Rover THOMAS [JOOLAMA], All that big rain coming from top side Enlarge 1 /1
Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art
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On display on Level 1

Rover THOMAS [JOOLAMA]

Kukatja/Wangkajunga peoples

Australia 1926 /1928 – 1998

All that big rain coming from top side 1991 Place made: Warmun (Turkey Creek), Kimberley, Western Australia, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, natural earth pigments and gum on canvas

Dimensions: 180.0 h x 120.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2001
Accession No: NGA 2001.128
Image rights: © the artist's estate, courtesy Warmun Art Centre

Rover Thomas’s experience of growing up in the Kimberley was common to that of most Aboriginal people of the area and adjacent deserts, but his impact on the region, and on Australian art, is immeasurable.

Europeans colonised the region late in the nineteenth century, to mine gold, dive for pearls and raise cattle. Relationships between the Indigenous inhabitants and the new settlers were uneven and in many cases conflicts ensued, usually over newly introduced livestock which polluted freshwater sources and drove away the game on which Aboriginal people relied as their main source of protein. Eventually, most local Aboriginal people took to working for the settler ranch owners. These circumstances had at least one positive outcome: people could maintain connections with their ancestral lands where they were able to conduct ceremonies and continue traditional practices and retain language, although they were paid a pittance for their considerable contribution.

When he was a lad, Thomas was taken from his home in the Great Sandy Desert, north along the Canning Stock Route, to work on cattle stations in the eastern Kimberley, where he spent some 40 years as a stockman and fencer. However by the late 1960s and early 1970s, a number of social and cultural upheavals occurred across the Kimberley: cattle-station owners dismissed hundreds of Aboriginal workers who moved to the fringes of white townships where they established camps, and ceremonial life was on the wane. Then on Christmas Eve 1974, Cyclone Tracy destroyed Darwin. The city was regarded by Aboriginal people of the Kimberley as the centre of European culture and, as cyclones, rain and storms are usually associated with ancestral Rainbow Serpents, elders interpreted the event as the ancestors warning Aboriginal people to reinvigorate their cultural practices.

Consequently a number of ceremonies were performed for a lay public in an act of cultural affirmation. By 1975 Thomas had settled at Warmun and here he had a dream visitation by the spirit of an aunt who had died as a result of injuries sustained in a car crash on a road flooded by Cyclone Tracy. The woman was being flown to hospital in Perth but she died when the aeroplane was above Broome in the western Kimberley. From here her spirit travelled across the Kimberley, visiting sacred and historical sites along the way until she reached her home in the east where she witnessed the Rainbow Serpent destroying Darwin. The narrative became the basis for the Kurirr Kurirr ceremony that the spirit of Thomas’s aunt had revealed to him.

By tradition, Thomas did not paint any of the early boards carried by performers in the Kurirr Kurirr—this responsibility fell to his uncle, Paddy Jaminji, who was the first of the Kurirr Kurirr painters. Between them, these two artists were the leading figures in the establishment of the modern East Kimberley painting movement, which is now known worldwide. 

The paintings made for the Kurirr Kurirr were usually composed of a few basic shapes, as their meanings would be elaborated in the ceremony. Paintings related to the narrative of the cyclone but not made for use in ceremony tend to be more complex: the original icon for Cyclone Tracy over Darwin approximates a simple bold U-shape; however Thomas’s large canvas, Cyclone Tracy 1991, painted separately to the ceremony, displays a further articulation of the shape of the cyclone and the winds carrying the dust and sand that feed into it.

As the East Kimberley painting movement gained momentum, artists tackled subjects beyond those associated with the Kurirr Kurirr. Episodes from the modern history of the region, little known beyond its boundaries, are a common theme. Thomas painted several works about massacres of Aboriginal people in the eastern Kimberley that occurred until the 1920s. A discussion between the artist and curators at the National Gallery in 1990 led to Thomas creating a series of works about three major incidents, including the Texas Downs killings of the early 1910s. One hid under the bullock’s hide 1991 relates to an armed attack on a group of Aboriginal men who had stolen and were butchering several bullocks: one man escaped the shooting party by hiding inside the carcass of one of the cattle.

