Representation of a woman by a native of New South Wales Bowen Bungaree (attributed) from John Oxley’s Field Book 202, 1823 is the first known drawing on paper by an Indigenous Australian. Sometime in November 1823, in Moreton Bay (Queensland) and probably at Bribie Island, John Oxley, Surveyor General of New South Wales, handed a pencil to a young Aboriginal man who had sailed from Sydney with him on the cutter HMS Mermaid. Bowen Bungaree (also known as Boin, Bowen Toura (Mosquito) or Black Bowen) sketched the figure of an Aboriginal woman on a page in the explorer’s Field Book. What seems at first glance to be a simple stick figure is stylistically similar to much larger human shapes outlined in Aboriginal rock engravings throughout the Sydney area. Bowen’s sketch and extracts from Oxley’s Field Book were first printed in August 1920 in an article by R. H. Cambage and Henry Selkirk in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, Sydney. Selkirk, then Under-Secretary for Lands in New South Wales, inked over the pencil outline so it could be more easily reproduced. There are no records of other drawings by Bowen.

Bowen Bungaree (c.1802-1853) was the eldest son of the Broken Bay leader 'King’ Bungaree and his first wife Matora or Madora who took her name from muttaura, meaning 'small snapper’ in the Awabagal language of the Hunter River, where it is likely she was born. In 1820 the artist Pavel Mikhailov (1786-1840), from the Russian scientific expedition led by Captain Fabian von Bellingshausen, sketched watercolour portraits of 'Boin’ (Bowen, then aged about 18), his father Boongaree (Bungaree), his mother 'Madora’ (Matora), brother 'Toubi’ (Toby) and other members of Bungaree’s family who were camped at Kirribilli on the north shore of Sydney Harbour. These images, now in the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, cannot be reproduced because of copyright restrictions. Like his famous father, Bowen led a varied and adventurous life, mixing easily with the new colonial hierarchy. A skilled fisherman and boatman, he became a sailor, interpreter, guide, go-between and tracker of bushrangers and escaped convicts. Bowen, then aged 21, was taken as a go-between by John Oxley on the cutter Mermaid during his exploration of the Pacific Ocean coast north of Port Macquarie, seeking a site for a possible new convict settlement. After 16 days at Port Curtis (now Gladstone, Queensland), Oxley sailed south to Moreton Bay, where the Mermaid anchored off Skirmish Point on Bribie Island.

On 29 November 1823 Oxley wrote that he 'endeavoured to make the Natives through Bowen (our Sydney native who understood something of what they said) & Pamphlet [sic] our desire to see the other two white men’. Thomas Pamphlett and the two other white men, John Finnegan and Richard Parsons, were timber-getters, whose open boat had been wrecked on Moreton Island the previous April and had since lived with Aborigines on Bribie Island. With Finnegan as guide, Oxley in a whaleboat charted and named the Brisbane River (after Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane), returning to the ship on 5 December 1823. Bowen is not mentioned in connection with this expedition and probably remained aboard Mermaid . Bowen’s knowledge of the local language might have come from Bungaree, who sailed aboard the tiny sloop Norfolk with Matthew Flinders and was involved in the brief clash with Aboriginal men on 16 July 1799 that gave Skirmish Point its name. After this first hostile encounter, Flinders and his crew had several friendly meetings with Undanbi clansmen who spoke Turrubul, the indigenous language of Bribie Island and the coast north to Coolum on what is today’s Sunshine Coast of Queensland. Though Flinders wrote later that 'Bungaree could not understand their language’, he was a quick learner and probably passed some of his knowledge to his son.

In 1817 the elder Bungaree had also sailed on Mermaid , a snub-nosed cutter of 83 tons, in a survey of the north Australian coast, commanded by Philip Parker King, who drew the first known portrait of Bungaree in 1819. Bowen was trusted to carry a rifle and roamed the Pittwater area near the mouth of the Hawkesbury River, north of Sydney, tracking escaped convicts and bushrangers. Writing in the Sydney Mail in 1861, journalist Charles de Boose quoted John Farrell of Newport, who said that in about 1829 Bowen had shot and killed a bushranger named Casey. Farrell said Bowen, who had been given a rifle by the Governor, 'was very proud of this and took it with him everywhere’. Like his father, who often sported a military jacket and cocked hat, Bowen liked to wear European clothing, especially a dress coat with a swallow tail, but wore his hair 'knotted up behind, and three feathers stuck in it’. After a long illness, King Bungaree died in Sydney in 1830. He was succeeded, said the Launceston Advocate , 'by his eldest son [Bowen], who is the very semblance of the virtues of his departed father’. In November 1831, 'Young Bungaree’ was 'floored by a waddie’ (waddy or club) at the conclusion of a ritual revenge combat at Woolloomooloo. Bowen and his wife Maria (Man Naney or Maria Jonza, sometimes called 'Queen Maria’) usually lived in the Sydney area. They had two children, baptised as Mark and Theela (Theeda) at St. Mary’s, Sydney. In 1834 'Member’s of Bowen’s tribe’ were listed as Maria, Jane, Bob, Yama, Tobin (Toby, Bowen’s brother) and Dinah (Diana, the fair-haired daughter of one of Bungaree’s wives and a European).

In 1837 'Bohun’ led customs officials from the Broken Bay Customs Station at Barrenjoey to illegal liquor stills and gave information on the whereabouts of some bushrangers. Bowen was rewarded with a boat for his own use, which would have allowed him to visit relatives at Broken Bay, including Boio (Long Dick), a son of King Bungaree and his last wife Cora Gooseberry. A pencil portrait in Sydney’s Mitchell Library, titled Aboriginal man with rifle, shows a man with similar features and expression to Mikhailov’s 1820 portrait of 'Boin’. Despite the passage of more than 20 years, this man resembles Bowen Bungaree, who carried a rifle and liked to wear a white shirt and trousers. J. C. Waterman, an overseer at the Sydney Domain, recalled that, in 1846, 'Bungaree’s [ie Bowen] party comprised eight men, women and children’ including King Bungaree’s widow Cora Gooseberry and her relation Ricketty Dick. 'They gave exhibitions of boomerang throwing in Hyde Park and roamed about Sydney by day and camped near the Centipede Rock in the Domain’. Bowen and five other Broken Bay men were taken to San Francisco in 1849 by Sydney merchant Richard Hill on the brig William Hill with passengers bound for the California goldfields. He was the only one of these men to return. According to historian Maybanke Anderson: Mr. Hill took the blackfellows with him because they were used to boating, and could be employed to row the boats which were needed to carry the crowds who were flocking to the Eldorado. Black Bowen was the only one of the six who returned. The others all died far from their native home. Black Bowen always spoke with scorn of “that country!! No wood for fire, but plenty cold wind, and plenty, plenty water. No good for me! No good for blackfellow!” Bowen died in Sydney in 1853 at the reputed age of 56. His death was registered at St. Lawrence’s Presbyterian Church and his occupation was given as fisherman. John Farrell claimed that Bowen had been ambushed, shot and killed by bushrangers in the Pittwater area while sitting at a campfire.

Smith, Keith V.
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