Place Oceania: Australia, Western Australia, Warmun
Accession Number AWM2018.471.1
Collection type Art
Measurement Unframed: 140 x 300 cm
Object type Painting
Physical description natural ochre and pigments on canvas
Maker Purdie, Shirley
Place made Australia: Western Australia, Warmun
Date made 2012
Conflict Period 1910-1919
Pre 19th century
Period 1920-1929
Period 1900-1909

Item copyright: AWM Licensed copyright


Goordbelayinji is a Gija word that is used to describe any place where many have been killed at one time. In this painting, Purdie speaks about events on her Father's Country: violence amongst neighbouring Aboriginal communities; Aboriginal led killings of pastoralist upon arrival; and importantly, the massacre of Gija people at Mistake Creek in 1915. By depicting such massacres, Purdie, like her forbears Queenie McKenzie and Rover Thomas, has intended to create historical records of events that went unreported but had been passed down through oral tradition.

Purdie's rendition of these three stories has been presented in the form of a triptych. The left panel depicts a conflict between two different groups of Aboriginal people in the mid 1800's, before Europeans arrived to settle in the East Kimberley region. The central panel, depicts the first time Purdie's family saw white people. They arrived in Gija Country on a wagon. Purdie tells how the wagon wheels left tracks across Country that made her father's great-grandfather think that these white people were connected to the rainbow serpent. Purdie's family and other Gija people killed the white men for this reason. The Aborigines and the 'white fella' can be seen in the upper part of the panel, separated by tracks left by the wagon.

The right panel depicts the Aboriginal experience of the Mistake Creek Massacre of 1915. An Aboriginal man from another part of Australia (sometimes assumed to have come from Darwin), had come to Gija Country to work for the Rhatigan family and he fell in love with some of the married Gija women. The women refused his advances, so the man lied to Mr Rhatigan and told him that the Gija mob had killed his cow. Wild and mad, the Aboriginal man and Mr Rhatigan rode out to Mistake Creek where the Gija people were camped and began shooting them dead. Nearly everyone died. Rhatigan uncovered their cooking pot after the massacre and found only kangaroo and echidna inside, and realised that he had been lied to. Rhatigan killed the Aboriginal man and was taken to court but his charges were dropped due to the fact that he had been tricked. The site of the massacre can be identified on by the camp site below the large boab tree.

Purdie was born in 1947 and has been painting for more than twenty years. She is an artist of increasing significance and seniority. She is a prominent leader in the Warmun community and her cultural knowledge combined with her art practice compliments each other to produce works that hold great strength and cultural importance. Purdie was taught to paint by her mother, Madigan Thomas, as well as from her good friends and mentors, Queenie McKenzie and Rover Thomas. Much of what she paints are places on Country that are significant to Gija people. Colonial histories of the region also feature in her work and she recounts stories of early contact, massacres, warfare and indentured labour since pastoralists arrived into Gija land in the late 1880’s. Purdie won the 2007 Blake Prize for Religious Art and has exhibited nationally since 1994. Her work is held in private collections nationally and internationally, including the Kerry Stokes Collection.