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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

She saved his life. He showed her painting.

‘She said “Nice boy, good worker, top rider, lucky one, that one"’, sings Paul Kelly in The Ballad of Queenie and Rover. ‘She said, “I want to paint”; he said, “I'll teach ya”’.

1 Queenie McKenzie Nakara, 1997 Greg Weight. © Gregory Weight/Copyright Agency, 2021. 2 Rover Thomas, 1986 Martin van der Wal. © Martin van der Wal.

Paul Kelly’s ballad tells the story of a beautiful friendship between two artists from the Warmun community in the East Kimberley. Encouraged by Rover Thomas, Queenie McKenzie Nakara, a Malngin-Gurindji woman, began painting in 1987. She had worked as a cattle station cook for almost 40 years, until she settled in Warmun in 1973, becoming a senior woman and leader. Rover Thomas, a Kukatja-Wangkajunga man, had begun painting in Warmun six years earlier, after many years as a stockman. They were old friends. In 1954, when Rover ripped open his scalp in a horse-riding accident, Queenie saved his life by expertly sewing him back together. Their powerful, eloquent paintings reflecting connection to Country, ancestral narratives and personal histories, saw them become two of Australia’s most important artists.

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© National Portrait Gallery 2021
King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia

Phone +61 2 6102 7000
Fax +61 2 6102 7001
ABN: 54 74 277 1196

The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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