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
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
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.
Location: Old Balgo
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
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
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.
Location: Sturt Creek
Language: Ngarti, Kukatja and Tjaru
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.
Born: c. 1930
Location: Lawirri, Piparr
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
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.
|Born: c. 1935
Location: Pakar, Stansmore Ranges
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
Rosie has custodial duties for womens 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 men; and Wati Kutjarra two men dancing.
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.
Location: Kardamardi near Koodal (Hellena Springs)
Language Walmatjarri and Kukatja
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.
Born: c. 1935
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
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
Born: c. 1940
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Artist biographies © Warlayirti Artists 2002