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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.

Shirley Purdie

Born: 1947, Gilbun – Mabel Downs Station, WA
Works: Warmun, WA
Ngarrangarni/Totem: Crow
Skin: Nangari

Artist statement

The stories in these paintings – some were passed down to me and some are my memories from when I bin growing up. Some are Ngarranggarni (Dreaming) for us Gija people. They are in my dad's country near la Violet Valley and Mabel Downs, because that's where I grew up. They are about my life – but stories about women – from my mother, father and grandparents. I never seen my dad for mum or my dad for father (paternal grandparents), because they passed away before I bin born.

1Dayiwool Ngarranggarni (Arygle dreaming), 2018. 2Moonga Moonga (women’s corroboree), 2018. Both by Shirley Purdie.

The painting, Moonga Moonga (women’s corroboree), is before I bin born. Mum’s mob and my aunty (Dad’s sister) and all my family used to dance in Gilbun (Mabel Downs). You can see the men are singing with clapping sticks, while the women are dancing. Some old people made up this corroboree; this was when we used to dance for good feeling and happy times.

Gilbun Hill (Mabel Downs Hill) shows a story of my mum, aunty, grandmother, and a school teacher. That gardiya (white) woman – they bin take her up there (Gilbun Hill). And they reckon when she bin laying down under one of the trees, she bin get all them kangaroo ticks – he a big one, that kangaroo tick; he make you sore and you gotta pull him out. All this lot (my family) picked them out of her. She was red after that!

1Gelbayen (Mabel Downs), 2018. 2Ngalingalim berrem (Women’s one’s), 2018. Both by Shirley Purdie.

My grandmother used to tell my uncle that he couldn’t call these ones names – the Ngalingalim berrem (women’s ones). The painting shows them: the witchetty grub; what them gardiya call them the stormbird; the crimson and green parrot; the butterfly; the black cockatoo (that one sounds like a swearword in Gija, but gardiya won’t understand that); and one that’s like a mussel. That’s all the things that my grandmother told them young boys they couldn’t say. Now I am teaching my young boys that they can’t say these things either.

It’s good to learn from old people. They keep saying when you paint you can remember that country, just like to take a photo. Good to put it in painting, your country, so kids can know and understand. When the old people die, young people can read the stories from the paintings. They can learn from the paintings and maybe they want to start painting too. 

33 portraits

1Jilloorlban Spring, Mabel Downs, 2018. 2Yarralalil (bush woman), 2018. 3Poison Tree for Fish, 2018. 4Gelbayn Hill (Mabel Downs), 2018. All by Shirley Purdie .

Related people

Shirley Purdie

Related information

Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe, 2018 Shirley Purdie
Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe, 2018 Shirley Purdie
Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe, 2018 Shirley Purdie
Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe, 2018 Shirley Purdie

Storied portrait

About Face article

27 May 2020

Emily Casey takes in Shirley Purdie’s remarkable self-portrait, Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe.

© Shirley Purdie/Copyright Agency, 2020
© Shirley Purdie/Copyright Agency, 2020
© Shirley Purdie/Copyright Agency, 2020
© Shirley Purdie/Copyright Agency, 2020

Ngalim-Ngalimbooroo Ngagenybe

Shirley Purdie

Current exhibition

from Saturday 6 June

Using ochres collected on her country in Western Australia’s East Kimberley, Shirley Purdie’s self-portrait is a kaleidoscope of traditional Gija stories and Ngarranggarni (Dreaming) passed down to her.

Marilyn Ball, Albatross, 2018 (detail) by Linde Ivimey
Marilyn Ball, Albatross, 2018 (detail) by Linde Ivimey
Marilyn Ball, Albatross, 2018 (detail) by Linde Ivimey
Marilyn Ball, Albatross, 2018 (detail) by Linde Ivimey

So Fine

Contemporary women artists make Australian history

Previous exhibition, 2018

This exhibition features new works from ten women artists reinterpreting and reimagining elements of Australian history, enriching the contemporary narrative around Australia’s history and biography, reflecting the tradition of storytelling in our country.

The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery

The Gallery

Explore portraiture and come face to face with Australian identity, history, culture, creativity and diversity.

We would like to thank our partners.
© National Portrait Gallery 2020
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 both past and present.

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