Jimmy Donegan's 2010 Telstra award-winning painting "Papa Tjukurpa Pukara"
Jimmy Donegan's 2010 Telstra award-winning painting "Papa Tjukurpa Pukara"

As I noted here yesterday, you would have had to kill me if I’d released the name of the winner of the $40,000 Telstra Art Award, the big bucks prize in the annual National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (NATSIAA).

GOSFORD Jimmy donegan NATSIAA winner 2010
Mr Jimmy Donegan

Mercifully the embargo that was put in place at 9 am yesterday morning lifted at midday today so I can reveal what was most likely the worst kept secret in Darwin, which right now is chock-a-block with artists and arts connoisseurs from across the country and beyond.

We’ll all be back down on the lawns of the NT Museum and Art Gallery at Bullocky Point later this evening for the official presentations. And if you cannot get down to Bullocky Point tonight you can – if you are passing through north Queensland in the next few weeks – catch up with more of Mr Donegan’s works at the Short Street Gallery in Cairns, where his work is part of a group show curated by the Ninuku Arts Centre.

Mr Jimmy Donegan works with the Ninuku Arts Centre based at the Kalka community in south Australia but the country for which he paints is not delineated by the straight lines that mark the state and territory border in the “tri-state” area, as this administrative juncture of states and the Northern Territory is rather confusingly known in a western administrative sense.

Mr Donegan’s painting, Papa Tjukurpa and Pukara, tells two stories, the Papa Tjurkurpa (Dingo Dreaming) and of Pukara, his grandfather’s country in western Australia and which this year won Jimmy the General Painting award, which, under new rules for this years NATSIAA awards, meant that Mr Donegan was also eligible for the big prize.

Ngayu mamaku ngura Dulu (my father’s country rockhole is called Dulu). At this place there are lots of Dingoes living there, digging up the water and hunting at Pilantjara rockhole in the country area of Dulu. This is Papa Walka, Dog design. Pukara is [my] grandfather’s country. It is a story about a sacred men’s site in Western Australia, south of Wingellina. It is a Watersnake Dreaming story. This is where the Watersnake fell down and his elbow makes an indent in the landscape. This is the creation story for the Honey Grevillea. Birds are really scared of this water at Pukara. It is like a “big boss”, this water.

There has been a fair bit of chatter about in certain quarters lately that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art has done its dash and that the arts centres – so strongly represented in the NATSIAA winners and in the works on show at Bullocky Point – were not fostering any growth and development in this sector and were doing little more than smoothing a dying pillow for Aboriginal artists.

What is clear, to me at least, from looking at the winners above and the impressive works by all the finalists on display at Bullocky Point, that this show reveals the true strengths, value and integrity not only of the many art centres scattered around this country, but also of the artists and their arts practices.

And this impression is only reinforced by the equally impressive amount and quality of work on display at this years Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair, which opened today and runs through to Saturday.

You can also see a little more about this year’s winner at the ABC Online site.