycett became a botanical artist but was convicted of forgery and transported to Australia in 1815. When Sydney was suddenly flooded by expertly forged five-shilling notes. These notes were traced to Lycett and his possession of a small copper-plate press saw him again convicted of forgery and transported to Newcastle.

Captain James Wallis saw the opportunity to put Lycett’s considerable artistic skills to work in producing the plans for Newcastle’s original Christ Church constructed in 1818, and the production of drawings and paintings that appealed to Governor Lachlan Macquarie – who ultimately pardoned Lycett (although his life didn’t have a happy ending).

Watch: Lycett and Wallis – Unlikely Preservers of Aboriginal History.