Wandjina Art

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In comparison with the voluminous writings and studies at the highest level on the subject of Bradshaw rock art, little has been investigated, explored or recorded about Wandjina rock art carvings.

Certainly, the sites of these carvings in the Central, Northern and East Kimberley region, including Mitchell Plateau and King Edward River areas are visited by and wondered at and admired by tourists and lovers of art and strange “different” phenomena. We can only assume the reason for the anomaly to be the purported age of the carvings.

To the Aboriginal people who live in these areas, the Wandjina has a deep and meaningful relationship with their heritage and their culture. The Wandjina is depicted not only in contemporary aboriginal paintings, but has for many years appeared on bark coolamons which were used for food gathering and for cradles for newborn babes, ceremonial boomerangs and shields and a myriad of symbolic artefacts the Wandjina is part of the lives of the tribes who have for many many years lived and hunted and survived in the country of the Wandjina carvings.

The Wandjina is the Rain Spirit of the Wunambul, Wororra and Ngarinyin language people the controller of the “Seasons”, the bringer of rain which equals water which equals “life”. She is the Woongurr the Leader she commands respect and she has great powers. To please her is to thrive to insult or do wrong is to bring wrath and recompense to the offenders. This is very apparent in the contemporary Wandjina artwork which is painted today from stories which have been handed down from generation to generation.

In this informative part of our website, we seek to bring to readers not only the information of which they may already be aware, but to relate this information to the painters of the region which we represent and their artworks. We want to share with everyone the privileged information we glean from these people, to make the paintings meaningful, alive, and real.

We recall a conversation between Ju Ju Wilson, a member of the Mirriuwong/Gadgerong people, and Lily Karadada in the Gallery. They were talking together generally about Wandjina as Lil had brought us some “different” styles. Ju Ju is closely connected with the Wandjina through her family from the Mitchell Plateau. Ju Ju looked up in the middle of a sentence and said “You know, they are little people”. Lily nodded. Ju Ju’s hand was horizontal and parallel with the floor and she was bending down, as describing a child. We had never thought of this before but when one thinks about even the way Lily depicts a full length Wandjina figure, it is indeed “squat” in stature, as opposed to the lean, lithe and “tall” images of the Bradshaw art.


The Wandjina is most certainly depicted by the contemporary artists as the “God of Weather” – Roslyn Karadada is a “strong” painter, and her bold images of Wandjinas with “Clouds”, with “Lightning” and with all manner of water creatures leave us with little doubt that she believes in the strength and power of this mighty and awesome deity. {This has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that we have nicknamed her “Cyclone Roslyn” that’s her strong personality!}

A teacher on a Gibb River Road Community, Yvonne Burdu has painted a wonderful story of the wrath that will befall those who do wrong in the Wandjina’s eye a very old dreamtime story about two boys who plucked the feathers from two owls and the justice metered out by the Wandjina Yvonne has painted this piece “to the letter” of the story, ending with the rainbow when the Rain God was satisfied with justice. Roslyn Karadada’s younger sister, Angelina, invariably paints Wandjina with an owl sitting on one shoulder a different version of the story.

There are many who paint this theme Kevin Waina, Dorothy Djanghara, the Mowanjum artists…and then there is…..

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Lily Karadada

To meet Lily is a pleasure to know her is an honour. Tall and imposing as are many of her people from Kalumburu, she has the most gentle demeanour and soft, wise eyes. She is quick to laugh no, Lily ‘giggles’ an infectious humour which radiates around the Gallery whenever she arrives (which is very often unannounced but always welcomed). She may be there merely for a social visit or she may have time “up her sleeve”¬†between flights back from Kununurra to Kalumburu to paint in house.


It is really fascinating to watch Lil paint she “handles a board” so professionally, with ease, and totally focused. Unlike many artists who “chat” while they paint, Lily just PAINTS we believe she could paint “standing on her head” but this could well be her “time out” as diva of an extended family, Lily deserves some personal space. She is always there for her family in control, quietly solving problems and organising. Her husband Jack is now very dependent upon her physically, and her extended family look up to her for advice and comfort. She is without doubt, always there for each and every one of them.

Lil is so affable, always wishing to please. We never tell a senior painter what we want if asked, we hint – for example, “How about some Lightning Wadjina’s, Lil?” or “We are pretty low on little buggar boards” or “Do something different” – Lil will do it.


When we asked in September for coolamons and bark paintings, she “dodged” the request and we were surprised. Her daughter Roslyn some weeks later told us the reason she could not do them was that the rains had not yet come the bark needs to be wet before Lily cuts it, moulds and shapes it wait for the rain. Lil was too polite to tell us we should have known but we did not this is the measure of the very traditional and very talented Lily Karadada.