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Billy Joongarra Thomas

1920 - 2012 Australia

1 Works exhibited

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  • About the Artist
  • Curriculum Vitae

Billy Joongarra Thomas began painting for Waringarri Arts in Kununurra in 1995. He was already in his seventies and like his friend and fellow artist Rover Thomas had spent his youthful years droving cattle on the Canning Stock Route, deep in the remote desert regions of Western Australia. He knew his country intimately and never ceased his ceremonial immersion and involvement within it. He was revered as a senior lawman and healer, custodian of secret initiation rites and ceremonial songlines.

By the time he died in his 90s, peacefully, in the aged care facility at Fitzroy Crossing, he had participated in major exhibitions that brought the Kimberley tradition and history to the world. His paintings are held in state and private collections worldwide, still commanding high prices as part of a treasured and important indigenous legacy. Born near Billiluna, the southern end of the Canning Stock Route, Billy inevitably became caught up in the repercussions of this huge well-sinking and cattle-moving project through the Great Sandy and Gibson deserts, which was nearing completion at his birth. The traditional nomadic lifestyle of his Wangkajunga people, like all the desert tribes of this vast inland area, was disrupted and their sensitive ecological balance with their ancient homelands destroyed forever.

Alongside other young Aboriginal men, Billy began droving cattle through the northern regions and tapping into a great cultural interchange that in some respects was the only positive aspect of what became known as the ‘wild time’. As later histories have laid bare, brutal treatment from white settlers saw the widespread killing, dislocation and dispossession of the desert dwellers. During this time, their traditional network of ceremonial songlines and shared sacred sites became a source of social interchange and spiritual support, directly feeding into the evolution of today’s vital Kimberley art movement.

Around 1995, Billy Thomas walked into Waringarri Arts to ask the manager, Kevin Kelly, for art materials and was soon rewarded with sell out shows himself. His unique, gritty ochres, with their palpable sense of earthy authenticity, employed traditional desert iconography to depict country through the lens of its ancestral associations. His cultural knowledge was formidable, but he would dot over and scrape back his mark making in order to ensure that secret, sacred aspects were veiled from general view. This gave a distinctive lightness to his work, reflected in his colour choices of much white and light grey, dusky pinks and yellow-brown ochres. Author: Sophie Pierce.


Australian National Maritime Museum
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Australian National Gallery
Canberra National Gallery of Victoria
Melbourne Museum and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory
Darwin Art Gallery of Western Australia
Perth Kerry Stokes Collection
Mary M'acha Collection Australian Capital Equity, Perth
Edith Cowan University, Perth
Wesfarmers Collection, Perth Private
Collections in Australia, Japan, Germany, USA, Belgium and France

Works by Billy Joongarra Thomas

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80 x 100 cm

16500,00 €


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