The quietly spoken young Kudjla/Gangalu man from Cairns in Far North Queensland stands tall, weaving a story of his life and vision into the fabric of his paintings. Daniel Boyd’s perspective on Australia’s colonial history and its impact on its Aboriginal people are not new but his artistic portrayal of it is. Hearing him speak freely and honestly about his work one gains an understanding of the intelligence and considered thought behind it.
I first met Daniel Boyd in Canberra in 2006, at the National Gallery of Australia. His work is humorous and exciting. His paintings for this exhibition read like pages in a book. Each is part
of a story which, chapter by chapter and page by page, chronicle the ‘discovery’ of Australia by Europeans and their subsequent colonisation of the continent.
Chapter one, the story’s just begun … Boyd introduces themes of piracy to his painted replicas of eighteenth-century portraits of King George III, called King No Beard 2007, and Governor Arthur Phillip, called Governor No Beard 2007; as well as the dramatic Apotheosis of Captain James Cook, called Fall and expulsion 2006, in a ‘spot the difference’ kind of series. Key figures in Australia’s discovery and growth into nationhood are altered with here an eye patch, there a macaw parrot, and now and then a Jolly Jack. The historical figures of King George III, Cook and Phillip have been extensively discussed and portrayed in terms of their impact on Indigenous peoples throughout the new worlds. Today, hundreds of years later and several continents apart, Boyd’s work encourages the idea of parallel dialogues between different cultures through a kind of visual mimicry.
Captain No Beard 2005 was the first work Boyd painted in this series:
… in response to the posthumous portrait of Captain James Cook by John Webber at the National Portrait Gallery … Prior to seeing Webber’s portrait I’d come across documents such as the Secret Instructions Cook had in his possession during the three voyages from 1768 to 1779. They stated that Cook was ‘with the Consent of the Natives to take possession of Convenient Situations in the Country in the Name of the King of Great Britain (King George III).’ I immediately drew parallels between a common practice of the time, the act [of] Piracy. Nationalistic rivalry with Spain and others drove the practice of employing privateers to engage in combat with other countries, resulting in the British indirectly participating in piracy.
The expression ‘no beard’ refers to an account of Cook’s first landing in Australia, when, it is said, Aboriginal people thought he and his men were women, due to their lack of facial hair. While this is funny enough, as a name No Beard is also a reference to the well-known pirate Black Beard, with whom the clean-shaven King George III, Cook and Phillip have much in common, as in Boyd’s terms they all performed acts of piracy.
Treasure Island 2005, at first glance, seems unconnected to the other works and quite innocuous. It’s a map (of Australia) with a random pattern of coloured segments and the name – and work’s title – ‘Treasure Island’ in cursive script across the centre. The map is a replica of one drawn up in 1994 for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, showing the 300-plus Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language groups in the country. Before European settlement these clans lived harmoniously with their environment; their culture a rich and intricate heritage grounded in profound knowledge. For an Indigenous person, this map represents sadness and loss as well as strength of culture. It reminds us of just how many of our people since 1788 have been dispossessed and denied access to our language, lands and basic human rights; yet it’s also a beacon of hope as Australia’s Indigenous people have shown great resilience and strength in surviving as the world’s oldest living cultures.
Boyd’s talent for historical extraction and contemporary remodelling that plays off Australia’s collective historical consciousness, reminds us that history is not one-sided but multi-faceted, and that Australia’s Indigenous narratives are as real and as valid as those written in the accepted history books.
 Nathaniel Dance, King George III1773.
 Francis Wheatley Arthur Phillip 1786.
 After Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourge and John Webber, London: J. Thane, 1794.
 This flag is a combination of the British Union Jack and the Jolly Roger (a pirate flag), created by Boyd, which features in his works. The image is also the focus of a singular work in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, called Jolly Jack 2005.
 Artist’s statement, 2005.
 The map was created by David Horton from research conducted for the Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia, which Horton edited for AIATSIS (Canberra: AIATSIS, 1994).