FOR almost two centuries Joseph Lycett’s mystical painting of a corroboree on the banks of a moonlit Newcastle harbour has been a magnet for art lovers and historians alike.
The celebrated colonial and convict artist’s work depicts dozens of Aborigines dancing around ceremonial fires lit against a darkened landscape in the 1820s.
Despite its haunting beauty, the painting’s exact location has remained the subject of speculation.
But, thanks to an unplanned research project, Coal River Working Party chairman Gionni Di Gravio believes he has stumbled across its probable location.
The revelation began to unfold when Mr Di Gravio was recently helping a fellow researcher look for information about two ancient Aboriginal burials recorded in Maryville.
‘‘After providing some information about what I knew about Aboriginal burial customs and the ancient topography, I read the article which provided information about the discovery of middens in the area, as well as the reminiscences of a former Wickham resident, Mrs Farnham, relating to a local Aboriginal tribe,’’ he said.
Mrs Janet Farnham, 91, told the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners Advocate in July 1934 that as a girl she had witnessed an Aboriginal corroboree on the site of former St James Church in Church Street, Wickham.
The sacred ceremony, she said, was held to celebrate the birth of a child.
‘‘To celebrate this all-important occasion, the [Aborigines] decided to hold a corroboree. Mrs Farnham and her friends, with many residents of Newcastle, were privileged to witness the ceremony,’’ the paper wrote.
She described the camp as ‘‘a huge clearing, surrounded by a dense forest of trees and thick undergrowth. The floor was covered with sea shells. The only approach was a single track, which was guarded by sentinels.’’
She said the corroboree ground was about 200 yards from her home in Holland Street, Wickham.
This means the corroboree ground would have covered an area spanning several blocks from near the corner of Church and Hannell streets.
Mr Di Gravio’s theory is supported by the sight lines of Nobbys headland used in Lycett’s painting and other paintings of the era.
Mr Di Gravio would like to see the site’s significance recognised in future planning decisions.
‘‘No one thinks twice about naming a ground after a football team,’’ he said. ‘‘Aboriginal culture has been here for thousands of years but there is not one corroboree ground that is recognised.’’
Transcripts of Newcastle Herald articles referenced in this report here
For more maps and details see The Coal River Working Party website