Billy Thomas

Billy was born around 1920 in the bush near Billiluna, WA. His group had no contact with outsiders. He saw his first Gadia (white people) as a young boy when he was cooking a goanna and a stockman rode up to him on a horse and offered him an apple. As a teenager he worked as a stockman droving cattle along the Canning Stock Route. At one point he met up with the late Rover Thomas who was then a young boy filling water buckets at Kuka Banyu (Well 33 on the Canning Stock Route). The two worked together on and off during their time on the Canning. Around the time of the Second World War, Billy's stock work brought him to Derby where he was hired as a police tracker. Travelling unarmed through the bush in search of fugitives he often had to subdue them with his bare hands. During one of his "holidays" from police work he was shot through the leg by a crook at Rugan (Crocodile Hole) near Turkey Creek, WA and has walked with a limp ever since. After his days as a tracker, Billy went back to stock work and worked for many years as a drover before retiring to the Mud Springs Aboriginal community near Kununurra, WA.

Billy did not begin painting until 1995 when he walked into Waringarri Arts and asked if he could have some 'cardboard' (as he calls canvases), to paint on. His work depicts the landscape and the Dreamings of his traditional country around Billiluna and along the Canning Stock Route, incorporating Western Desert iconography with a vibrance and energy that is uniquely his own. Having held several successful solo exhibtions, including two sell out shows with William Mora Galleries on in 1997 in Melbourne and the other in Sydney in 1998, Billy has emerged as one of Australia's leading Aboriginal painters.

As a senior medicine man, Billy's role is crucial in traditional ceremonies, decision making and the initiation of boys into Aboriginal law. Subsequently, his knowledge of sacred sites, stories and ceremony is immense and in some of his painting, comprises a major part of the 'hidden' iconography. For the uninitiated, familiarity with this information is inappropriate. The artist 'dots' over the entire work and scrapes back parts of the white ochre to uncover only the aspects of his history and knowledge he wishes to reveal.

It is unusual for an artist to paint ceremony but Billy focuses on this and its relevance to Aboriginal culture: the diversity of its origins, the making of the country, the importance of places and the movements of the creatures that made the country.

Australian National Gallery, Canberra
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Museum and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory, Darwin
Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth
Kerry Stokes Collection
Mary M'acha Collection
Australian Capital Equity, Perth
Wesfarmers Collection, Perth
Edith Cowan University, Perth
Kununurra Police Station Public Art Project, Kununurra (Commission)
Halls Creek Police Station Public Art Project, Halls Creek (Commission)
Private Collections in Australia, Japan, Germany, USA, Belgium and France.

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