Peter Fish from the Sydney Morning Herald previews tonight’s Sotheby’s Aboriginal and Oceanic art sale at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Monday night:

With world markets plunging precipitously this week despite unprecedented government handouts worldwide, you could assume quite a few collectors might be reluctant to spend serious money.

Yet Sotheby’s is certainly anticipating there will be buyers around when it stages its annual Aboriginal and Oceanic art sale at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Monday night. Nobody can deny it has rounded up plenty of fascinating and highly desirable pieces from all over – after all, it’s had more than a year to pull together the $7 million sale. But many would-be buyers are likely to think carefully in such troubled times before paying $100,000 on a top-level dot painting, or $20,000 for an outstanding bark or artefact. Indeed the once-booming market for Aboriginal desert painting had already turned patchy long before the recent economic ructions.

Nevertheless, collectors are an obsessive breed – and the best material always seems to find a buyer or two even when the household budget is stretched, the superannuation has taken a hit and the annual bonus is toast.

This sale is particularly rich in artefacts conveying the glossy glow of age and usage – perhaps even a sense of having been venerated by their tribal owners.

Such objects, including carved and decorated shields and clubs, boomerangs and sculptural figures, were originally collected by Westerners largely for ethnographic interest but have subsequently attracted an ever-widening collector following.

Among the star lots is a surprisingly elegant hardwood broad shield from south-east Australia, probably dating from the late 1800s. It is leaf-shaped, terminating in flattened rectangular points top and bottom, the front being covered with meticulously incised parallel zig-zags likely to have been cut with a stone blade. It is estimated at $30,000 to $50,000.