Bungaree and the grand corroboree: "white fellow sit down all about; black fellow Murry Miserable"

Maryrose Casey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Aboriginal public and secret performances, under the general label of corroboree, were the main focus of descriptions of Indigenous Australians. In the early accounts of the settlement in Botany Bay in Sydney, these performances are mentioned constantly, but often only in passing and with recurring negative descriptions such as "terrible shouting," "wrought up to such a pitch of madness," and "a spectacle for pandemonium" (A Bushman 1841, 2; Mitchell Expedition 1839, 3). These descriptions on the whole do not differentiate between types of performances. The exception, and the main performances that are engaged with in detail, are ritualised performances that were part of traditional Indigenous judicial practices. These are often described in a degree of detail in both factual accounts and more fictive, literary texts (Collins 1802, 543; Bellingshausen [1831] 1945, 85-90; "A Scene in the Wild" 1836, 4). But in all sources there seems to have been little attempt to understand either Indigenous ceremony or public performances for entertainment in the first half of the nineteenth century. As William Westgarth stated in his Australia Felix (1848), "the exact meaning of their famous corrobboree [sic] or native dance, beyond mere exercise and pastime, has not yet been properly ascertained" (78).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-200
Number of pages16
JournalAbout Performance [P]
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Bungaree
  • Grand Corroboree
  • Indigenous Ceremony


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