Running until August 18, 2019 at Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) in Brisbane is “Stories of this Land”—the first major retrospective exhibition celebrating the life and work of Lardil artist Goobalathaldin Dick Roughsey (1920–1985). A revered elder, pioneer and legend of Queensland Aboriginal art, Roughsey was famous for his landscape paintings featuring North Queensland ancestral narratives and customs, everyday life on Mornington Island both before and after European contact, social effects caused by missionary activity and his journey through Cape York.
He is best known for his illustrated children’s books, notably The Rainbow Serpent, first published in 1975 and still in print today. For thousands of children the book remains an important first encounter with Indigenous Australian culture and an introduction to some of the key Indigenous tales of the land. Roughsey’s art reflects the wild earthiness of the continent, at the same time, affectionately glows with the vibrant storytelling of the local people.
“Stories of this Land” has been co-curated by Bruce Johnson McLean, Curator, Indigenous Australian Art, QAGOMA, and Teho Ropeyarn, Assistant Curator, Cairns Art Gallery. It features more than 70 of Roughsey’s works, including early barks, paintings, ceremonial and historical objects, original illustrations from his picture books and three story book films.
Roughsey was born in 1920 at Gara Gara (Karrakarra), a remote site on the coast of Mornington Island. His extraordinary life over sixty five years took him on journeys through Queensland, to major cities in Australia and internationally.
“As a young boy Roughsey was removed from his family and taken to the newly established Presbyterian Mission dormitory on Mornington Island. Growing up he worked on cattle stations, as a deckhand and then as a yardman on the coast of the south-eastern Gulf,” says Bruce McLean. “It was here that a chance meeting with the pilot and artist Percy Trezise would develop into a lifelong friendship, with Trezise encouraging him to further explore art-making practices. Soon after, together with his brother Burrud Lindsay Roughsey, Roughsey began to develop a unique style of Lardil bark painting which is now well-known for its stark white background over which traditional Lardil stories are painted in a unique silhouetted figurative style.”
In 1971, Roughsey was among the first Aboriginal people to publish an autobiography and in 1974 he became the first chairperson of the Aboriginal Arts Board of the Australia Council.
Learn more about the exhibition in this brochure.