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Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art
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On display on Level 1


Barkindji/Paakintji peoples

Adelaide, South Australia, Australia born 1963

Campsite V, Nookamka Lake

2008 Place made: Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, inkjet print on canvas, hand-coloured with pencil and watercolour
Dimensions: image 77 h x 206 w cm framed (overall) 762 h x 2045 w x 42 d mm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2011
Accession No: NGA 2011.194
Image rights: © the artist

More detail

The once rich and thriving environment of the Murray and Darling River system with its clear waterways, lush flora and abundant fauna was home to the Barkindji, Muthi Muthi and Nyampa peoples.

The shallow Nookamka Lake (Lake Bonney), which connects to the Murray River in South Australia, is the subject of Nici Cumpston’s recent photographic series. However, the series is not of a lush utopia but of the degradation and erosion that has consumed the lake since the forced irrigation flooding of the waterways in the early 1900s.

When damming ceased in 2007, the water began to subside, slowly revealing the original landscape and the history of human occupation. Cumpston beautifully documents this stark landscape and the demise that salinisation and destructive water management practices have wrought on the people and their lands.

Today, the landscape is desolate, scattered with twisted and broken trees stripped of their foliage like majestic sentinels in deathly poses. The trees still bare the scars—although obscured by dark tidelines—where canoes, containers and shields were cut from their trunks.

Cumpston highlights these clues to the area’s original inhabitants through the delicate and precise hand-watercolouring of the printed black-and-white photographs on canvas. She does not aim to replicate the original colours of the landscape, as a colour photograph would, but to interpret it, re-introducing the Aboriginal presence within the landscape—a subtle reconnection to Country and reminder of past cultural practices and knowledge. As the artist says, ‘I am finding ways to talk about connections to country and to allow people to understand the ongoing connections that Aboriginal people maintain with their traditional lands’.

This is the first work by Nici Cumpston acquired by the Gallery and will feature alongside the work of 19 other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists in the next National Indigenous Art Triennial to open in May 2012.

Tina Baum
Curator, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art

in artonview, issue 67, spring 2011


This is a painting by Barkindji/Paakintji artist Nici Cumpston (b.1963) depicting Nookamka, a freshwater lake situated in the Riverland region of South Australia. The painting is shown as an enlargeable image. Text onscreen gives information about the Murray Darling River system’s degradation, and a description of Cumpston’s intentions and practice. This work was exhibited as a part of the second National Indigenous Art Triennial, ‘unDisclosed’, at the National Gallery of Australia in 2012. The resource includes links to further information about the artists and the themes of the exhibition. The painting measures 77.0 cm high x 206.0 cm wide and was painted using inkjet print on canvas and hand-coloured with pencil and watercolour. 

Educational value

  • This is an excellent resource for the Responding strand in the 7-8 and 9-10 year bands in the visual arts curriculum, especially for those content descriptions that refer to considering the broader context of works of art, such as their social, cultural and historical context and role of the artist and of the audience/s.
  • The work is of considerable significance for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures and the Sustainability cross-curriculum priorities. It shows the degradation of Nookamka caused by its damming for irrigation in the early 1900s as revealed when damming stopped in 2007. Nici Cumpston’s work of art makes a subtle connection to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures priority’s organising idea about Aboriginal peoples’ special connection to and responsibility for country. In the text onscreen she tells how she wants to find ‘ways to talk about connections to country ... to allow people to understand the ongoing connections that Aboriginal people maintain with their traditional lands’. The resource as a whole is directly relevant for the Sustainability cross-curriculum priority as it makes clear the interdependent and dynamic nature of environmental systems.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

While water remains an important subject for Cumpston, she has recently begun to focus more directly on traces of Indigenous occupation and land use. An important aspect of Cumpston's project is her own experience of places and Country, the memory of which is encoded in the prints themselves. Cumpston shoots on black-and-white film, which is then scanned and printed digitally before being handcoloured. The materiality and temporality of the analogue process, both the original black-and-white film and the act of handcolouring, also mirror Cumpston's experiences of places.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra