Balgo Hills artists come from a variety of locations, backgrounds and even language groups. Short biographies are given below for a number of the artists represented on our Web site:
Location: Kurra near Mongrel Downs
Language: Walmatjarri and Warlpiri
Dora’s mother’s country is Tjintu and her father’s country is Walangarra. Her father brought the family in from the Tanami Desert to Gordon Downs where he worked carting wood. Dora met her husband and recalls the move to Laws Creek where she would milk the nanny goats. They had only one child, Margaret, and as a family unit they travelled around accompanied by camels and donkeys. Ceremonial business required them to travel to stations such as Sturt Creek, Gordon Downs and Billiluna. The family moved to the mission at Lajamanu for a short period where Dora worked in the kitchen before heading to Balgo. Here she became involved with the church and started painting with the art coordinator Andrew Hughes. Dora’s paintings oscillate with colour and energy depicting the important bush foods and dreaming stories of her country. A senior law woman, Dora still hunts and collects bush foods regularly. A highlight in her career was executing a major sand painting in Perth recreating a Tjukurrpa story out of yellow, white and red sand and feathers.
Born: 1 July 1926
Location: Tjapilyatjapilya and Yiiyapanta area
Fred was born near Lappi Lappi in Western Australia, near the border with the Northern Territory. His first experience of white men was when he saw them droving cattle using camels, travelling through to Alice Springs. When he was young, he and his companions were taken by force to an Aboriginal settlement in Alice Springs. He was able to escape with two companions when the truck on which they were travelling stopped for water. Fred spent some time at the old Balgo Mission as a young man before working as a stockman and station cook at the cattle stations of the east Kimberley. An accident left Fred with a weak hip and he now walks with the aid of a stick. He took up painting in 1990 and has produced a large number of paintings, many of them Water Dreaming images. He is a senior man with traditional custodian and ceremonial responsibilities.
Born: 1 July 1949
Location: Billiluna Station
Gracie was born on the original Billiluna Station, where her mother (Mary Tjaatju, who later also became an artist at Balgo) and father worked. When she was a girl, her parents moved to the second of three mission sites, which was about 20 km west of present day Balgo. She lived in the girl’s dormitory in the old Mission during the 1950s and 1960s, before marrying and having four children, two of whom also paint. Gracie was one of the early Balgo painters, though she has also lived for extended periods at Christmas Creek (Wangkajungka), near Fitzroy Crossing. She mostly paints stories from the women’s skin groups, the Wati Kutjarra (two men) Dreaming and Ngamarlu Rockhole site, which is close to Balgo.
Born: 18 April 1956
Location: Wirrumanu, Old Mission
Language: Kukatja, Ngardi
John only began painting in 1999 – before this he was involved in ceremonial painting and produced only a few paintings in 1993 and 1995. He is the son of Donkeyman Lee who was a senior law man and leading Balgo painter. He believes that while his father was still alive it was not necessary for him to paint but since Donkeyman’s death he has accepted his role to pass on the family heritage. John’s paintings have a distinctive style, with a mainly black background giving them a striking appearance. John emphasizes the need to sit and listen and learn from nature and his country. He is an articulate spokesperson for his community and sees himself as building bridges between his traditional culture and western beliefs.
Brandy Tjungurrayi (Tjungarrayi)
Born: around 1930
Location: Nyilla, Canning Stock Route
Language: Kukatja, Ngardi
Brandy Tjungurrayi was born in the bush some time around 1930. As a senior and knowledgeable lawman, he paints stories – mainly Tingari Cycle stories and Emu Dreaming stories – connected to his home country around Nyilla (Jupiter Well). His paintings are elegant, linear compositions comprised of fine dotting run together to create lines, often broadly symmetrical and sometimes converging on a central point in the canvas.
He started painting in 1985 at Balgo but also spends time painting at the community of Kiwirkurra, where many of his relatives live. He is currently working at Balgo. His work at any one time tends to have a style reflecting the community in which he is living. He had his first solo exhibition in 2000 and he participated in the Kiwirrkura Men’s Painting exhibited at the Papunya Tula retrospective at the Art Gallery of NSW in 2000.