Australia 1926 /1928 – 1998
All that big rain coming from top side
Warmun (Turkey Creek), Kimberley, Western Australia, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, natural earth pigments and gum on canvas
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.
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.
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])
《天降暴雨》(All that big rain coming from top side)
180.0(高) x 120.0(宽) 厘米
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。
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。
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra