Phyllis Thomas, born 1933 at Kartang Rija or the Turner River region,WA. Her mother was a Gija Kimberley’s woman and her father from the Desert peoples or Jaru. As a young girl, Phyllis kept domestic goats and chickens for her family. At Wyndham, Phyllis met her husband, Joe Thomas, an experienced stockman in the area. During mustering trips throughout the Kimberley region, Joe and Phyllis travelled together and met many of the famous older people including Freddy and Timmy Timms, Jack Bitten and Hector Jandany, whom Phyllis enjoyed sharing a game of cards. When the Government grants were allocated, Joe and Phyllis were given “Crocodile Hole” to develop and their major focus was education. A school was established with Phyllis teaching traditional language, craft, painting, sond and dance. Later, this smaller school closed to join the larger school at Warmun or Turkey Creek. The stories depicted in Phyllis’s paintings are country paintings, many influenced by her travels with Joe; typically hills, creeks and “Purnululu” or the Bungle Bungles; the Boab Trees growing at Crocodile Hole; formations that are the Kimberleys. Her works depict the textured ochre painting that has characterised work of the Kimberleys with its rich palate of earth colours and rustic charm.
Phyllis also paints inherited “Dreamtime” or “Ngarrangkartni” stories that are carefully woven into her paintings, for only the “initiated eye” to see. The surface narrative elements, which are often, termed the painting’s “story” or “Dreaming” are only one level of and Aboriginal painting’s true significance. The imagery employed by Aboriginal artists has deep cultural resonance, which defies simple logic or narrative interpretation. The Western viewer can however intuitively feel the power of this spiritual resonance without necessarily having to understand the details which are essentially for the initiated only.
‘Three Sisters (#PT1800(00)) depicts a story from the Ord River region of the artist’s homeland- the prominent three rocky outcrops of the escarpment represent three women whom are fishing for barramundi. Surrounding the women are rolling hills and the yellow ochre regions represent places frequented by the women to gather. Green and yellow open expanses also represent the growth and abundance of important bush foods.
Dreaming places and bush tucker from around Crocodile Hole area, as well as the country arouand the middle reaches of the Ord and Turner Rivers where she was born.
Collections & Awards
Art Gallery of NSW
Parliament House Collection, Canberra
Art Gallery of Western Australia (5 works)
The Museum & Art Galleries of the NT, Darwin
Highly Commended: 17th National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Award (Telstra Award) in 2000