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Artist BiographiesBiographies of Balgo Hills Artists


Balgo Hills artists come from a variety of locations, backgrounds and even language groups. Short biographical details are given below for some of the artists represented on our Web site:

Bai Bai (Pai Pai, Bye Bye) Napangarti

Born: c. 1935
Location: Tjawa Tjawa (Point Moody)
Language: Kukatja, Ngarti
Skin: Napangarti
Bai Bai Napangarti

She was born in the bush, probably in the mid 1930s, and is a Kukatja speaker. Her mother first saw white people when she was a little girl. Her family was camped near the Stansmore Range and saw three men on camels travelling north. Bai Bai recalls that they were friendly and gave her family tobacco. However, the next Europeans who came through were hunting Aboriginal people, especially women, and from that time the family were more cautious.

When Bai Bai's family first saw cattle, they did not know what they were. They fed one to the dogs - and when the dogs did not die they realised the meat was safe for people to eat. Later, as a young girl, Bai Bai accompanied her family on two trips to the station near Gregory Salt Lake to take bullocks. On the second trip they were caught, chained to a tree and given poisoned food to eat. Some Aboriginal stockmen talked the station owners into releasing them.

Her family fled, and walked 200 kilometres to Nandalarra without stopping. After this they were very frightened of white people and avoided them until Balgo Mission was founded in 1948. Even then they approached carefully, camping at Emily Spring (Nyilli) for about a year before moving all the way in. Since then she has lived in the Balgo community and is a senior and respected Law Woman. She was married to artist Sunfly Tjampitjin (now deceased).

Her paintings reflect these responsibilities and her main painting themes are Tingari Dreamings. Her country is the Stansmore Ranges and around Yagga Yagga (an outlying community to Balgo). She began to paint in 1986 in Balgo, and since then has introduced younger members of her family to painting. She has been involved in several publications including "Yarrtji: Six women's stories from the Great Sandy Desert", 1997, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra.

Bai Bai is a long serving member of the Kimberley Land Council and a strong practitioner of women's law and culture in Balgo. She is a well respected artist and her work is held in major collections such as the National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery of Western Australia. Her work is featured along with that of other Balgo artists on the Lore of the Land CD-ROM.

Elizabeth Gordon

Born: 1954
Location: Old Balgo
Language: Kukatja
Skin: Napaltjarri

Elizabeth (Lizzie) is a dedicated painter who was the first of the Balgo artists to have a solo show. Her mother is Ningie Nanala and her stepfather is Tjumpo Tjapanangka who are both respected senior painters at Balgo. She appears to have developed some of her repertoire of stylistic sensibilities (for example her interest in fields of contrasting textural qualities) from painting with her mother. Her stepfather and his friend Dominic Martin have also been active in teaching her about their country and giving her permission to paint some of their sites.

Her painting career developed from 1993, when her work caught the attention of the then art coordinator, Robin Beesey, and in 1994 she had her first solo exhibition at the Kimberley Gallery in Melbourne. She has participated in a number of group shows of Balgo work since then.

Lizzie was born at the old Balgo Mission and attended school there. She recalls moving to the current location of Balgo on the back of a truck. Lizzie cared for the old people at the new Mission alongside the senior law woman Tjemma Napanangka. She also participates in ceremonies and cultural exchanges and occasionally visits Lajamanu for these reasons. She has a large family, which includes three sons, two daughters and two grandsons.

Mati (Bridget) Mudjidell

Born: c. 1935
Location: Wuru, south of Yagga Yagga
Language: Ngarti, Kukatja and Warlpiri
Skin: Napanangka

Mati is one of the major law women at Wirrumanu. She lived a traditional life in the country between the communities of Yagga Yagga, Balgo and Kururrungku (Billiluna) until her family moved into the old Balgo Mission. There she recalls looking after the nanny goats and making bread in the kitchen. She moved to Sturt Creek Station to work as a domestic servant. She later returned to Balgo to educate her children.

She is a respected senior dancer in the community and plays an important role in women's ceremonial business. Mati has travelled extensively in Australia since commencing painting at Balgo, including to Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. She has been involved in several publications such as "Yarrtji: Six Women's Stories from the Great Sandy Desert", 1997 Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra.

The themes in her paintings include: groups of women hunting and gathering at sites; Tingari women; goanna and crocodile; bush tomatoes; creation of flies.

Marie Mudjidell

Born: 1952
Location: Sturt Creek
Language: Ngarti, Kukatja and Tjaru
Skin: Nakamarra

Marie is the oldest daughter of Mati (Bridget) Mudjidell. She was born at Sturt Creek Station and later moved to Ruby Plains with her family. Her mother's country is near Yagga Yagga, Ngarti people's country. Her father is from Sturt Creek, a place called Killi Killi. Marie left her family to attend the school at Balgo Mission. When she finished her schooling she worked in the laundry of Billiluna Station. This is where she met her husband with whom she moved to Balgo to put their children through school.

