Murlapaka were used during ceremonies as well and for protection during confrontation, as well as in training. It is one of two types of shield made by the Kaurna people. In post contact Australia the shield becomes a tool of resistance in the battle against colonising forces. This Murlapaka was likely to have been used to fight for and defend Aboriginal people, as well as their land.

Very few shields survive today in Australia from the early contact period, especially those made by the Kaurna people from the Adelaide Plains. The impact of colonisation resulted in many objects made by Aboriginal people being stolen, destroyed or sent to international collections. This rare Murlapaka, dated to the early nineteenth century, is one of seven known shields of this kind.

The Murlapaka, one of two types of shield made by the Kaurna people, is made from the inner bark of a eucalyptus tree and is characterised by its oval shape with elongated tapering tips. Three incised parallel lines, in opposed arc patterns, run longitudinally on each side, while towards the ends of the shield are shorter configurations with two correlating lines. Evident over the markings are the remnants of earth pigments, suggesting that the shield’s maker once applied red ochre and white clay over the surface. A handle has been pushed through two holes in the centre of the shield, possibly when the bark was still fresh and malleable.

A powerful symbol of Kaurna identity, this Murlapaka is an important cultural and artistic object and represents the survival and enduring strength of Aboriginal people. On permanent display, it is a reminder that ‘AGSA Kaurna yartangka yuwanthi’ (AGSA stands on Kaurna Country).

The Murlapaka Kaurna shield shows strength in its design, protection in its history, connection to country in its image, and the spirit of its creator in its life. We know the land is the oldest living thing, the trees are connected to this land, the knowledge and wisdom of the land is in the trees. The shield itself was cut from a tree and its shadow remained in the tree and the shield took with it the knowledge and wisdom of the land, culture and people. It returned to its home of the Kaurna Miyurna (Adelaide Plains People). And now it tells many stories, when we listen, observe and share its journey and place…’” - Senior Kaurna Man, Mickey Kumatpi O'Brien

Australian Curriculum Connections - Year 4 History

The diversity of Australia's first peoples and the long and continuous connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to Country/Place (land, sea, waterways and skies) (ACHASSK083)

Australian Curriculum Connections - Year 5 History

The impact of a significant development or event on an Australian colony (ACHASSK108)

The nature of convict or colonial presence, including the factors that influenced patterns of development, aspects of the daily life of the inhabitants (including Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islander Peoples) and how the environment changed (ACHASSK107)

  • KAURNA PEOPLE, South Australia

    Murlapaka

    1800s
    On display, Gallery 2

Look closely at Murlapaka. What evidence can you see that this shield was used to fight for and defend Aboriginal people, as well as their land.

The Gallery’s Learning programs are supported by the Department for Education.

This education resource has been developed and written in collaboration with Gloria Strzelecki, Associate Curator of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art and Kylie Neagle, Education Coordinator