Billy Thomas (Joongoorra) was born in the bush near Billiluna, Western Australia, before his people had any contact with kartiya (non-Aboriginal people).
Thomas first saw Europeans when he was cooking goanna as a young boy and a stockman on a horse rode up to him and offered him an apple.
Thomas worked as a stockman in his teenage years, droving cattle along the Canning Stock Route. At one point he met up with Rover Thomas, who was then a young boy filling water buckets at Kuka Banya (Well 33 on the Canning Stock Route). The two worked together on and off during their time on the Canning Stock Route.
Around the time of the Second World War, Thomas's stock work brought him to Derby where he was hired as a police tracker. Travelling through the bush in search of fugitives, unarmed, he often had to subdue them with his bare hands. During one of his 'holidays' from police work, he was shot in the leg by a 'crook' at Roogoony (Crocodile Hole) near Turkey Creek and has walked with a limp ever since.
After his days as a tracker, Billy went back to stock work and worked for many years as a drover before retiring to Mud Springs Aboriginal community near Kununurra, in the East Kimberley, Western Australia.
Thomas did not begin painting until 1995 when he walked into Waringarri Arts, Kununurra and asked if he could have some 'ochres and cardboard' (as he calls canvases). The following year his work was exhibited in the Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award in Darwin, at William Mora Galleries, Melbourne and the artist held his first solo exhibition at Gallery Gondwana, Alice Springs. He occasionally paints for Warlayirti Artists in Balgo.