Julie Dowling – 3 times Archibald finalist
Julie Dowling’s Wilfred Hicks
Badimia Aboriginal artist Julie Dowling’s painting of Wong-goo-tt-oo Elder Wilfred Hicks was the only Western Australian Aboriginal finalist in the 2013 Archibald Prize, with the winner announced at the Art Gallery of NSW last week.
Ms Dowling was one of only three WA finalists for the Archibald Prize which had more than 800 submissions. The renowned artist’s painting was short-listed to the final five and the judges spent several days deciding the winner. The final five were a closely guarded secret and only revealed a day after the winner was announced.
Ms Dowling is known for her paintings dealing with Aboriginal identity, colonial histories, and racism. She is a highly regarded artist with works in galleries and collections nationwide. Also one of Australia’s most collected artists, with works in most major public collections in Australia, Ms Dowling often combines Australian Aboriginal symbolism with European social-realism and with Christian iconography.
“I paint because my Badimia family does or tried to for about four generations,” she says.
“I started portraits as a child so that I could paint the distinctive features of my family and recognise lost family members on public transport. I paint mostly historical pictures and portraits of people I know,” said Ms Dowling.
“I asked to paint Wilfred Hicks because he is a mentor for me. He is an Elder fighting for cultural knowledge.”
“The Art Gallery of NSW offered to buy the painting of Mr Hicks but Ms Dowling declined and prefers the painting to go to Mr Hicks. She said she may be doing another painting of Mr Hicks and once again enter it in the Archibald so as to highlight the campaign to save the Burrup.
Ms Dowling has been a finalist in the Archibald Prize twice before, in 2001 and 2002.
Ms Dowling’s subject, Wilfred Hicks is the senior Elder of the Wong-goo-tt-oo people of the West Pilbara Coast. He is also the spokesperson for the senior most Law Boss of the region extending past the Wong-goo-tt-oo – Elder Tim Douglas.
“Born on Karratha Station under a tree between 1935 and 1939, Wilfred says he was fortunate, as a ‘half-caste’ child, not to have been taken from his parents by Native Welfare and to have learned his Law and Culture from Elders in the bush,” said Ms Dowling.
After just four years schooling, he worked from a young age on stations and as a labourer and machine operator on roads, water supply and railways.
In the 1990s he began representing his people on the West Pilbara Land Council, the Aboriginal Legal Service, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC).
For the last 15 years, he has been the leading Traditional Elder advocating for World Heritage List protection for the sacred pre-Ice Age Burrup rock art.
Mr Hicks currently directs the global ‘Stand Up for the Burrup’ campaign.
“Saving our heritage, our ancient history, our rock art and sacred sites, the oldest in the country, is not only important for our children and our children’s children but for everyone,” said Mr Hicks.
Stand Up for the Burrup is a global campaign for UNESCO World Heritage listing for the Burrup rock art, a Pilbara Aboriginal peoples’ sacred site – the world’s oldest and largest rock art precinct.
In May 2012, the Australian Heritage Council’s Final Report on the Dampier Archipelago confirmed that the Burrup rock art should be World Heritage List protected.
Stand Up for the Burrup is a social media campaign that asks people world-wide to literally ‘Stand Up for the Burrup’ wearing t-shirts or carrying placards that spell the message – ‘Stand Up for the Burrup.’ Since its launch in December 2006, more than 430 groups have contributed photos and messages, many from UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The campaign has led to outcomes and to proposals tabled in the Australian Senate – and the campaign will continue till the historical sites are world heritage listed.