• Breastplate belonging to Poonipun of Amity Point, North Stradbroke Island, ca. 1847
  • Megan Cope, drawing response to Poonipun's breastplate, 2014

Megan Cope and Queensland Museum

In this feature, a selection of guest contributors respond to an image or material artefact (typically a garment or accessory), that represents Queensland fashion. Each item is specifically chosen by The Fashion Archives in collaboration with collections and with a particular contemporary practitioner in mind. As a result, each Remember of Revive is a bespoke response and can take many formats and styles.

Megan Cope is a contemporary Aboriginal artist and a descendent of the Quandamooka, or North Stradbroke Island, region. This area was also home to Poonipun, an Aboriginal man whose name is engraved in this 1847 breastplate held in the Indigenous collection of the Queensland Museum.

Poonipun was one of six Aboriginal men to intervene when a passenger and cargo ship capsized off the southern end of Moreton Island. Putting themselves in great danger, the men swam out to the wreck and managed to rescue 10 of the 54 passengers. For this act of immense bravery, the men were awarded engraved brass breastplates by the government of the colony. Only three of these breastplates survive, and as not much is known about Poonipun or the other men honoured, they are important documents of Aboriginal history.

The inscription on Poonipun’s breastplate reads:

Poonipun of Amity Point. Rewarded by the Governor, for the assistance he afforded, with several of his countrymen, to the survivors of the wreck of the steamer “Sovereign” by rescuing them from the surf upon Moreton Island on the 11th 0f March 1847, upon which melancholy occasion 46 persons were drowned and by the aid of the natives 10 were saved.

Worn around the neck, breastplates, also known as king plates or gorgets, were given to Aboriginal people by the colony government for a range of reasons. As in the case of Poonipun, sometimes they were awarded to recognise acts of heroism, and therefore remain symbolic of the courage and achievement of Aboriginal peoples. In other instances, breastplates were issued by the Europeans to impose a hierarchy of command in Aboriginal communities that would serve as a further means of colonial control. They are therefore highly controversial historical objects.

Megan explains the significance of Poonipun’s breasplate to her ancestral community:

“Our families on Stradbroke Island have long told stories about our ancestors saving lives from many a shipwreck on Quandamooka seas. Some of these oral histories have been cast into breastplates to remember and honor the bravery of our ancestors.

This drawing is a multilayered landscape of parish (circa 1800s), military (circa 1940s) maps and personal illustrations of when the Steamer Sovereign sunk after hitting a sand bank in 1847.

Six Aboriginal men from Amity Point (Pulan)—Poonipun, Toompani, Woondu, Nuahju, Noggun and Juckle-Juckle—saved the lives of ten people aboard the sinking boat and were awarded breastplates. Only 3 are known to have survived. I drew inspiration from Poonipun’s breastplate from the Queensland Museum collection.”

Megan has inscribed the landscape with the names of the six men. Her words ‘Sunken Sovereign’ written on the breastplate form may allude to both the ship’s name and the colonising rule of the Europeans.

Megan Cope, drawing response to Poonipun's breastplate, 2014
Megan Cope, drawing response to Poonipun's breastplate, 2014Megan Cope
Breastplate, ca.1847
Breastplate, ca.1847Queensland Museum, QE2629
Back of the breastplate
Back of the breastplateQueensland Museum, QE2629
Megan has inscribed the names of the six men involved in the rescue: Poonipun, Toompani, Woondu, Nuahju, Noggun and Juckle-Juckle
Megan has inscribed the names of the six men involved in the rescue: Poonipun, Toompani, Woondu, Nuahju, Noggun and Juckle-JuckleMegan Cope
Detail of Megan's drawing showing the breastplate form
Detail of Megan's drawing showing the breastplate formMegan Cope

Published in , on March 11, 2014.