An extremely rare Duck-Billed Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) fur carriage rug or bed-cover
Australia, late 19th/early 20th century
H. 140 x W. 180 cm
Woodcliffe House, Yorkshire, England
Made of 45 skins, this exuberant rug shows the depletion of Australian lands by the British, but also warns about the neglect of nature by Australia today.
The earliest reference to platypus skin rugs is in the catalogue of the New South Wales contribution to the 1862 London International Exhibition. The exhibits being sent included a travelling rug made of tanned platypus skins. Only about two or three other examples are known, of which one is in the Powerhouse Museum (MAAS) in Sydney (inv. no. 2004/71/1) and one supposedly in the British Museum.
The popularity of rugs and other domestic objects made from native animal skins says much about nineteenth-century attitudes to the Australian environment. The bush and its inhabitants were to be conquered and subjugated and the turning of wild and 'exotic' native animals into rugs was symbolic of that conquest. The fact that the rug was intended for use as a carriage rug or bed cover further emphasised the 'domestication' of this 'savage' land. Today, no Australian would even think about hunting the Platypus.
However, Australia is the world's largest mine and leading producer of rare metals. The recent extreme bush fires show that the lands are neglected as traditional ways of stopping fire weren’t maintained. Rivers are polluted with residue from the mining industry and while it is forbidden to hunt Platypuses, numbers are therefore still declining. Connection to the land and waters is vital in Aboriginal culture and to that of Torres Strait Islander people, and there has been a long battle to gain legal and moral recognition of ownership of the lands and waters occupied by the many peoples prior to the colonisation of Australia starting in 1788, and the annexation of the Torres Strait Islands by the colony of Queensland in the 1870s. The rights have been acknowledged, but the lands are still being depleted and the indigenous people are not gaining economically. The same problems that Australian flora and fauna face nowadays: rare animals like the platypus aren’t protected and the government is not listing them as endangered under international conservation laws: the easiest way to continue robbing the lands of resources without thinking about its inhabitants.
Part of the revenue of this rug will go to a non-profit Platypus conservation fund.