Billy Thomas Joongoora

In his own words, Billy was born “wild” in the mid 1920ʻs south of Billiluna Station in the Great Sandy Desert of Western Australia. After a career as a stockman, police tracker, and traditional healer, Billy Thomas was to become renowned as an artist.

Region: Great Sandy Desert, WA

DOB: c 1920 - 17 July 2012

Place of Birth: Kulyayi (Well 42), WA

Language: Wangkajunga

In his own words, Billy was born “wild” in the mid 1920ʻs south of Billiluna Station in the Great Sandy Desert of Western Australia. Billiluna Station is located about 70 kilometres north of Balgo and 150 km south of Halls Creek in the Kimberley region. Billy Thomas (also known as Billy Thomas Joongarra) is from the Wangkajunga people, a group whose language is a dialect of the Western Desert group in Western Australia. During that time, the Wangkajunga people had no contact with European settlers, living a traditional and nomadic lifestyle.

Like many young Aboriginal boys of those times, Billy began work as a stockman and drover, He joined one of the best known droving team of all when he began work with Wally Dowling, droving the Canning Stock Route many times. There were other young men in that team who were also destined to become famous artist, including Rover Thomas, who Billy met when Rover Thomas was filling water buckets at Kuka Bunya (Well 33) on the Canning Stock Route.

Later on Billy was to work as a police tracker, assisting the police in capturing fugitives. It was on one of those tracking expeditions that Billy got shot through the leg, having been caught between a fugitive and the police, which left him with a limp from then on.

After his time as a police tracker, Billy made his way to the East Kimberley, taking up residence at Emu Creek, a small community outside of Kununurra. Then in 1995, Billy went into Waringarri Aboriginal Arts in the town and asked to start painting. The Art Centre Manager at the time provided him with boards, and his painting career began. Within a few few months Billyʼs paintings gained widespread attention. Drawing on the iconographic traditions of the Western Desert region, his work was vibrant, unique and oozed cultural integrity.

Billy is a senior medicine man, deeply invested in traditional ceremonies, decision making and the initiation of boys into Aboriginal law. His knowledge of sacred sites, stories and ceremony is immense and in his artwork, Billy’s depiction of his customary lands in the Great Sandy Desert, saw him developing his own distinctive style of painting that both reveals and conceals, usually in layers of white paint. His work have a fluidity by which he draws the conventional icons of desert art, and then only to bury these in layers of pigment and paint — the ‘hidden’ iconography. His painting over and scraping back of parts of the ochre was to uncover only aspects of his knowledge and history, that which is permitted for the uninitiated.

Ngurra Kuju Walyja — One Country One People — The Canning Stock Route Project - tells an intercultural and intergenerational story of community.


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Gallery Gondwana
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