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Artist BiographiesBiographies of East Kimberley Artists


The following artists all come from, and paint, near the town of Kununurra in the east Kimberley. They work with a local gallery and art centre called Red Rock art.

Nellie Gordon

Language: Walmajarri
Domicile: Emu Creek, WA

Nellie Gordon

Nellie Gordon was born around 1930 at Billiluna on Sturt Creek (on the northern edge of the Great Sandy Desert). As a young girl Nellie worked on Gordon Downs Station, Sturt Creek Station and Nicholson Station in the East Kimberley as a housekeeper and station cook. When the law was changed in the late 1960s to give Aboriginal employees the right to the same pay as white station employees, most Aboriginal station workers lost their jobs and were forced to move into the major towns or population centres. At this time Nellie moved off the stations she had grown up on. She now lives at Emu Creek outside Kununurra. Nellie began painting in 1996 with Waringarri Aboriginal Arts and paints dreamtime stories associated with her country near Billiluna.

Ned Johns

Language: Karinji
Domicile: Emu Creek, WA
Aboriginal Skin Name: Jangarra

Ned Johns

Ned was born in 1941 and lived his early life on Wave Hill Station. His grandfather was Vincent Lingarri who led the famous 'walk off' which resulted in the Whitlam Government handing over the station to the Gurindji Mob. This was the first of many cattle stations to be returned to Aboriginal People. Ned became a stockman on Wave Hill then Argyle and Lissadell Stations in the East Kimberley region where he met his wife Maggie. They now live and paint at Emu Creek, a small outstation situated 10 kilometres east of Kununurra near the Northern Territory/WA border.

Maggie Johns

Language: Mirriwoong
Skin: Namij
Domicile: Emu Creek, WA
Birthplace: Dumbraarl - Bubble Bubble Spring

Maggie Johns

Maggie was born at Dumbraarl - Bubble Bubble Spring, North East of Kununurra in the Northern Territory. It is the place where the Boab Tree fell in the dreamtime and started the spring. Maggie worked on Legune Station for many years and Carlton Hill Station as a housekeeper but lost her job when equal pay rights were introduced in the late 1960s. Maggie began painting in 1998 and lives with her husband Ned at Emu Creek.

Maggie's Dreaming is Sugarbag, and her Dreamtime story is about two kangaroos Walumbung (the land kangaroo) and Yungoot (the hill kangaroo) which fought over the Sugarbag (bush honey ).

Lloyd Kwila

Language: Wangkatjungka
Domicile: Wangkatjunga, WA

Lloyd Kwila

Born in 1980 in Derby, Western Australia, Lloyd Kwilla grew up at Christmas Creek Station and its nearby community of Wangkatjungka, near Halls Creek on the northern edge of the Great Sandy Desert. He has been a community leader since the age of 18. A fluent English speaker, he has been the community supervisor and council chair, and also spends time working at the Wangkatjungka school. Kwilla’s country is that of his grandfather and father, deep in the Great Sandy Desert and centred on Kuylayi, or Well 43, on the Canning Stock Route.

He started painting in 2003 alongside his father, the medicine man and former stockman Billy Thomas. While Kwilla’s work shares the same richness of Thomas’s thickly applied ochres, he has developed his own distinct idiom. Hailed as one of the top 50 Australian undiscovered artists by Australian Art Collector magazine, his work has featured in three highly successful solo exhibitions. These have included a sell-out exhibition in Darwin and an outstandingly successful showing in London (Rebecca Hossack Gallery) in June 2008.

Joe Lewis

Language: Jaminjung
Domicile: Mirima, Kununurra, WA
Aboriginal Skin Name: Joolama

Joe Lewis

Joe Lewis was born around 1945 on Coolibah Station in the Northern Territory near the Western Australian border. When he was a young child his family moved to Bradshaw Station which was part of their traditional country. As a child, Joe's mother and grandparents taught him how to hunt kangaroos and "porcupines" (echidnas) and gather "sugar bag" (bush honey) and other bush foods. He grew up at Bradshaw Station.

