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Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art
The Kimberley gallery

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Rover THOMAS [JOOLAMA]

Kukatja/Wangkajunga peoples

Australia 1926/1928 – 1998

Roads meeting 1987 Warmun (Turkey Creek), Kimberley, Western Australia, Australia
Painting, natural earth pigments and binder on canvas
90 h x 180 w cm
framed (overall) 920 h x 1820 w x 65 d mm
Purchased 1988
Accession No: NGA 88.1539
© the artist's estate, courtesy Warmun Art Centre

MORE DETAIL

  • The Kimberley area in the north west of Australia ranges from monumental rock formations in the east to the place where the desert meets the sea in the west. In about 1980, a school of painting emerged in the eastern Kimberley of which Thomas was the leading figure.

    Rover Thomas was born in the Great Sandy Desert. At the age of 10 he moved with his family to the Kimberley’s where, as was usual at the time, he began work as a stockman. During the 1940s he was initiated into traditional law. His experience of growing up in the region was common to the vast majority of Aboriginal people of the Kimberley and adjacent areas. Europeans settled in the region late in the 19th century, first to mine gold and then to raise cattle. After many years of conflict, Aboriginal people were forced to work for the recently arrived ranch owners. Despite these circumstances, many Aboriginal people kept the connection with their ancestral lands where they were able to conduct ceremonies and continue traditional beliefs.

    The upper dark brown strip across the canvas is the bitumen highway with the lighter reddish brown line under this is the gravel road. The two hands represent the stop signs at the meeting of these roads.


    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010

  • Rover Thomas produced some of the most pivotal paintings relating to ancestral stories and major historical events in the eastern Kimberley. Although he did not paint for the market until 1982, his work exploded onto the art world and his skills and talent as a painter were instantly recognised. Notably, in 1990 he and Trevor Nickolls were the first Aboriginal artists to represent Australia at the Venice Biennale.

    Thomas’s bold compositions, full of earthy textures and deep, rich, large blocks of colour, redefined the framework of what was considered to be Aboriginal painting at the time. Thomas depicted the landscape in innovative ways that would become the basis of the East Kimberley school of painting.

    Roads meeting 1987 is an analogy for the coming together of two cultures in Australia: the red dirt track represents the paths of the ancestral beings and the original inhabitants, and the black bitumen road that of the new settlers. Hand stencils such as the ones in the painting are commonly found in rock paintings in the region and throughout Australia. In his description of the work, Thomas refers to them as stop signs.

    This painting was reproduced on an official government poster promoting reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in 1999.

    Tina Baum


    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