Robert Dale Panoramic view of King George’s Sound, part of the colony of Swan River 1834 - Ian Potter Museum of Art

Robert Dale
Panoramic view of King George’s Sound, part of the colony of Swan River 1834

This long print – over 2.7 metres – shows the lands of the Minang Noongar people, in south-western Australia, in the early days of its occupation by British soldiers and settlers. Here we see the spectacular vista from the rocky summit of Corndarup, named Mt Clarence by the British. Drawn by assistant government surveyor Robert Dale in 1832 and translated into print by London-based printmaker Robert Havell Jnr in 1834, the 360-degree view presents the region’s distinctive coastline showing the native flora, distant ships, the settlement later to become Albany, and the apparently peaceful relations between the uniform-clad soldiers and the Traditional Owners, whose ways of living with their land were being usurped.

Panoramas were a popular form of entertainment in nineteenth-century European and colonial cities, often painted on a large scale and installed in circular rooms so that viewers could immerse themselves within the expansive view of foreign places or action-packed events. Printed versions such as this hand-coloured aquatint were more accessible and portable, and were sometimes mounted as scrolls, so that the viewer could reveal the scene by twisting the handles, like a slowly panning camera.

To accompany this print, Dale wrote a Descriptive Account of the Panoramic View &c. of King George’s Sound, and the Adjacent Country, in which he describes the country, coast, climate and vegetation, assessing it for its economic usefulness, as well as recording what he perceived of Indigenous society. Although he and his party had amicable relations with the local Noongar community (the respected elder Nakinna is depicted), Dale saw no incongruity in taking to England and displaying with this print the smoked head of Whadjuk Noongar warrior Yagan, who had been shot and killed in Western Australia’s brutal early frontier wars. In 1997, after many years of campaigning, Yagan’s kaat (head) was returned to his community, and he is now widely recognised as a courageous resistance fighter against the British invaders. Thus, this seemingly tranquil and harmonious panorama hides a horrific story of violence, occupation and the theft and widespread trade of Indigenous people as biological curios. Yet it is also an important visual record of Noongar life at that time, albeit seen through British eyes.

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