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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.

Poison Tree for Fish

by Shirley Purdie

“All the women (the dark circles), when they used to smash the skin for this tree, and poison the fish in the water. They make them fish lose oxygen and come up la water. When that fish bin come out of the water, it’s not poison, they can still eat ‘em.
This the water (grey area). This the two flat rock (yellow and white).”

When Shirley was a little girl, she watched all the old people on Mabel Downs Station. She would go with the old people on weekend outings such as picnics. She’d follow the women to crush the bark of the Mangoonji tree to form a soapy lather. This lather was used as a natural poison to kill the fish, but it was harmless for human consumption. This technique of fishing has been used by Aboriginal people in the Kimberley for many years, and was passed down to Shirley from her ancestors. It was used because people didn’t have fishing lines or nets, and this knowledge from the women helped Shirley’s people survive.

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.

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.

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© National Portrait Gallery 2020
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Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia

Phone +61 2 6102 7000
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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.