Published: Fri 3 Mar 2017

As part of the Australian War Memorial’s focus on Indigenous service, a painting by prominent Aboriginal artist Rover Thomas, Ruby Plains Massacre 1, has gone on display in the Memorial’s galleries.

The acquisition recognises the Aboriginal perspective of colonial violence and dispossession. It is an important companion piece to the Memorial’s current exhibition For Country, for Nation, which highlights the longstanding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tradition of protecting Country, including ritual, performance, painting, and fighting.

One of a series, Ruby Plains Massacre 1 depicts the aftermath of an incident in which the Ruby Plains Station owner shot dead several Aboriginal men in retaliation for killing a bullock. Thomas has created a historical record of events that went unreported at the time, but that have been passed down through the oral tradition. Violent events such as this were part of a pattern during settlement of the eastern Kimberley.

Memorial Director Dr Brendan Nelson said understanding the perspective of Indigenous people demands a deeper sense of cultural perspective.

“When the First World War broke out, despite being prohibited from enlisting, at least 1,500 men of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander background enlisted to fight for the young nation that had taken so much from them.”

“Their determination to serve and fight for Australia only four or five generations after the First Fleet arrived, existed despite the history of dispossession and violence perpetrated against them,” Dr Nelson said.

“Much of this is depicted in the Memorial’s exhibition For Country, for Nation and assists us to tell the story of Indigenous Australian service overseas and at home.” 

Rover Thomas is remembered as one of the truly great Aboriginal artists. Along with Trevor Nicholls, he was one of the first Aboriginal artists to represent Australia at the Venice Biennale.

Born in the Western Desert on the Canning Stock Route, Thomas became a stockman, eventually settling at Turkey Creek (now Warmun), where he started painting in the early 1980s. He was an important Elder and a leading artist in Aboriginal communities of the region.

CONTACT: Greg Kimball      02 6263 6628  or 0402 800 649