Warmun is one of the main centres for east
Kimberley Aboriginal art. It is a small Aboriginal community,
200 kilometres south of Kununurra in far north Western Australia.
It was known as Turkey Creek for many years, but has reverted
to the Aboriginal name for the area. The main language of the
region is Gija.
The community is home to nearly 600 people,
mainly Gija speakers, but also includes Aboriginal people from
other language groups. To see where Warmun and the various other
places referred to below are located, click on the Kimberley
Map link (opens in a new browser window).
|While Warmun is located in the east Kimberley, there
is no sharp boundary separating the cultures of the west Kimberley,
where Wandjina images are dominant in traditional art, from the
east. Similarly, there is no sharp boundary separating desert
cultures to the south and south west, where there are strong connections
to Kukatja, Jaru and Walmajarri people, or to the east.
Country near Warmun (Turkey
Nevertheless, east Kimberley paintings, with their
planes of brown, black and yellow ochre defined by white and
black dots, are strikingly different from central and western
desert paintings. Kimberley artists paint maps of their country
and look beneath the surface to the structure of the land. Within
this distinctive vision of their country, artists often include
ancestor figures and modern or historical events of significance
to their community.
Warmun has been the focus of much interest in Kimberley art
over the last twenty years because of the emergence of a number
of highly successful artists, the most famous of whom are Rover
Thomas and Queenie McKenzie as well as George Mung Mung, Patrick
Mung Mung, Paddy Jaminji, Hector Jandany, Beerbee Mungnari and
History of the Warmun Community
The history of the Warmun community has been summarised
by Judith Ryan in the book "Images of Power". In the
last two decades of the 19th century, the Gija people were forced
off their lands by pastoralists, including through massacre
and poisoning. The first fifty years of white settlement, starting
in the later 1800s, resulted in the death of perhaps half the
Aboriginal people of the east Kimberley, either through murder,
armed conflict, disease or malnutrition.
The Government of Western Australia responded to
this desperate situation by setting up a ration depot at Turkey Creek
in 1901. A decade later assimilation centres at Moola Bulla and Violet
Valley were established. The Chief Protector of Aborigines, as the
senior government official was called, was AO Neville, appointed in
1915. Neville wanted to take control of church-run missions and turn
them into self-supporting cattle stations.
Moola Bulla in the Kimberley was his model. It was
originally opened in 1910 as a ration depot and government-run cattle
station. It was intended to be an alternative to the more expensive
option of imprisoning large numbers of Aboriginal people, and there
would be further savings to the government as missions would no longer
need to be subsidised. Two former pastoral stations were acquired:
Munja in 1926 and Violet Valley in 1935. On purchasing Munja, Neville
commented that `the purpose of establishing the stations was to
pacify the natives and accustom them to white man's ways and thus
enable further settlement'
However, indigenous families did not willingly move
to these settlements. To compel people to move, the Aborigines Department
refused rations or other help to people living away from the settlements.
In response to complaints from local police about camps on the outskirts
of non-indigenous towns, Aboriginal people were `rounded up' by police
and sent to the settlements. These were depressing places for many
Aboriginal people and they were eventually sold to Europeans as pastoral
leases (Violet Valley in 1943 and Moola Bulla in 1955).
The history since then for Gija people has been one
of working and living on pastoral properties, interspersed with enforced
moves and relocation, and homelessness. The Gija people, with government
assistance, established the Warmun community in the 1970s at Turkey
Creek, near the old Violet Valley Station. This has regained for them
a measure of control over their lives.
Development of East Kimberley Aboriginal
Art at Warmun evolved in the late 1970s from the
painted boards used in the Gija people's Krill Krill song-dance cycle.
The Krill Krill ceremony was revealed to Rover Thomas after the death
of a woman to whom he was spiritually related in 1974. About a month
after her death, Rover Thomas was visited by her spirit and she gave
him a series of songs and dances about her travels after her death,
visiting many sites of sacred or historical importance in the Kimberley.
After several years of his telling these stories,
they evolved into a song and dance ceremony called Krill Krill performed
by the Warmun community. This ceremony included the carrying of painted
boards by dancers. These boards initially were painted by Thomas's
uncle Paddy Jaminji, under Rover Thomas' instructions, and only several
years later did Rover Thomas take up painting independently himself.
These paintings led to the remarkable growth of the east Kimberley
style of painting.
Waringarri Aboriginal Arts
In the late 1970s and early 1980s the artists of
Warmun were increasingly productive, but they had no organised means
to sell their work. Waringarri arts in Kununurra was the first Aboriginal
art centre to be established in the Kimberley to meet this need. It
was initiated in 1985, and officially opened in 1988 as an outlet
for Kimberley Aboriginal artists under their own control. Waringarri
was instrumental in helping to establish the reputation of artists
such as Rover Thomas, Queenie McKenzie, Jack Britten, Paddy Carlton
and Freddy Timms. For nearly ten years Waringarri was the only arts-related
business owned and controlled by Aboriginal people in the Kimberley.
The centre now works mainly with Mirriwoong artists from the Kununurra
region (since the Warmun centre was established) and artists from
the central Kimberley.
The Warmun Art Centre
|Warmun Art Centre was established in 1998, to represent
Warmun artists and market their work to collectors, museums and
galleries world-wide. In its first few years of activity the Warmun Art
Centre operated out of a converted old building but it now has a large purpose-built centre that opened in 2007. The building was funded substantially from Art Centre profits.
Warmun Art Centre (the old Police
Photo courtesy ©Warmun Art Centre
Artists from Warmun and associated communities
are renowned for their use of natural ochre and pigments on
canvas, which is integral to the expression of their Gija culture
and connection to country. The artists draw on traditional Ngarrangkarni
(Dreaming) stories as well as contemporary events and experiences
of the artists.
The newer generations of Warmun artists still work
with natural ochre and earth pigments, and bring a high level
of enthusiasm, innovation and freshness to their work. Internationally renowned ochre painters Lena Nyadbi, Patrick Mung Mung, Mabel Juli, Shirley Purdie, Madigan Thomas, Gordon Barney, Phyllis Thomas, Churchill Cann and Betty Carrington lead the way for a group of more than sixty emerging and younger artists currently painting for the centre.
Short biographies of many of the artists are given on our Warmun
Artists page. See also the informative article by Susan
McCulloch "The New Generation
of Kimberley Artists".