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Phyllis Thomas / Body Paint (1B)

50cm x 60cm Ochre on Canvas, 2008

SKU: 12455


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SKU: 12455 Category:

Phyllis was born at Turner River (Kartang Rija) and grew up there.  Her mother was Kitja and her father Jaru (desert-way).  Phyllis worked around the station, doing yard duties and assisting with the domestic goats.  Whilst in Wyndham, she met her husband, Joe Thomas, a stockman.  She accompanied him to Springvale, then Mabel Downs.  Joe worked at Bow River alongside the late Timmy Timms for Sam and Maggie Lilly, and much later when the Government granted the station to the Timms Family, Joe was granted an excision, and developed Rugan Community (Crocodile Hole).

Joe was instrumental in setting up a school on his Community, and Phyllis taught the children culture – carving, painting and dancing.  Eventually the school was closed and the children attended the larger school at nearby Warmun.

Phyllis paints landscapes – particularly of Crocodile Hole which is a haven for wildlife, boab trees and permanent water. She is well represented throughout Australia and her entry in the Telstra Awards 2000 was highly commended.


– Womens Business, Sherman Galleries, Sydney
– East Kimberley Exhibition, Japingka Gallery, Perth

– New Work from Warmun, Gadfly Gallery, Perth

– A Selection of Contemporary Art, Martin Browne Fine Art, Sydney. Other artists featured included Emily Kngwarreye and Paddy Bedford

– Blood on the Spinifex, Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbourne

– 17th National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, Museum and Art Gallery of the NT

– Parliament House Collection, Canberra
– Art Gallery of Western Australia
– Private and corporate collections throughout Australia and Overseas

Phyllis has painted a representation of the Daiwal (Barramundi) scales that are an important part of the Kitja Women’s Culture. The Elder women often paint this design in ochre on the top half of their bodies for dancing, cultural meetings and ceremonies. The work is significant and Traditional, with the Barramundi scales painted in white against a black background. The Barramundi Dreaming sites are secret places where the Kitja Women meet to discuss the Law, initiate the young women and pass their culture to the young ones. One of the favourite Ngarrangkarni (Dreamtime) stories as told by the women is that long time ago, the women were fishing for Barramundi with woven nets. One escaped from the net and sailed right over the Kitja land, dropping its scales to make the diamonds in the area.

Daiwal Dreaming has been painted in various ways by many of the Senior Women Kitja ochre artists, including Peggy Patrick, Goody Barratt, Lena Nyadbi and the late Queenie McKenzie. This particular work is exceptional and shows the talent of the artist, in that Phyllis has cleverly depicted the outline of a fish within the patterning of the scales. The background colours indicate the practice of throwing crushed leaves from a native tree into the water, which deprives the oxygen content and the fish float to the surface, making them easy to catch where the water is full of snags such as fallen logs and tree roots.

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