Winner of 2007 Blake Prize for Religious Art

Shirley is undoubtedly one of the hardest working, most professional contemporary ochre artists and certainly one of the most talented.

Born on Mabel Downs Station, she grew up there whilst her mother Madigan Thomas was working alongside the stockmen. Like her mother, Shirley is a great organiser, strong lady and well respected Law and Culture Woman amongst her Kitja people. She has recently relocated from Warmun Community and now resides at Norton Bore Community, of which she and her husband Gordon Barney (a senior painter in his own right and former stockman – see picture below) are Chairpersons.

Shirley worked when old enough at Mabel Downs, Texas Downs and Alice Downs in the station homesteads (as she says, No, I didn’t ride horses like Mum!).

She then settled at Warmun and worked at the Post Office for many years. She has six children and many grandchildren, Shirley looks after not only her grandchildren but relatives little ones and is fastidious about the proper rearing of children and the teaching of youngsters both in traditional culture and modern schooling. When Shirley shops for her family, she practically cleans out the supermarket shelves!

It is amazing that she could possibly find time to paint, but she certainly does. Shirley has a style all of her own, her ability to blend superb ochre colours is renowned, particularly the pale blues she uses, and doesn’t mind sharing her techniques with not only the younger artists but also established artists, she is a very generous lady. The stories of her paintings in the main derive from those Madigan has told her, and her uncle, the late Jack Britten.

Shirley has participated in many exhibitions since 1994 in every capital city in Australia, as well as in London and Germany. Her artworks are valued and included in high profile collections such as the Kerry Stokes Collection and Universities throughout the Country.


– Winner, Blake Prize for Religious Art

– Special Mention, East Kimberley Art Award


– Artists of the East Kimberley Exhibition, Canberra
– Maintaining Family Tradition, Adelaide Festival Centre, Adelaide
– National Aboriginal Art Award, Australian Heritage Commission, Old Parliament House, Canberra

– Savode Gallery, Brisbane

– Span Gallery, Melbourne

– Gallery Gabrielle Pizzi, Melbourne
– Chamber of Commerce, Wuerzburg, Germany
– Karen Brown Gallery, Darwin
– East Kimberley Art Awards, Kununurra
– Japingka Gallery, Fremantle, Perth
– Hogarth Galleries, Paddington, Sydney
– Art of the Aborigines, Gallery Baehr, Germany

– Anthropological Museum, Freiburg, Germany
– Gallery Australis, Adelaide
– Ben Grady Gallery, Canberra
– Bett Gallery Hobart, Tasmania
– Commonwealth Institute, London, U.K.
– The Art of Place, National Indigenous Heritage Art Award, Canberra
– State of My Country, Hogarth Galleries, Paddington, Sydney
– Michael Carr Gallery, Sydney
– Hogarth Galleries, Paddington

– Past Modern, Short Street, Gallery, Australia Square, Sydney
– Four Warmun Ngarliwarrin (Women), Artplace, Perth

– Aboriginal Art, Gallery Baehr, Speyer, Germany
– Shirley Purdie and Gordon Barney, Framed Gallery, Darwin
– Garmerrun: All Our Country, Flinders University Art Museum, Adelaide

– University Art Museum, Adelaide
– 20th National ATSIC Art Award, Darwin
– Recent Works in Ochre by Warmun, Framed Gallery, Darwin
– The World Luxury Cruise Ship, Australasis (with Thornquest Gallery, Southport)

– New Work from Warmun, Gadfly Gallery, Perth
– 20th Telstra (NATSIAA) Art Award, Darwin

– Warmun Art Centre Presents, Mary Place Gallery, Sydney
– What Bird Is That?, Alcaston Gallery, Melbourne

– Ralph Pucci International Gallery, New York (in association with Cross Cultural Art Exchange, Darwin)
– Back To The Board, Coo-ee Gallery, Sydney


– Artbank, Sydney
– Commonwealth Institute Collection, London
– Edith Cowan University Art Collection, Perth
– Harvey Wagner Collection, USA
– Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth
– Northern Territory University, Darwin