Important Aboriginal + Oceanic Art
4 April 2012


(c.1922 - 2007)

natural earth pigments and synthetic binder on linen

120.0 x 160.0 cm

initialled verso: PB
inscribed verso: artist's name, title, medium, size and Jirrawun Aboriginal Arts cat. PB 1998.33

$50,000 - 70,000
Sold for $48,000 (inc. BP) in Auction 24 - 4 April 2012, Melbourne

Jirrawun Aboriginal Arts, Kununurra
William Mora Galleries, Melbourne (stamped verso)
Private collection, Melbourne


Storer, R., Paddy Bedford, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2006, p. 145 (illus.)

Catalogue text

In the important exhibition, Blood on the Spinifex, Jirrawun community artists recorded what must be considered the shadow-side of the presumably illustrious story of colonial conquest of Australia's far North.1 Tony Oliver reports how the older people, seated around the campfire, told 'hard stories' or 'bad stories' - accounts of murders and massacres of their kin at the hands of white men keen to rid their cattle stations of any indigenous presence that might intrude on either the clarity of their land-ownership, or maybe simply profits. What would it mean to tell a counter-history by painting these stories still held in living memory? Stories prohibited from other forms of telling for, as Peggy Patrick explained 'the white people who killed Aboriginal people throughout the country never told anyone outside what they had done.'

Paddy Cooley (Quilty) Story / Emu Dreaming is an important early work stemming from his first year of painting.2 It blends two important stories - the massacre by strychnine laced bread at Bedford Downs and an ancient ancestral Emu Dreaming. Indeed, the work's fluent structure reveals how both sites coincide not just in living communal memory but in the landscape. The exact spot where the ancestral Emu became stuck in the cleft of the gorge is represented by the white paint left centre. One would therefore be remiss to mistake this as an accidental ochre splash. The place where the men were killed and burnt is marked by two circles on the right, together with the quartz hill from where the women witnessed the still burning massacre pyre.3 The old track leading from the Paddy Cooley station house is also depicted.

Bedford did not paint this painful dual subject again until 2002, though he frequently repeated the Emu Dreaming. It is a significant early work, not just in terms of his oeuvre but in terms of alternative readings of recent colonial history.4 The massacre, which occurred around 1920, is still in dispute by some white historians.

Blood on the Spinifex, The Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne, 2002, exhibition catalogue, guest curator Tony Oliver, Arts Adviser, Jirrawun Aboriginal Art Corporation
2. See Storer, R., Paddy Bedford, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2006, p. 145
3. Blood on the Spinifex, op cit, pp. 22-26. See also pages 18-21 for Timmy Timms' account.
4. See the article with Paddy Bedford discussing and photographed with this painting: 'More than a Passing Knowledge', Martin Flanagan, Visual Art, The Age, 30 November 1998