PEOPLE have called the Riverina home for thousands of years, and so our history is one of friendships and rivalries, cooperation and coexistence. Museum of the Riverina’s semi-permanent exhibitions about local history contain some truly intriguing objects – perhaps none more so than a brass breastplate that was donated to the museum 50 years ago.
The ‘King Peter’ Breastplate is a beautiful brass plaque that was given by the Devlin family of Ganmain Station to ‘Peter’, a Wiradjuri man, in the 1860s. Plaques of these kind were commonly given by landholders to prominent aboriginal employees and friends, and it is believed that King Peter served the Devlin family as a stockman.
The breastplate represents a complex history. It is clearly a sign of gratitude and recognition from the Devlin family, but we cannot know how Peter was treated by other settlers, nor his own people for wearing it. It is an object that represents friendship and cooperation, though we know that not all the interactions between the area’s first people and its European settlers were so congenial.
The Wiradjuri Heritage Study (2002) advances an intriguing theory about the King Peter Breastplate. It points out that explorer Charles Sturt was guided from Wantabadgery to Mount Arthur by a Wiradjuri man who called himself Peter. If that guide was one and the same as ‘King Peter’ from Ganmain Station, he must have possessed a remarkable knowledge of the Murrumbidgee river and its surrounds on both sides of Wagga.
Curiously, despite being a gift to Peter, the breastplate wound up back in the possession of the Devlin family again, and remained in the family until January 1968, when Miss Beulah Bolton (a grandchild of James Devlin, the original squatter on Ganmain Station), donated it to the museum.
The King Peter Breastplate is on display at the Botanic Gardens site (Lord Baden Powell Drive), alongside hundreds of other objects that reveal our region’s story. Exhibitions explore the region’s natural history, prominent local businesses, significant local agricultural practices, the local impacts of war, and the lives and achievements of sportspeople from our region.