Lot 79
  • 79


300,000 - 350,000 AUD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Rover Thomas (Joolama)
  • Natural earth pigments and binders (bush gums) on canvas
  • 90 by 180 cm


Commissioned by Mary Macha, Perth in 1985
The Holmes à Court Collection, Heytesbury (accession number 1260)
Sotheby's, Aboriginal Art, Melbourne, 24 June 2002, lot 113
Private collection, acquired from the above


The painting is housed in a dark hardwood box frame. The yellow, brown and black earth pigments that form the ground and central design elements of the painting are in excellent and stable condition. Following the paintings purchase from Sotheby's in 2002, the current owner had some of the white pigment dots stabilised and some replaced by a professional conservator, Julia Sharpe, former conservator at the National Gallery of Australia. A small amount of white dots have since come away and some of the remaining dots appear to be unstable.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

This painting is one of the first by Rover Thomas which relate to the massacres of Aboriginal poeple that occurred in the eastern Kimberley in the quarter of a century before his birth. The massacres were the result of conflict between the local peoples and the recently arrived cattle station owners who were striving to settle and farm the area. The new settlers introduced livestock that polluted fresh waterholes and streams, leading to a scarcity of the game and natural resources on which Aboriginal people relied: occasionally they would kill and eat the cattle, much to the displeasure of the station owners

The massacres have become part of the oral history of the region. Rover Thomas painted about three particular episodes of killings; those at Bedford Downs, Texas Downs and at Ruby Plains stations.The painting contains the same compositional elements as those found in a later work on the same subject, Ruby Plains killing 2, 1990, in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia (see Thomas , R. et al, Roads Cross: The Paintings of Rover Thomas, Canberra: National Gallery of Australia, 1994, p.45): In particular see the image of a skull in a hollow tree stump in the lower right of the

The following narrative is a version of that published in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition Roads Cross: The Paintings of Rover Thomas, held at the National Gallery in 1994. The original text from the exhibition catalogue reads as follows:

At a stock camp at Ruby Plains station, south of Halls Creek, the owner and the manager check the supply needs of the camp crew before returning home. It is agreed that tea, sugar, flour and tobacco will be sent out the next day with Mingkayi the station blacksmith. The following day the owner and the manager while heading to the stock camp, come across a group of Aboriginal men butchering a bullock. The men attempt to conceal the meat beneath a blanket. The owner talks to them quietly telling them to relax and then on the pretext of providing extra food, slips back to the vehicle and arms himself with two rifles. He gives one of the rifles to the manager and together they shoot at the cattle killers. At least two and maybe four people are killed and then decapitated, their heads being placed in a hollow log or dead tree

Men from the stockcamp who must have known of the presence of the people in the bush look for them, but can't find them. Their attention is eventually drawn to the location of the killing ground by crows that have assembled, and they discover the corpses

The following day, refusing to work any longer for the owner and manager, the stockmen walk off Ruby Plains and go east to other stations taking everyone with them. According to Rover Thomas, without stockmen to work for them, the owner and the manager also abandon the station

It has not been possible to establish a date for the massacre