Collection Online
earth pigments and natural binder on canvas
160.0 × 200.2 cm
Place/s of Execution
Warmun, Western Australia
Accession Number
Indigenous Art
Credit Line
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of Pacific Dunlop Limited, Fellow, 1990
© the artist's estate, reproduced courtesy of Warmun Art Centre
This digital record has been made available on NGV Collection Online through the generous support of The Vizard Foundation
Gallery location
Gallery 13
Level 3, NGV Australia
About the work

Rover Thomas was born in about 1926 at Kunawarritji (Well 33) on the Canning Stock Route in the Great Sandy Desert of Western Australia. After spending much of his life as a stockman, Thomas moved to Warmun in the 1970s and began painting for a non-Aboriginal audience in the early 1980s and has since become an outstanding contemporary artist.

Yari country represents the story of one of the Wati Kutjarra (Two Men) of Kukatja/Wangkajunga mythology who is perishing of thirst in a time of severe drought and drinks from two poisoned yari (milky water) billabongs. Weakened from the poison, he makes camp and lights a fire to keep warm. The fire rages out of control and the old man is burnt to death. At this point in the desert, the old man’s spirit enters into and becomes the land.

Details of the old man’s story are symbolised as four sections in the composition: the black rectangle represents junpa (charcoal) surrounded on two sides by expanses of yari (milky water), and the red-ochre section represents wala (desert) where he is perishing of thirst.

The fire raged out of control and the old man, unable to escape from the flames, was burnt to death. His presence in the landscape is indicated by the black bar depicting his club. The details of the old man’s story are symbolised as four sections in the composition. The black rectangle represents charcoal surrounded on two sides by expanses of yari (poisonous water). The red ochre section represented wala (desert) where the old man was dying of thirst.