Important Aboriginal + Oceanic Art
6 October 2010

Rover Thomas (Joolama)

(c.1926 - 1998)

natural earth pigments and synthetic binder on canvas

90.0 x 120.0 cm

inscribed verso: artist's name, title, date, size, Waringarri Aboriginal Arts cat. AP0182 and S516


Waringarri Aboriginal Arts, Kununurra
Private collection, Queensland

Catalogue text

Through the merging of the past and present, the topographical and cosmological, Rover Thomas's paintings are luminous manifestations of the deep well of creativity which is the Warmun School of painting. Now considered synonymous with East Kimberley art, Wally Caruana noted of Thomas's practice that it 'contextualises the history of colonialism within the ambit of the ancestral past; the environmental and social upheavals caused by agricultural development and mining are situated within an overarching ancestrally ordained system. Development may have scarred the land but in Thomas' view, the spiritual forces of the ancestral beings remain in the earth.'1

This painting, Lake Argyle, is informed by both an ancestral narrative centered on the site and the region's transformation as a result of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme. In 1963, the Australian government dammed the Ord River, resulting the immense Lake Argyle and Lake Kununurra. The initiative was designed to transfigure the eastern Kimberley into the ‘fruit bowl' of the north west, providing irrigation for fields of cotton crops and, later, tropical fruits and vegetables. Opened in 1973, the flooding of the region and creation of the dam displaced many indigenous people and sacred sites were inundated, including the ceremonial ground contained within Lake Argyle. The artist described the subject of this work thus:

'Yeah, that dam, Ord River dam, that's it there. Lake one there, water go in... he got no corroboree [ceremony] for this one. Star bin [been] fall long time. Dreamtime y'know. Star bin fall here, Dreamtime. Big hole there. The water, lake, go right down. No corroboree because Kartiya [white people] bin made dam. But big story where star bin fall... oh yeah, but [in] my drawing, water go in there, he go all the way water. Long time ago, but still a hole there. Lake, lake, Argyle lake.'2

1. Wally Caruana in Keary, K., World of Dreamings, Traditional and Modern art of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2000
2. Ibid.