NMA collection record

'Budgerigars in the Sandhills' by Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri, 1975

Description

This acrylic painting represents the travels of the Budgerigar ancestors during the Dreaming. On their journey, the ancestors stop to camp in sandhill country around Ilpitirri, near Mount Denison. The camps are depicted as concentric circles superimposed on a background mosaic of sand dunes, broken by patches of desert plants. The painting by Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri measures 2,030 mm x 1,730 mm. This resource includes a line diagram illustrating the symbols used in the painting and a map showing sites of significance.

Educational value

Billy Stockman Tjapaltjarri (c1927-), a founder of the Papunya painting movement, is from the Anmatyerr language group. He was born at Ilpitirri near Mount Denison, north-west of Yuendumu. Tjapaltjarri survived the 1928 Coniston Massacre in which the rest of his family were killed. He was raised by his aunt, the mother of fellow artist Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri. He worked as a stockman and later as a cook in the Papunya communal kitchen.

The Papunya artists explain that their paintings come from the Dreaming. Like the natural features that mark out the journeys of ancestral beings and the ceremonies that re-enact these journeys, the paintings are both part of the Dreaming and part of the physical world. Papunya artist Benny (Pinny) Tjapaltjarri says, 'The Dreaming is our explanation of how the landforms appeared. A Dreaming character would come along and stay at a place and then turn into a hill or stone. Sometimes his tracks would become a soak or perhaps a rock hole ... People were also created by the Dreaming. You see, we are all born from our mothers ... but we still come from the Dreaming ... the Dreaming came first'.

By painting the designs and stories that represent their particular Dreaming places, the artists assert their rights and obligations as Central and Western Desert landowners, entrusted with the ritual re-enactment of the events that occurred at these sites. As part of these ceremonies, elaborate ground paintings are constructed using a symbolic language of U shapes, concentric circles, journey lines, and bird and animal tracks. This unique visual language is also used in designs painted on the skin, and is the same language made familiar by the Papunya painters.

The Western Desert art movement, which began at Papunya, is considered to be the genesis of contemporary Aboriginal art. Geoffrey Bardon, a young art teacher who worked at Papunya School from 1971 to 1972, is often credited as the founder of Papunya Tula Artists Pty Ltd, which was incorporated in 1972. He encouraged the senior men of the various language groups living at Papunya to develop ways of adapting their traditional art to Western materials.

The Australian Government played a crucial role in supporting the painting movement in the years following Bardon's departure from Papunya. In 1973 the Whitlam government formed the Aboriginal Arts Board, with members who were all Indigenous Australians. It fostered Aboriginal arts, literature, theatre, dance, music, painting and craft, and also provided grants for Aboriginal communities to employ managers and to help preserve and sustain Aboriginal culture, arts and crafts. Many large Papunya works were commissioned by the Aboriginal Arts Board during the 1970s as part of its exhibition program in Australia and overseas. This collection was transferred to the National Museum of Australia in 1990.

All works are copyright the artists or their estates and are licensed by Aboriginal Artists Agency.