'Blackfella Whitefella', (1999) the late Mr Timms's most political painting, now in the National Gallery collection

Jeremy Eccles | 07.03.17

Author: Jeremy Eccles
News source: Press Release

Senior Gija artist Mr Timms (Ngarrmaliny) passed away unexpectedly last week at Halls Creek, bringing to an end one of The Kimberley's longest and most prestigious art careers.

Mr Timms was a founding member and Chairman of Jirrawun Arts, a respected and highly sought after painter, and long term ANKA Board Member. In more recent years he was a senior artist at Warrmun Art Centre.

Mr Timms Biography from Warmun Art Centre:
Drafted by Linguist Frances Kofod with edits by Warrmun Art Centre Staff and myself.

Mr Timms was born in 1946 at a place called Police Hole on Bedford Downs Station south west of Warrmun, aka Turkey Creek. His Gija name, Ngarrmaliny, is the same as that of his birthplace. He spent his childhood on Bow River and Lissadell Stations, then worked as a stockman, handyman and fencer on several cattle stations throughout the East Kimberley.

Mr Timms began his painting career in the 1980s at the outstation Frog Hollow alongside Rover Thomas, Jack Britten, Hector Jandany, Queenie Mckenzie and his father-in-law George Mung Mung. Timms painted in a style reminiscent of Thomas but recognisably his own, with expanses of open plains, often in bright colours rather than ochred brown, lined with white dots. Many of his artworks are like aerial maps of the bones of the country where he lived and worked all his life. Mapping is on a topographic level showing features of the landscape such as black soil, red ground, sandy banks, hills, creeks and water holes as well as a historical and spiritual level such as roads, stock yards, homesteads and Dreaming places. 

Much of the country where Timms worked, such as the frequently painted Lissadell Station, is now under the waters of Lake Argyle formed by the damming of the Ord River. Timms has said, "I think about the country where I was walking and camping, all the main water holes, all the camping areas. I remember the places where I used to go mustering and I follow them up with my painting.”

During his career, Mr Timms was one of the first artists to call out 'carpet bagging' - dealers in the art industry who take advantage of Aboriginal artists by giving a small amount of money up front and taking the majority of the profit for themselves. While in Melbourne in 1996 he met Tony Oliver, who owned a gallery there, and Mr Timms showed him the $300 he'd received for a month's painting with a local art dealer.  Shocked, Oliver introduced Mr Timms to long term Sydney gallery owner Frank Watters who agreed to show his work on equal terms with non-Aboriginal artists.

It was during that time that Timms appeared in my film, 'Art from the Heart?' explaining how the market had let him down, as did Frank Watters, the veteran dealer who was happy to sign the Gija artist up beside Tony Tuckson, Ken Whisson, James Gleeson, etc. Unfortunately, in the long-term, Timms failed to take account of the exclusivity that Watters demanded.

Timms and Oliver then set up Jirrawun Arts to create and market work on a consignment basis for an elite group of East Kimberley artists including the senior elders Timmy Timms and Paddy Bedford, Peggy Patrick, Rammey Ramsey, Goody Barrett, Phyllis Thomas and Rusty Peters. Among the major achievements of Jirrawun Arts was the 2002 collective exhibition 'Blood on the Spinifex’ in Melbourne which shared mostly untold histories of frontier massacres in the Kimberley region when at least half the Aboriginal population was killed, through extraordinary paintings, the narratives of the artists and scholarly writing. The exhibition became a catalyst for Keith Windschuttle to proclaim his white blindfold theory of Australian history, which demanded that such massacres be officially recorded to be acknowledged, and for Governor-General Sir William Deane to take the Gija side and become Patron of Jirrawun Arts.

Freddie Timms's contribution was a powerful 6-panel, 9 metre long work in blacks and grey called 'Blackfella Creek', recounting the journeying of the Aboriginal rebel/bushranger called Major, who'd been a great hero for his grandmother, who brought Timms up on stories of his life and of his last stand where she'd acted as loader for Major's smoking rifle, leading to his death at the hands of WA police.

Also in 2002, Jirrawun Arts and its off-shoot, the Neminuwarlin Performance group, presented ‘Fire, Fire, Burning Bright’ at the State Theatre in Victoria during the Melbourne Festival. This dynamic theatrical performance told the story of the infamous massacre at Bedford Downs Station. ‘Fire, Fire, Burning Bright’ was also performed in Perth, where artists said they weren't totally confident that members of the WA audience wouldn't stand up and shoot them during the performance..

Timms wrote in the show's catalogue: ‘White people should know what they did to black people, shot them down. Some believe it, some don’t. Some people might understand what happened. I think that knowing this story will help Aboriginal people and white people to understand each other so that we will all come to be friends and look after things together. I hope that people will learn to respect our culture not just walk past.’

During his long career, Mr Timms often sought to make a political statement in his work. A striking example of this is the painting 'Blackfella-Whitefella', purchased by the National Gallery of Australia, which describes the position of Aboriginal people in Australia, according to Timms. On a large black canvas four symbolic figures are strategically placed with the ‘whitefella’ at the top, the yellow Chinaman under that, then the African, then the ‘blackfella right down at the bottom'! 

Mr Timms’s work is represented in all major collections in Australia and has been shown in galleries throughout the world including Germany, Japan, France, the USA and New Zealand. 


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Freddie Timms, the late Gija elder and artist in his Country, the East Kimberley


Detail of the late Mr Timms's 'Frog Hollow', (2003) a classic work, featuring the outstation where he began his illustrious art career


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