• Artwork:Goanna Dreaming
  • Artist:Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri
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Goanna Dreamingby Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri

The cover of this notebook features an reproduction image of an artwork titled Goanna Dreaming painted by the Australian Aboriginal artist Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri. Goanna Dreaming is about two goanna brothers, who in the Dreamtime creation period changed from animal to human.

  • Artist:Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri
  • Title:Goanna Dreaming
  • ID:AB014
  • Medium:Hard cover A5 approx 112 blank pages
  • Size:16 x 22 cm
  • Region:Papunya, Central Australia


I (Sabine Haider, Director of Central Art) feel extremely privileged to have known Clifford Possum. When I first met Clifford I was only very new to the art industry and I was able to learn a lot from him. He had a wonderful sense of humour and we shared many laughs. One thing that will always stay in my mind is the story he told me of when he met Queen Elizabeth II and chatted with her over a cup of tea. He was really chuffed about that and very proud. When I look at some of my old photographs of him I always smile and it takes me back to all the great conversations and times I spent with him. He was a great master and truly proud of his Aboriginal heritage. He was a teacher at heart and took pleasure in sharing his Dreamings with those who were prepared to listen.

Clifford was born in 1932 on Napperby Station. Whilst his year of birth is considered approximately correct, his day and month of birth is unknown. He was the youngest son of Long Rose Nungala and One Pound Jimmy, who although was not his father, raised him and treated him as a son. Clifford is from Papunya in the Western Desert and he is of the Peltharr skin group. He was an Anmatyerre speaking man. Sadly, Clifford passed away on 21 June 2002 in Alice Springs just prior to being awarded the Order of Australia.

He is considered to be one of the most collected and renowned Aboriginal artists of all time and according to The Australian Indigenous Art Market is ranked fourth overall, only behind Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Rover Thomas and Albert Namitjira. In 2012, he was ranked 5th in the market place. His paintings are held in galleries, museums and collections around Australia and internationally.

Clifford had no formal schooling and in his early years worked as a stockman, as many young Aboriginal men did at that time. He also became an accomplished wood carver. In the 1970’s Clifford was living in Papunya Community and began teaching wood carving at the local school on the request of the teachers. In 1971 Geoffrey Bardon the Papunya Arts Teacher requested some of the men in the community join a group termed “The Painting Men” and create a large mural on the school wall. Clifford was one of the last men to join the group and was encouraged by his brother Tim Leura.  Prior to this all Indigenous art/paintings had been depicted in the sand during ceremonies. Initially the community carried on as normal however it soon received worldwide attention for the art that was being produced. This was central to the initiation of the acrylic painting style or commonly referred to as dot art. The Art Gallery of New South Wales during an exhibition of his work in 2004 described him as “...an expert wood-carver and took up painting long before the emergency of the Papunya Tula School in the early 1970s. When Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri joined this group of ‘dot and circle’ painters early in 1972 he immediately distinguished himself as one of its most talented members and went on to create some of the largest and most complex paintings ever produced”. (Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2004).

Clifford emerged as one of the leaders in the school of painters which later became “Papunya Tula Artists”. Clifford was Chairman of Papunya Tula from 1980-1983 and again in the late 1980’s. Clifford’s art depicted the stories which he learnt of his country through his travels and participation in ceremonial cycles thus acquiring an encyclopaedic knowledge of the song lines of Central Australia. His Dreamings included a vast array of subjects for his art, these included; Possum, Fire, Water, Kangaroo, Fish, Snake, Man’s Love Story, Lightning, Mala, Goanna and Honey Ant. His art shared with the art world important information to Aboriginal people on the morals, laws and beliefs which are lived by. An example of this is the visual story of “Ngalu Tjukurrpa”, which tells the story of “wrong skin” lovers, where the importance of following the laws and the instructions of elders is paramount. Where two young people fall in love, however this love is not sanctioned by elders as they are the wrong skin names for each other and they both perish.

In 1990 he visited the United Kingdom and had the honour of presenting one of his pieces of art to Queen Elizabeth II. In 1991 he was commissioned to produce two large paintings for the new Strehlow Research Foundation, Alice Springs. One piece was commissioned for the new Alice Springs Airport and the other a mural design for the Araluen Arts Centre, also in Alice Springs.

His career spanned 30 years with countless exhibitions within Australia and around the world. Even today retrospective exhibitions are still occurring with galleries and collectors displaying his works.

Like those before him, he led the way for future generations of artists in closing the gap between Aboriginal art and modern Australian Art. Later in life he spent a lot of time travelling between Alice Springs, Adelaide and Melbourne visiting his daughters. When he became too frail he moved to Hetti Perkins Aged Home in Alice Springs. He was scheduled to receive the Order of Australia for his contribution to art and the Indigenous Community however passed away shortly prior to this. He is survived by his two daughters; Gabrielle Possum Nungarrayi and Michelle Possum Nungurrayi – who are both artists in their own right.

Clifford is a highly collectable artist, with one of his paintings “Warlugulong” auctioned with Sotherby’s in 2007 and sold for $2.4 million dollars and was purchased by the National Gallery of Australia.

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Artist has Passed Away

1932 - 21/06/2002

Out of respect for Aboriginal culture Central Art has removed the artist's photograph.

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