P. Thomas Boorljoonngali

Warmun Art Centre

P. Thomas was a Gija woman of Nagarra skin whose bush name, Boorljoonngali, means ‘big rain coming down with lots of wind’. She was born at a place called Riya on the Turner River, south east of the Bungle-Bungles. When Boorljoonngali was young she worked on Turner Station looking after poultry, gardening, grinding salt and carting water from the well but often preferred to run away into the bush with the old women. She loved walking all over the country with her grandmother and the other old women, hunting, collecting dingo scalps and looking for gold. She married Joe Thomas from Rugun, Crocodile Hole and lived there for many years.

She began painting when Freddie Timms set up Jirrawun Arts at Crocodile Hole. Her work depicting Dreaming places and bush tucker from the Crocodile Hole area as well as the country around the middle reaches of the Ord and Turner rivers where she was born, achieved almost immediate success. She was represented in the Telstra Art award exhibition in 1999 with a stunning picture Boornbem Goorlem, Hot Water Spring II done in black and a pinkish red colour made by mixing red and white ochre. The spring is in a gorge with the open sky shown as a plain expanse of paint above the water and rock faces. Other works include Bush Honey – ‘Sugarbag’ Dreaming at Dry Swamp in which the dark cells of the hives float on a plain ground, and Loomoogoo Blue Tongue Lizard Dreaming in which a prominent landscape feature is seen from the side.

Boorljoonngali’s work has been acquired by a number of collectors and galleries including a special focus purchase of five paintings by the Western Australian Art Gallery in 2000. Her painting ‘The Escape’ done as part of a series of paintings relating to massacre stories by Jirrawun artists intended to be shown together as “Blood on the Spinifex” was exhibited at the Seventeenth National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award Exhibition in 2000 and was highly commended. It was purchased as part of the MAGNT Telstra collection. This image was used as the poster and catalogue cover for the exhibition at the Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne between December 2002 and March 2003. An eight panel series on the same subject was shown at Raft Artspace in Darwin in April 2002. This was purchased by the Western Australian Art Gallery in 2003. Boorljoonngali was also a singer and dancer with the Neminuwarlin Performance Group in its production of Fire, Fire Burning Bright which premiered at the Perth International Arts Festival in February 2002 and opened the Melbourne International Festival of the Arts the State Theatre of Victoria in October 2002. She sang the haunting Warnalirri with Peggy Patrick on the second half of the group’s CD released in 2002 during PIAF.

In 2017, Boorljoonngali’s work created during the Jirrawun era was featured in a special exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia during the TARNANTHI festival; the same eight panel Gemerre series was later featured in RAFT Artspace’s special duo show, featuring her works and those of Peggy Patrick in Alice Springs (in June 2018). Boorljoonngali later created a beautiful painting reminiscing her sisters who were stolen from their birth country and placed in Wyndham, in a painting titled “My Stolen Sisters from Gija Country,” which was a finalist in the Art Gallery of NSW’s 2018 Wynne Prize.

The great artist attended her last Warmun artist weekly Tuesday meeting on Tuesday 30th October 2018, where she enjoyed the special birthday cake marking the 20th Anniversary of Warmun Art Centre with some fellow artists and friends.

She passed away peacefully at Kununurra Hospital on Monday Nov 5th 2018 in the late afternoon.