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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Mickey of Ulladulla (1820–1891)

by Andrew Sayers

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Mickey of Ulladulla (c.1820–1891), Aboriginal artist, was born on the south coast of New South Wales, a member of the Dhurga people. The first written record of him was a note on some of his drawings in the collection of the Mitchell Library, Sydney:

Drawn by 'Mickie'
An old crippled blackfellow
of Nelligen, Clyde River NSW
Later drawings, dating from the 1880s, were annotated with inscriptions describing the artist's location as Ulladulla.

By the 1840s, Aboriginal men at Ulladulla were employed by settlers in reaping, tree felling and trading in native fauna. Women were employed in such pursuits as digging potatoes and husking maize. As the south coast industries developed, Aboriginal labour was used on farms, in sawmills and on wharves. The principal activity, however, was fishing. Mickey's drawings recorded some of these activities. In one, a man supporting himself on two sticks (almost certainly a depiction of the artist) was shown selling brooms.

Most of his drawings were made in the 1880s at Ulladulla. Many appear to have been pairs: one part depicting the corroboree, the other depicting fishing activities. He developed a pattern for these sketches. Those of corroborees included a row of spectators along the lower edge of the composition, while centrally placed, in European dress, was the man with crutches, the artist himself. In his fishing scenes, specific vessels were depicted, such as the boats given to the Ulladulla community by the Aborigines Protection Board and the Peterborough, a steamer that made a weekly trip between Ulladulla and Sydney in the 1880s and 1890s.

Mickey's medium was a mixture of pencil, water-colour and coloured crayons. Like his fellow Aboriginal artists of the nineteenth century Tommy McRae and William Barak, he had a particular relationship with members of the European community, who provided materials and who ensured the preservation of the works. Mickey's patron was Mary Ann Gambell, the wife of the Ulladulla lighthouse keeper, who lived close to the Aboriginal Reserve at Ulladulla and had a reputation as a friend of indigenous people.

Mickey of Ulladulla died on 13 October 1891. He may have succumbed to the virulent strain of influenza that caused a minor epidemic in the town in October and November that year. A brief report of his death in the local newspaper described him as 'gifted with some of the qualities of an artist. He produced some very fine pencil sketches, and indeed showed ability in that direction'. In 1893 the Board for the Protection of Aborigines and two local officials (George Ilett of Milton and John Rainsford) showed five of Mickey's drawings at the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, United States of America. Ilett was awarded a bronze medal for exhibiting work that was described as 'unique and valuable as a specimen of primitive art, being uninfluenced by the white man'. Mickey of Ulladulla's drawings are in many public collections including the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, the National Library of Australia and the National Gallery of Australia, all in Canberra, and the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Sayers, Aboriginal Artists of the Nineteenth Century (Melb, 1994)
  • Ulladulla and Milton Times, 17 Oct 1891, p 2.

Citation details

Andrew Sayers, 'Mickey of Ulladulla (1820–1891)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 22 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]


New South Wales, Australia


13 October 1891

Cultural Heritage