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2004/71/1 Rug, platypus, skin/ felt, New South Wales, Australia, 1880-1930. Click to enlarge.

Platypus skin rug

Made
Rugs made from native animal skins are often mentioned in nineteenth and twentieth century sources. During the 1850s goldrushes, frequent reference is made to possum and kangaroo skins rugs being sold by Aboriginal people to the diggers. In 1881 James Dawson described such rugs as 'A good rug is made from fifty to a hundred skins, which are stripped off the opossum, pegged out square or oblong on a sheet of bark, and dried before the fire, then trimmed with a reed knife and sewn together with the tail sinews of the kangaroo'. The earliest references to platypus skin rugs is in the catalogue of the New South Wales contribution to the 1862 London International Exhibition. The exhibits being sent included a travelling rug made of tanned platypus skins.

The popularity of rugs and other domestic objects made from native animal skins says much about nineteenth century attitudes to the Australian environment. The bush and its inhabitants were to be conquered and subjugated and the turning of wild and 'exotic' native animals into rugs was symbolic of that conquest. The fact that the rug was intended for use as a bed covering further emphasised the 'domestication' of this 'savage' land. This platypus skin rug is of particular interest since the skins have been professionally tanned and stitched together and imaginative use has been made of the contrasting colours of the platypus underbelly and coat.

The rug is an important reminder of the change in attitude to the killing of indigenous animals in Australia. In the past, the slaughter and use of native animals to produce domestic objects was an acceptable, indeed admired, practice. The animals were abundant and their skins offered potential warmth and comfort. Platypus skin rugs are commonly made from 70 or 80 skins and a single rug therefore represents considerable slaughter of the local population.

Kimberley Webber, 2003

Summary

Object No.

2004/71/1

Object Statement

Rug, platypus, skin/ felt, New South Wales, Australia, 1880-1930

Physical Description

Rectangular rug made from approximately eighty platypus skins. The rug is edged with a band of possum skins and backed with fawn felt. The felt has a pinked edge. The platypus skin has been cut to form a diamond pattern and the dark back fur and gold belly fur arranged to form a complex diamond pattern.

Dimensions

Width

1720 mm

Production

Notes

The skins were collected by Charles Bulwinkel in the 1880s and 1890s from Duck Creek and Emigrant Creek which flowed through his property and which are tributaries of the Richmond River in northern New South Wales. On Bulwinkel's death in 1918, the skins passed to his daughter Mrs Greta Denison who had them stitched into a rug. It is not clear if the possum skin edge dates from this period or was added later. The skins were professionally tanned and sewn together.

History

Notes

The skins were collected by Charles Bulwinkel in to 1880s and 1890s from Duck Creek and Emigrant Creek which flowed through his property and which are tributaries of the Richmond River in northern New South Wales. Charles Bulwinkel was one of the early settlers on the north coast. He originally went there to set up the sugar mill at Harwood on the Clarence River and eventually took up land at Alstonville which he called 'Fountaindale'. This land was later sold to Norco Co-op for their factory at Alstonville.

On his death in 1918 the skins passed to his daugther Mrs Greta Denison who in the 1920s or 1930s had them sewn into a rug for her home 'Boomerang' in East Ballina. Mrs Denison never used the rug and on her death it passed to Mr AW (Fred) Holland. It is thought that Mr Holland put it into the auction sale.

Source

Credit Line

Purchased 2004

Acquisition Date

22 April 2004

Cite this Object

Harvard

Platypus skin rug 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 26 November 2020, <https://ma.as/343335>

Wikipedia

{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/343335 |title=Platypus skin rug |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=26 November 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}

Incomplete

This object record is currently incomplete. Other information may exist in a non-digital form. The Museum continues to update and add new research to collection records.