Aboriginal shield come in many different forms depending on the tribe that made them and their function. Aboriginal shield come into 2 main types, Broad shields and Parrying shields. Parrying shields parry blows from a club where as broad shields block spears. Shields for parrying are thick strong and narrow where as broad shields are wide but thin.
The value of an aboriginal shield depends on the quality of the shield, the age, artistic beauty and rarity. As a rule of thumb the shields from the areas of earliest contact such as New South Wales tend to be the less common. Rare shield from Eastern Australia are more collectable than those from Western Australia. Most good shields end up in the hands of lovers of tribal art and not by weapons collectors.
Wanda shields come from the desert regions of Western Australia. Good old Wanda shields should be very thin and have a curved profile. The better ones tend to be symmetrical with the top half being the same size as the lower half. Asymmetric shields are often a result of damage. Damaged shields were often indigenously reworked, by removing the damaged.
The handle on the reverse should be large enough for the hand to fit through. There are more Wanda shields on the market made for sale to tourists than old originals. Old used examples are far more valued by a collector. There are two main Forms. A more common form with one z shape motif on the front and a less common form with many Z shapes.
La Grange Shields
La grange shields come from the Kimberley region of western Australia. La grange shields tend to be flat in profile with the front left blank or covered in parallel grooves. The reverse carved in an inter locking key design called la grange design. Older shields tend to have larger handles.
Later shields have smaller shallower handles and do not fit comfortably in the hand. Designs on earlier shields tend to be more precise and perfect. The grooves should be continuous and not fade out where the groove angle changes. The better the design, the more collectable. Early shields often have a blank front.
South East Australian Broad Shield
South East Australian Broad shields are the most collectable of all Aboriginal shields. They have a very distinctive reversed hour glass shape. The handles are not made from wood and can quite often become lost.
These shields are often covered in incised designs. Designs are a diamond figure set in a field of herringbone, and parallel chevron and diagonal flutings. The patterns are usually symmetrical.
Most examples of these shields are 19th century with very few later examples.
The surface of many shields, especially those of the Murray River, are divided into panels. The panels separated by plain longitudinal strips of the smooth surface. The dividing strips are often painted red. The bas-relief grooved pattern white, forming a simple but effective contrast.
South East Australian Parrying Shields
Parrying shields should be strong enough to deflect the blow of a hardwood club.
Constructed from heavy hardwood, the prettier the designs on the front the better. The shape and aesthetic form are important.
Almost all South east Australian Parrying shields were collected during the colonial period.
Gulmari shields come from Southern Queensland. Made from softwood they are crudely painted but otherwise undecorated. These shields tend to be valuable because they are rare, rather than their artistic merit. Some do have some cross hatching and incision on the front.
Queensland Rainforest Shield
Rain forest shield come from Northern Queensland. Amongst the most beautiful of all the aboriginal shields the rainforest shield is also sort after by collectors.
The Old shields tend to be larger and have the handle ridge extending from top to bottom. Later shields are smaller and often have less attractive designs.
Rain forest shields are made from the buttress roots of large rainforest trees.
Bardi shields come from the Bardi aboriginals of Western Australia. The Bardi themselves call the shield “marrga”. They live in an area North of Broome and parts of the Dampier Peninsula. Bardi shields serve to ward of boomerangs, the principle offensive weapon in this region. They are thick and have an inset handle. They often have incised designs on the front and back and painted in ochre and clay
Central Desert Aboriginal Shields
Aboriginal shield from the central desert are also called Bean wood Shields. They are amongst the most common and least sort after aboriginal shield. The exception is when they still have ceremonial ochres, pipe clay and feather designs.
Old shields tend to have edges that tend to curve backwards and then almost face back towards the handle.