Nonetheless, Rover Thomas had a fond nostalgia for Texas Downs. All that big rain coming from topside 1991 depicts a waterfall on the station. Thomas and his co-workers would seek relief from the long, hot and humid days of hard mustering in the wet season to ‘holiday’ at this waterfall, where the caves in the cliff face provided shelter. The place is also the site of a tragedy. Thomas tells of an occasion when a group of people sought refuge from a violent thunderstorm in one of the caves at the waterfall. A bolt of lighting struck the cave and the roof collapsed, killing everyone.

The upper half of the painting shows channels of water running to the cliff’s edge and then falling down the side of the hill. In the lower section, the brushy application of the yellow pigment combined with the varying density of paint produce a sense of light shining through the cascading torrents of water. The work is an outstanding example of Thomas’s intuitive, painterly skill—a master’s touch.

Wally Caruana


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Franchesca Cubillo and Wally Caruana (eds) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art: collection highlights National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010

All that big rain coming from top side – one two three four five six [channels in top half of painting]. That water fall came over the rock, see that rock. Across [the picture] – that [is] road way. But people top way, they [are] falling down from top, from that thing now. Some of them gone inside way, in that rock you know, in that cliff [some people have gone into the caves in the cliff to shelter].

That [is] the big cliff going to road you know – where [the] people going to [the] rock [cliff/cave] you know, flat rock. That is Nasang Gani – Dreamtime [at] Texas.

Waterfalls used [to be there, where] people come down there, living there. [Hunting], killing crocodile, barramundi, catfish – everything. [A] camping area that way, see that road going up there – that’s  where they’re living, living area you know. Every holiday in Texas, in Texas country – [people would visit] waterfall.

Rover Thomas1

The painting depicts a waterfall on Texas Downs Station in the eastern Kimberley, where Rover Thomas once worked as a stockman. The upper half shows channels of water running to the cliff’s edge and then cascading down the side of the cliff. The horizontal line across the middle of the painting indicates the cliff edge along which a road runs.

Thomas’s experience of growing up in the region was common to the vast majority of Aboriginal people of the Kimberley and adjacent areas. Europeans colonised the region late in the 19th century, first to mine gold and then to raise cattle. Relationships between the Indigenous inhabitants and the new settlers were uneven and in many cases there were years of conflict, usually over the newly introduced livestock which polluted the freshwater sources and drove away the game on which Aboriginal people relied. Eventually, most Aboriginal people in the area were forced to work for the recently arrived ranch owners. These circumstances had at least one positive outcome: the locals could retain their connection with their ancestral lands, where they were able to conduct ceremonies and continue traditional beliefs, although they were paid a pittance for their considerable contributions.

Thomas’s family came from the Great Sandy Desert. By the time he was ten, his family had followed the trail north to work on cattle stations in the Kimberley. He grew up on several stations, including Texas Downs, working as a fencer and stockman.

In some ways the painting is nostalgic, looking back to days when Thomas was young and he and his co-workers would seek shelter and refuge from the long hot and humid days of hard mustering in the wet season to ‘holiday’ at this waterfall. Native game and fish were plentiful. Caves in the cliff face also provided shelter from the heat and cool air to breathe.

Unfortunately, the place is also the site of a tragedy that occurred in the early years of the 20th century. Thomas tells of an occasion when a group of people sought refuge from a violent thunderstorm in one of the caves at the waterfall. A bolt of lighting struck the cave and the roof collapsed on top of the people, killing everyone.

In his paintings, Thomas characteristically overlaid the more recent European history of the Kimberley with the older ancestral history, attempting very rarely to represent the landscape in a naturalistic way in terms of recording the visible sensation. This work is, however, an outstanding example of this painterly attitude; the brushy application of the pigment and the varying thickness of the paint produce a sense of light shining through the cascading torrents of water.

Wally Caruana 2002

1Rover Thomas speaking in 1992. Recorded by Mary Macha, transcribed by Kim Akerman


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002

罗夫·托马斯[朱拉玛] (Rover THOMAS [JOOLAMA])
澳大利亚西澳州金伯利
《天降暴雨》(All that big rain coming from top side)
1991年
帆布材料,天然土性颜料
180.0(高) x 120.0(宽) 厘米
2001年购买
收录号:NGA 2001.128

