ACT News

Clifford Possum's children see his masterpiece at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra

 Gabriella Possum thought she might cry as she came face to face for the first time in decades with her father's most famous painting.

Gabriella and her brother Lionel were making their first visit to the National Gallery of Australia to see the gallery of Indigenous art where the huge work, Warlugulong 1977, dominates.

Artist Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarra's children Gabriella, from Melbourne, and Lionel Possum, from Alice Springs, see ...
Artist Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarra's children Gabriella, from Melbourne, and Lionel Possum, from Alice Springs, see their father's work "Warlugulong" at the National Gallery of Australia. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

It was bought in 2007 by the gallery for $2.4 million, making it the gallery's most significant piece of Aboriginal artwork.

The gallery says the painting, one of Clifford Possum's seminal works, is regarded as one of the key Australian paintings of the 20th century and reveals five Dreaming stories.

"The main story Warlugulong (Bushfire Dreaming) relates to a father (Lungkata, the Blue-Tongue Lizard Man) who discovers his two sons had killed, cooked and eaten a kangaroo without sharing it (as is customary)," the gallery says.

"In anger and wanting to teach them a lesson, he blew on his fire stick until it glowed. He held it to a bush which exploded into flames. A raging fire roared towards the sons who tried in vain to fight it but they soon perished (their skeletons can be seen to the right)."


Gabriella Possum said the master piece brought back sad memories.

"Long time I remember the Bushfire Dreaming, it's good but sad because of the story, my Daddy's uncle," she said.

After seeing some of her father's other paintings in the gallery, she said: "The small paintings bring back to life my school days, still keeping the past strong, we feel strong seeing the paintings."

Curator Franchesca Cubillo said the painting was the gallery's most significant Aboriginal art work from the Western Desert region.

"It holds pride of place in our Western Desert gallery," she said

"We hadn't had the opportunity to have the family here to see the work ... it's so important that the family have the opportunity to visit and access these wonderful works of art.

"We need to ensure that what we have here at the gallery is shared with everyone.

"It's important that we have this remarkable work in our collection, not so that we can have bragging rights or anything but that we get the chance to share this with the wider community.

"In that regard, we feel we are custodians."

The gallery says from 1976 to 1979, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri produced a series of five large innovative canvases that mapped out his ancestral lands and their Dreaming stories in such a way as to integrate the sacred diagrams of ceremonial ground paintings and the topographical conventions of European maps.

No Western Desert painter had attempted this approach before and these are amongst the first large canvases ever produced from this ground breaking movement.

He died in Alice Springs in 2002 on the day he was scheduled to be invested with the Order of Australia for his contribution to art and to the Indigenous community.