Yidumduma Bill Harney: Bush Professor


Opening night

Friday, 13 January 2017


On show

Until 19 February 2017

Gallery hours

10am – 4pm

Thursday – Monday


An Ancient Culture Kept Alive Through Art

A new retrospective exhibition brings to life a culture passing out of memory and one man’s remarkable journey to share the remaining vestiges of his people with the world.

Yidumduma Bill Harney: Bush Professor is an exhibition celebrating the life work of Yidumduma Bill Harney, launched in May 2016 at the Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts & Culture Centre in his local community of Katherine, Northern Territory.

At over 80 years of age, Harney is one of the last fully initiated elders of the Wardaman people. He is a charismatic storyteller and artist and the only remaining living custodian of the collective memory, laws and history of his people.

“Yidumduma Bill Harney is recognized throughout the world as an artist of high esteem on many different stages,” said Paul Taylor, a Northern Territory finalist for Australian of the Year in 2013 for his work in preserving and recording Harney’s extraordinary Indigenous knowledge through the Yubulyawan Dreaming Project.

“He is a master painter, storyteller, songman, Didgeridoo player/maker and author,” he said. “All his art forms have the deepest roots in the celebration of his Wardaman Aboriginal heritage and his unique ability to “walk in both worlds” and communicate the joy of his culture to a global audience.”

As a child Harney learned the ways of the Wardaman people from his mother and step father and also the stories connected to the stunning ancient rock art seen on the land of his people, including the famous Lightning Brothers site.

Harney’s knowledge has been described by anthropologists as ‘encyclopedic in nature’, and his artwork is one way that he shares this intimate understanding with the world.

“We were taken to sites with rock art in them when I was young, then again when I was learning, in the initiation years,” Harney said. “The Lawman training often took place at the most important sites, so that’s why I remember the images so well. We were painting ourselves up, fixing the feather decorations, singing the song. We were sleeping among them places, dreaming the stories, finding Spirituals travelling in the stars.

“That’s how I paint, they’re in my mind all the time, I see them! So I can paint the Law!”

Harney’s work is widely exhibited, with major paintings held in the National Gallery of Australia, Parliament House in Darwin, Bond University and the University of Sydney’s Law School. He has been a finalist in the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Telstra Art Award eleven times.

“Yidumduma Bill Harney calls himself a Bush Professor,” said Margie West AM, curator of the exhibition and Emeritus Curator of Aboriginal Art & Material Culture at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.

“His contemporary painting is a fascinating look into topics as diverse as traditional law, astronomy, sorcery and ancestral narrative,” she said.

“This is his first major retrospective exhibition providing national audiences with a fascinating and unique look into his world for the very first time.”