罗夫·托马斯在金伯利的成长经历与当地及邻近沙漠地区大多数土著人差不多,但他对该地区以及澳大利亚艺术的影响却不可估量。

十九世纪末,欧洲人来到这里开拓殖民地,开采金矿,潜水寻找珍珠,在农场养牛。土著居民和新来殖民者间的关系不顺,很多情况下会演变为冲突,通常是因为新引进的家畜污染了淡水资源并赶跑了为土著民提供主要食物来源的猎物。最后,绝大多数当地土著人开始为殖民牧场主打工。这样的境况至少有一个积极结果:人们可以保证不脱离自己的祖居地,能在此举行仪式并继续传统习俗和保留语言,但要付出巨大奉献,换来微薄收入。

托马斯还是少年的时候,被人从坎宁牧道(Canning Stock Route)以北的大沙沙漠(Great Sandy Desert)家乡带到东金伯利,开始在牛农场打工,当牧牛人和篱笆匠,一干就差不多40年。然而1960年代末和1970年代初, 多次社会和文化动荡席卷了金伯利地区:农场主解雇了数以百计的土著工人,土著工人迁往白人城镇的郊区边缘,建起自己的营地,仪式方面的生活逐渐衰落。1974年的平安夜,特雷西飓风(Cyclone Tracy)摧毁了达尔文市 (Darwin)。在金伯利土著民眼中,达尔文市是欧洲文化的中心,因为飓风、雨和暴风往往关系到传说中的彩虹蛇,所以在土著长老看来,这次事件是来自先人的警告,要土著民重振自己的文化习俗。

因此,在文化肯定行动中,大众群体看到了一系列仪式。时至1975年,托马斯已经在沃尔芒(Warmun)定居下来,在这里,他梦见了一位已故姑妈的亡灵,因特雷西飓风而被淹没的道路上发生的车祸中她受伤离世。受伤后,她被空运前往佩斯医院,但飞机飞越西金伯利布鲁姆(Broome)上空时,她停止了呼吸。她的灵魂离开飞机云游金伯利,沿途造访圣地和历史遗迹,直至抵达她东方的家,目睹彩虹蛇摧毁达尔文市。故事来自托马斯姑妈的灵魂,奠定了库瑞尔库瑞尔(Kurirr Kurirr)仪式的基础。

据传,托马斯没有在库瑞尔库瑞尔仪式表演者早期携带的任何板子上作画;这是他叔父,首任库瑞尔库瑞尔画家帕迪·加敏吉(Paddy Jaminji)的职责。当代东金伯利绘画运动现已享誉世界,叔侄二人在绘画运动的确立过程中成为了领军人物,无人出其左右。

为库瑞尔库瑞尔仪式创作的绘画往往由几个基本图案构成,因为绘画的含义会在意识中加以解读。与飓风故事有关但不用于仪式的绘画趋于更加复杂:原用于象征达尔文上空特雷西飓风的标志近乎一个简单粗狂的U形;然而,托马斯于1991年专为仪式创作了大型帆布画《特雷西飓风》,进一步明晰了飓风的形态,描绘了将沙尘送入飓风的气流。

随着东金伯利绘画运动的深入发展,艺术家着手库瑞尔库瑞尔仪式相关之外的主题。外界不胜了解的地区当代历史事件成为了艺术家共同关注的主题。就直至1920年代还在东金伯利发生的土著人屠杀事件,托马斯创作了几幅作品。1990年,与国家美术馆馆长讨论之后,托马斯就包括1910年代初德克萨斯平原(Texas Downs)杀戮事件在内的三个重大事件创作了系列作品。创作于1991年的《藏身小牛皮下》(One hid under the bullock’s hide)涉及武装袭击一群偷盗并在屠宰几头小牛的土著男子:一名男子藏身牛的尸体逃脱了猎杀事件。

然而罗夫·托马斯却对德克萨斯平原怀有浓浓的乡愁。创作于1991年的《天降暴雨》描绘的是农场的瀑布。雨季的白天漫长、炎热、潮湿,艰难地将牛群赶拢后,托马斯和工友们去瀑布纳凉,寻求缓解一天的疲劳,悬崖上的洞穴提供了栖身场所。这儿也是惨案现场。托马斯描述了一起事件,为了躲避暴风雨,一群人藏进了瀑布的一处洞穴。一道闪电击中洞穴,洞顶崩塌,无人幸免于难。

画面上半部分显示道道流至崖边的水流,然后从山坡落下。下半部分,用刷子蘸黄色颜料作色,再结合不同的颜料浓度,使飞流直下的水流透射出一种光感。这幅作品是托马斯直观开放式绘画技巧;这是大师手笔的最佳典范。

Wally Caruana
瓦里·卡鲁阿那


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra