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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.

The Gallery’s Acknowledgement of Country, and information on culturally sensitive and restricted content and the use of historic language in the collection can be found here.

Rover Thomas

1986
Martin van der Wal

inkjet print on rag paper, edition 2/30 (sheet: 42.0 cm x 29.7 cm, image: 25.3 cm x 25.3 cm)

Rover Thomas (1926-1998), Kukatja-Wangkajunga artist, was born in the Great Sandy Desert of Western Australia and worked as a stockman and fencer before losing his employment upon the introduction of equal pay for indigenous workers in 1975. The year he moved to Warmun, where he dreamed of a ceremony called the Kurirr Kurirr (Krill Krill). He told his uncle Paddy Juminji the details of the images he had dreamed, and Juminji painted them onto boards to be carried on the shoulders of participants in the ceremony. In 1981 Thomas began painting the Kurirr Kurirr himself. He soon moved on to views of his ancestral lands and depictions of events in ancient and modern history, such as Cyclone Tracy and the Bedford Downs Massacre. Along with Trevor Nickolls, he was the first Aboriginal artist to represent Australia officially at the Venice Biennale, in 1990. Four years later the NGA mounted a major retrospective of his work, and he featured in a host of major group exhibitions in Australia and overseas in the ensuing years. Rover Thomas: I want to paint, featuring 19 works from the Holmes à Court collection, toured nationally in 2004.

Purchased 2005
© Martin van der Wal

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Martin van der Wal (age 33 in 1986)

Rover Thomas (age 60 in 1986)

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Wainburranga (Paddy Fordham)
Wainburranga (Paddy Fordham)
Wainburranga (Paddy Fordham)
Wainburranga (Paddy Fordham)

Big shots

Magazine article by Djon Mundine OAM, 2017

Djon Mundine OAM brings poignant memory and context to Martin van der Wal’s 1986 portrait photographs of storied Aboriginal artists.

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The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance
The National Portrait Gallery building front entrance

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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 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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