Nyuju Stumpy Brown

“My paintings are about my country, my mother’s country and my father’s country. We lived in the desert country (the Great Sandy Desert)…

Region: Great Sandy Desert, WA

DOB: 01 July 1924 - 2011

Place of Birth: Great Sandy Desert, WA - Ngapawarlu

Significant Country: Ngapawarlu (Great Sandy Desert), WA

Language: Wangkatjungka

Nyuju Stumpy Brown, a Wangkatjunka woman, was born on the Canning Stock Route at a place called Ngapawarlu. She was a prominent artist at Mangkaja Arts. Her process of painting was spontaneous and relied heavily on the gesture and exuberance of colour. A recurring motif in her work is the circle, which indicate places, waterholes and bush foods, to name a few.

Stumpy Brown lost her mother and father at an early age and was raised by her uncle Jamali Wally Darlington who drove bullocks on the Canning Stock Route. He took her to the Catholic Mission in Balgo where she learnt kartiya [white people] ways before moving to Fitzroy Crossing. She married Pukulu, a leader in the church at the old Fitzroy Mission and together they had three daughters. She worked on the Emmanuel Station around Fitzroy Crossing doing domestic work.

She told of her early life:

“I was born along the Canning Stock Route. I came to Balgo on a camel. This was the first time I came in from the bush. I was a young girl with no breasts. Later I worked in the kitchen at Bohemia Downs Station. We got no money for work. We got tea, meat and tobacco.”

Stumpy Brown developed her painting skills with other artists at Fitzroy Crossing during the 80s. During the first decade she mainly used acrylic paints on paper. Her use of layers of washed colour became a trademark of the painters from the region, and Stumpy Brown would use blocks of colour in diluted layers which she then built up and blended with adjoining colours. The sweeping motions led to the creation of the waterhole surrounded by desert Sandhills and the Ngupawarlu story. Before she passed away she is quoted as saying: 

My paintings are about my country, my mother’s country and my father’s country. We lived in the desert country (the Great Sandy Desert). I paint the waterholes and bush tucker found at those waterholes. We were living on bush tucker in the desert, on bush tucker only. I paint about the time before we knew kartiya.

Stumpy Brown was part of the great desert exodus that saw the traditional owners of desert country moving north along the Canning Stock Route into Balgo and the Fitzroy River area of the Kimberley. These desert people brought their strong cultural values with them and many artists like Stumpy Brown continued to celebrate and connect with the ancestral country they had left behind.

When she married her second husband Hitler Pampa, she lived in Mindi Rardi, Fitzroy Crossing for the remainder of her life. She was a senior law woman, custodian for her ancestral site at Ngupawarlu in the Great Sandy Desert. At Nyanpi (corroboree) time she ran the ceremonies for young children. She carried the Women’s’ Law from Wangkatjunga side right through to the desert side at Balgo.

I was born right here at Ngupawarlu. There is living water here and good shade. We lived all around here before. We got jirrilypaja and karnti (bush yams). We were living here, no flour, no tea, nothing. That was before we knew any Kartiya (Europeans). Only now we live with kartiya, since we came from the desert on camel to Balgo.


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