It was at Balgo that Marie started painting her water dreaming and the country of Sturt Creek. Marie has also been involved with the Language Center producing Tjukurrpa stories for the children in traditional language. Marie continues to work for meals on wheels, caring for the old people of the community and is a Church leader. She takes the young girls through ceremony, as well as being a respected storyteller and knowledgeable about bush medicines.

The themes in her paintings include: water lilies, Tjukurrpa (Dreamtime) stories of the seven sisters and Sturt Creek country.

Ningie Nanala

Born: c. 1930
Location: Lawirri, Piparr
Language: Kukatja
Skin: Nangala
Dreamings: longtailed desert mouse; Tingari men; snakes and lizards; rockholes; women's law ground.

Ningie was born in the Piparr/Kiwirkurra area. Her mother died when she was very young, and she came to the Balgo Mission when her family group was camped at Lirrwati close to Balgo on the invitation of Aboriginal people living there. As a young girl she tended the mission goats, gathering bush food for them to eat.

Like many people at that time, she returned to her own country before settling more permanently at the old mission, first at Tjalyiwarn, then at its present site at Wirrumanu from 1962. She married and had four children. After her first husband passed away, she married Tjumpo, another important Balgo artist, and had a further five children.

Rosie Nanyuma

Born: c. 1935
Location: Pakar, Stansmore Ranges
Language: Kukatja
Skin: Napurrula
Rosie Nanyuma

Rosie grew up at the old mission at Tjalyiwarn, spending time at Mintirr Rockhole with other local family groups to give them some independence from the mission. While at the mission, Rosie worked with the children in the kindergarten. She also worked for Lake Stretch Station near Kururrungku (Billiluna) trapping dingo pups, killing and skinning them in exchange for food.

Rosie has custodial duties for women’s law and ceremony. She began painting in 1989 and her work has been exhibited widely across Australia and overseas. The main themes in her work are: Travelling Tingari women;
Tingari men; and Wati Kutjarra two men dancing.

Pauline Sunfly

Born: 1957
Location: Wirrumanu
Language: Kukatja
Skin: Nangala

Pauline is the daughter of the famous Balgo painters, Sunfly Tjampitjin, and Bai Bai Napangardi (see previous entry), from whom she has inherited many Tjukurrpa (Dreamtime) stories. Pauline learnt to paint from years of watching her father. She is an extremely competent young painter who boldly recreates many significant stories with technical precision.

Pauline was born at the old Balgo Mission hospital and was educated through the mission school. She recalls working in the kitchen, the laundry and clearing the grounds of the mission. She has spent some time in Fitzroy Crossing and has visited Broome and Alice Springs, but otherwise has remained in Balgo with her young family. Pauline is a dedicated and talented painter who produces graphic and powerful paintings.

Mary Tjaatju

Born: 1935
Location: Kardamardi near Koodal (Hellena Springs)
Language Walmatjarri and Kukatja
Skin: Napangardi

Mary Tjaatju was born at Kardamardi south of Yagga Yagga in Western Australia where she lived the traditional nomadic way of life. When she was about 12 years old her family began moving up the Canning Stock Route and stayed for some time at Kaningarra before "coming in" to Billiluna Station. There she was taught various domestic skills and worked in the kitchen baking for the station manager's wife, also doing sewing and making mud bricks.

In the 1950s she moved to Old Mission, one of the early Balgo sites, where she married and worked making bread with her young daughter Gracie Green. Her first husband died and she moved to Fitzroy Crossing with her second husband Sundown Ellery who was a stockman. They lived and worked at Wangkatjunka, a small community near Fitzroy Crossing before moving back to Balgo in 2000. Sundown was a regular painter but Mary did not start until she moved to Balgo and since then has become a prolific and successful artist.

Nora Wompi

Born: c. 1935
Location: Lilbaru
Language: Kukatja
Skin: Nungarrayi

Wompi was born in the Great Sandy Desert in a place called Lilbaru. This is close to Well 33 on the Canning Stock Route. Here she lived a traditional nomadic life until her early 20s. Wompi recalls it was near Well 33 that she saw a white person for the first time. Nomadic life was harsh during dry times and she tells of the long walk into the Balgo Mission with her mother and brother. In Balgo she cooked bread at the bakery and tended to the goats. This is also where she met her husband, brother to fellow artist Lucy Yukenbarri.

Wompi and her husband would paint together as is common with many husbands and wives in Balgo. They spent some time in Fitzroy Crossing until her husband passed away. Wompi then decided to returned to Well 33 where she continues to reside today. However, she visits Balgo regularly to see family and to paint.

Her work oscillates between intricate tracings of familiar country and painterly strokes of bold colour. Stories of spirit men, spirit dogs and love magic reverberate in her paintings, full of charm and beauty.

Nancy Tax

Born: c. 1940
Location: Yaparnu
Language: Walmatjarri
Skin: Napanangka

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Artist biographies Warlayirti Artists 2002

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