" When l got to be a big man" he remembers, " I got a job riding horses, I went to a stock camp as a ringer." Joe worked as a stockman during the dry season and on his "holidays" his grandfather took him out bush and taught him how to make boomerangs and didgeridoos for ceremonies. The tribal elders also took him to rock art sites where they taught him how to paint. " That painting been there... like a school for me from the old people," he recalls. "The old fellows used to take me and show me the paintings, (they) used to tell me " Well, you just got to do this painting, so you know for next time. "

Joe worked on Bradshaw Station until the late 1960s when he came to the Kununurra area, earning a reputation as a fine horseman and a breaker on the surrounding cattle stations. During the season, he was a rider at the Katherine Rodeo and competed in bareback, bronco and bull riding.

Joe began painting on canvas in 1994. His work focuses on the Dreamings and landscape of his traditional country on Bradshaw Station. In his own words his work is about "All around...where I come from, that Bradshaw or that other side." While he has developed a distinctive personal iconography, his art remains firmly grounded in tradition. "The old people told me the stories about them paintings, " he says. "My father and my grandfather, they used to tell me that story. In the painting I do the story, and I still remember."

Kitten Malarvie

Domicile: Kununurra, WA

Kitten was born at Halls Creek in the Kimberley in 1945. Her parents worked on the Gold fields for a man called Bill Johnson who still operates a general store in Halls Creek. When the gold rush finished the family went to live and work at Sturt Creek Station then later at Ord River Station where Kitten had her first job as a housemaid.

When equal wages were made compulsory in the late 1960s, most Aboriginal people lost their jobs on cattle stations. They included Kitten's family who then moved to the fringe of Kununurra and made a camp at Lily Creek almost opposite Red Rock Art Gallery where Kitten paints today. Camps like this one sprung up all around Kimberley towns as there was no housing available. Years later community housing was built and Kitten was able to move to Ngaliwa community in Kununurra. Kitten used to make coolamons and paint them, then traded them for food. Kitten began painting with Red Rock Art in 1997 carving Boab nuts then later assisting Billy Thomas and Rover Thomas with their paintings.

Rosie Mulligan

Language: Jaru
Domicile: Kununurra, WA

Rosie was born on Noonkanbah station, near Fitzroy Crossing in the south west Kimberley in the mid 1940’s. The station, now owned and operated by the local Yungngora people, has had a troubled history as the site of decades of European and Aboriginal dispute, much of which Rosie and her family experienced. Rosie grew up on Noonkanbah station, in the country of both her parents. As a young girl she would care for her younger sisters while her mother worked. When she was a little older she herself worked in the station homestead. Rosie has mostly happy memories of these early station days, particular the quiet wet season ‘holiday time’ when workers were free to practice more traditional ways. She remembers going bush with a big tent which her parents made, to go hunting and engage in ceremony.

In her twenties she married her ‘promised husband’, with whom she had two children. She later married again and had three more children. This husband was the wrong skin for her; the marriage did not last and Rosie left to live in Katherine, Halls Creek and later Kununurra, although she maintains strong ties with her family in the Fitzroy Crossing area. Rosie began painting with Red Rock Gallery in 2008. She favours images of bush tucker and medicinal plants, as well as a traditional river story passed on to her by her father.

Nancy Noonju

Language: Walmajarri
Domicile: Emu Creek, WA
Aboriginal Skin Name: Nimitji

Nancy Noonju

Nancy was born around 1940 near Billiluna south of Halls Creek on the northern edge of the Great Sandy Desert.

As a young woman Nancy worked on cattle stations in the West Kimberley as a station cook, and most of her working life was spent on Cherabun Station south of Fitzroy Crossing within the Fitzroy River Valley. During the Wet Season 'lay off' Nancy (like most Aboriginal Station workers) would 'Holiday' at favourite billabongs in family groups and renew cultural practices on traditional lands.

Nancy married a Mirriwoong man and moved to the East Kimberley where she now lives at Emu Creek community near the town of Kununurra.

Nancy began painting in 1993 under the guidance of Kevin Kelly the arts Co-ordinator at Waringarri Aboriginal Arts and then continued to paint with Kevin when Red Rock Art was established in 1997. Her dedicated approach to her work has seen her reputation as a fine painter escalate, and her work is well respected within the arts industry. Inspired by her cultural dreaming of Wind and Water, using natural Kimberley ochres, Nancy's work has developed to be highly individualistic.

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