Queenie Nakarra McKenzie
One of the most senior figures in Gija women's law and ceremony, and one of the most prominent painters of the Warmun (Turkey Creek) community.
Region: Kimberley, WA
DOB: c1915 - 16 November 1998
Place of Birth: Kimberley, WA - Old Texas Station, Ord River, East Kimberley
Significant Country: Kimberley
Community: Warmun, WA
“Yarlka, this white mountain, this my spirit place. My mother, old Dinah, she found white porcupine la swag la Yarlka. That porcupine [echidna] was me. That white stone from that hill, they break him up for spear. Good spear, that one.” (Queenie McKenzie, tape 1994).
Author Patricia Vinnicombe
Queenie McKenzie (formerly Oakes or Mingmarriya), was born at Old Texas Downs on Ord River (in the north west of Western Australia) to a Malngin/Gurindji Aboriginal mother and white horse-breaker father. Queenie was given the bush name ‘Garagarag’ which has a similar meaning to ‘Blondie, and raised on Red Butte Country adjacent to, and later included the Texas Downs pastoral lease.
As a young child and being half-caste her mother had to disguise her fairness on several occasions by rubbing her skin with charcoal to darken her features, in order to prevent her being taken away from her family and people, children taken away were brought up in a mission under the Australian government’s assimilationist policy of the time.
As a young girl she began working on cattle stations, cooking for the stockmen, tending and riding horses, and journeying across the vast pastoral region of the north with the cattle. She worked on the cattle stations for almost 40 years until 1973 when she settled in Turkey Creek (Warmun).
During the seventies, the establishment of the Warmun community drew her tribe together once more, becoming a cultural focal point within the Kimberley area. Queenie played a leading role in her community, where she taught Gidja language and cultural traditions. Already in her fifties she was experimenting with representational art as an educational tool in the local school and helping to maintain knowledge of the sacred sites and The Dreaming.
During those years Queenie befriended Rover Thomas who arrived at Old Texas looking for work when 14 years of age. Later, she liked to tell and paint the story of how she saved his life after a riding accident by washing his wounds and sewing him up with a darning needle. When distant political decisions forced Aboriginal workers to leave outback cattle stations, the Gidja people faced a difficult time of unemployment, dislocation, and impoverishment.
Queenie Mckenzie began painting in the late 1980’s after being encouraged by her friend Rover Thomas. She went on to become an internationally respected artist, whose works in paintings and print provide a prominent and compelling comment on the Aboriginal experience.
“Every rock, every hill, every water, I know that place backwards and forwards, up and down, inside out. It’s my country and I got names for every place.”
Queenie was a strong member of the Warmun community; a Councillor and teacher of the Gija language and also played a significant role in the reclaiming traditional land in the region. She was heavily committed in ceremonial life.
Her painting followed Rover Thomas’ style, mapping country in natural ochres, blending landscape with witnessed or remembered events, family anecdotes and mythological information. Her landscapes are very distinctive, particularly her rendition of the Kimberley region.
She used dots to delineate her simple forms, not as a form of intuitive primitivism, but as a link to the traditional work of the Turkey Creek movement. She became an active printmaker after producing her first prints in 1995 in collaboration with printmaker Thoe Tremblay. Her work has been widely exhibited since 1991. It was included in the exhibitions ‘Power of the Land, Masterpieces of Aboriginal Art’ at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1992, and she also had a solo exhibition in Melbourne in 1997.
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