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