This portrait is of William Barak who was a great Wurundjeri leader of Melbourne. William Barak was born into the Wurundjeri clan of the Woi wurung people in 1823, in the area now known as Croydon, in Melbourne.
William Barak was a skilled mediator, strategic leader and advocate for his people. He along with other Wurundjeri leader Simon Wonga worked to establish the Coranderrk Mission in which many First Peoples of Victoria lived on.

Although an oppressive time for the First Peoples residents, the community living on the reserve fought for their rights and equality whilst continuing their culture. Within twelve years of establishing the reserve there were close to two hundred men women and children and for many years it thrived with farming hops and wheat and makers creating baskets and other cultural material to sell to visitors to the reserve.
As Coranderrk grew so did the interest of the colonial powers who had invaded William Barak's country and by the 1870s the 'Aboriginal Protection Board' decided to take back Coranderrk Reserve for farming and began displacing people off their home. By the 1890s most of the residents of Coranderrk had been moved off and the land sectioned for settlers and by the early 1900s Coranderrk closed.

While at Coranderrk, William Barak created many significant art works where he painted the ceremony and life of his people. He also invited white settlers and dignitaries to visit the reserve where strong and many positive relationships and friendships were formed.

This portrait is a product of such a relationship and was painted by John Mather 1894, commissioned by the Herr/Leuba family. The Herr/Leuba family had a daughter who was a matron at Coranderrk Mission and had built a relationship with William Barak. She commissioned John Mather to paint the portrait. The label on the back reads "To my dear son Charley Alfred Robarts in gratefulness for his many kindnesses to me and wishing him many happy returns of the day. April 26th, 1912. From his affectionate mother, Anna Leuba.".

Physical Description

Oil painting of William Barak by John Mather 1894. Original frame with handwritten label attached to reverse.

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